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Karen Gillan on Guardians of the Galaxy: "I felt like I was in action hero boot camp!"

26th November 2014

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Karen Gillan shaved her head, painted herself blue, learnt martial arts and performed her own stunts to take on the part of Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, which is out on DVD and Blue-ray now.

Here, she discusses her on-screen sibling rivalry with Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), her physical transformation - and just whether or not she’s a comic book fan at heart.

Were you familiar with the comic books prior to signing on to the project?

I’m not actually a comic book reader myself but I was a fan of the Marvel films, “Iron Man” in particular. I loved all of those; the Robert Downey Jr. tone of that whole thing was really amazing to watch.

What attracted you to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”?

Any Marvel project, in my opinion, is an exciting project to work on, because you know that you’re going to be working on a film that, first of all, people are so passionate about and second of all, they just really go to town in those films. So I was really excited from the beginning.

What is it about this group of characters that makes them relatable?

All of the characters in the script are so well rounded and well written. There are flaws and there are many layers that you can play with and that’s down to the writing, first and foremost. So that’s really exciting for an actor.

Talk to me about Nebula and how she falls into the storyline.

Nebula is so interesting to me. First of all, she’s a deadly assassin, which is just the coolest, and she has this really interesting relationship with Gamora. They’re adopted sisters, daughters of Thanos, and they have this sibling rivalry going on. That gets really intense and they communicate quite physically, which has been interesting to play with. Gamora goes over to the good side and Nebula definitely stays with the dark side.

What then is Nebula’s relationship like with Ronan?

Gamora and Nebula were raised to have the same beliefs, but Nebula has been more susceptible to the brainwashing than Gamora. Nebula has been more modified than Gamora—she has a cybernetic arm and eye — so she’s been more affected by the whole situation and, in my opinion, she’s kind of a sadist and she just really enjoys anything to do with death. But Gamora has always been slightly more successful than Nebula, which has created this sibling rivalry. Nebula is so fixated on impressing Ronan and trying to take Gamora’s place. She’s always been a little bit behind Gamora and a little bit overlooked.

What was your approach to the character?

I think you need to find the truth in all of these really heightened situations that the characters are in. It’s certainly difficult to relate to people who have grown up in space and are programmed to kill. But for me, the most interesting human aspect was the sibling relationship and the feelings of jealousy that completely consume Nebula and turn her into this kind of sadistic, slightly weird, creepy girl who feels inadequate next to her sister.

What was it like for you to shave your head the first time?

I was totally liberated by the whole experience of shaving my head. I was a little bit nervous because I’ve always had incredibly long hair. I guess maybe I hid behind it in some way — like a weird security blanket. But it was absolutely something I wanted to do. It’s like a whole identity change. What I found is that it does half of the work for you as an actor, when you change your appearance that dramatically.

Talk to me about the fight sequences - what kind of stunt training did you do to prepare? Also, take me through the fight between you and Zoe.

I had to train for two months to lead up to the fight sequence that we shot between Nebula and Gamora. I trained pretty much every day that I wasn’t actually shooting. I felt like I was in action hero boot camp. They started off with general punches and general martial arts and fighting and then taught me a choreographed routine. I remember that they used to say, “You need to do something seven thousand times before its second nature.” I was like, “Seven thousand times?” It was a serious process, but really amazing. I never knew how to fight before this film. Now I feel like I could handle myself.

Do you prefer doing your own stunts then?

This is the first time I’ve done any sort of fight sequence in my life. So I just didn’t know what to expect and I thought that people did it for you in a weird way. But no, they wanted us to be able to do everything. Of course, there were stunt doubles as well because there are certain moves that I could never hope to achieve. But they wanted us to pretty much be able to do everything and then they just swapped the actors with the stunt people and mixed it up.

What’s been the most gratifying process for you shooting this film?

Playing this character feels like a real character role and that’s been really amazing. I feel like I’ve changed my entire look; I’ve changed my voice, my movements, everything, so it just feels like a transformation for me, which is what I do this for, so that was exciting. But also, just learning how to fight, that’s been amazing. I’ve developed a skill set that I never would have had.

Guardians of the Galaxy is out now on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD.

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