On the latest episode of the Radio Times Podcast, Karen Gillan dives into her journey with the new ITV series Douglas Is Cancelled.


It all started six years ago when her friend, writer Steven Moffat, shared the script with her. Back then, it wasn’t even a TV show – just a brilliant story in need of a platform. Gillan immediately saw its potential and urged Moffat to develop it.

When he finally did, turning it into a series and offering her the role of Madeline, she jumped at the chance.

You can listen to and read the full interview below.

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How did your involvement in Douglas Is Cancelled come about?

Steven [Moffat] shared the script with me, as a friend, about six years ago – before it was even a TV show. He didn’t know what it was going to be – a play maybe – but he knew he had the story. I read it and said, "This is absolutely brilliant. You have to do something with this." When he told me they were making it into an ITV series and asked if I’d like to play Madeline, I immediately said, "Yes, absolutely!"

What makes his writing special? He is a master of storytelling, and this show is a real feat — topical, weighted and moving…

This project is probably one my favourite things I’ve ever done. I love Steven’s writing so much – it feels like verbal gymnastics. It’s the most fun to deliver – it always has been, from the Doctor Who days.

In the show, your co-host gets cancelled after a tweet accuses him of saying something inappropriate. What are your thoughts on cancel culture?

It’s always existed to a certain degree but with everyone being on social media and it being so instant, it feels like a more nerve-racking time. It feels like an irrational fear because I don’t think I’d do or say anything offensive, but there is a looming threat anyway.

With such a large social following, surely you’ve also been on the receiving end of vile treatment?

Definitely. I have people who’ve been coming at me for years on end, relentlessly. I feel quite separated from it, to be honest – I don’t take it to heart. I feel like there might be some mental illness involved so I don’t judge. I try to find empathy in the situation.

Hugh Bonneville as Douglas and Karen Gillan as Madeline in Douglas is Cancelled
Hugh Bonneville as Douglas and Karen Gillan as Madeline in Douglas is Cancelled. Hartswood Films for ITV and ITVX

Your character, Madeline, is trying to make her mark in the TV industry. In a post #MeToo era, there are elements of her story that ring true. How do you prepare for particularly traumatic scenes? And how do you switch off afterwards?

Episode 3 is really heavy. When I read the script for it, I knew I absolutely had to play her. The subject is one that I felt was really important to tell. It’s an intense situation that Madeline is trying to navigate because she really wants this job and she’s having to deal with all these things being thrown at her. But it was actually quite close to Christmas when we filmed it – so everyone had their Christmas jumpers on off-camera.

How has the industry changed since you started out? Are women more protected now?

I would say that it has taken some steps forward since the #MeToo movement – which is great to see. Accountability is important. It was a major issue prior to that. I don’t think we’re there yet – there’s still a way to go. But I do see people making a conscious effort to better the situation and themselves. Every time there’s a scene of a sexual nature or even a kiss, there’s an intimacy coach now. Some actors don’t like that because they feel it kills the mood, but I think it’s a really good thing because everybody feels more comfortable and there are clear boundaries.

In your career, you’ve faced scrutiny for how you’ve dressed. What pressure is put on women’s bodies when they’re famous?

We’ve been dealing with that for a long time… I remember there being an uproar about my costume on Doctor Who and poor Steven getting the brunt of the blame. Actually, he’d had nothing to do with it. I was 21 and knew what 21-year-olds wore, so I’d told them what I wanted to wear! To see backlash towards that was really strange and fascinating and didn’t feel right.

When did the acting bug bite?

My dad tells a story of me pointing at the television and saying, "How do I get in there?"

I was drawn to all things performance-related and putting on a show. As a child, I was so quiet and unable to look people in the eye. I’m not even exaggerating.

It was an extreme shyness. But, when I was performing, I wasn’t like that. It was a moment of relief. I’m not sure this is the healthiest example – but it’s like when you get drunk – no inhibitions.

As a girl from Inverness, did a glistening screen career seem possible?

I’m a very working-class girl and I had no connections to the industry. My mum worked in Tesco and my dad worked in a care home for people with learning disabilities. It didn’t seem like the most viable career option. There were people who had gone into theatre but not so much film and TV.

My parents were incredibly supportive. From a young age my dad taught me what it is to have drive, so I always knew what I needed to do to achieve the things I wanted. Plus, I had an absolutely delusional amount of self-belief. If you had interviewed me as a child and asked me if I’d have a career in acting, I’d have said, "It 100 per cent will happen. There’s zero doubt in my mind." Although I think my mum would be happier if I was still working in Tesco. I’d be around more! That’s nice in a way – my career doesn’t really register with them that much.

You were 17 when you left Scotland for London and enrolled at drama school. But you were only a student for two months?

I got an audition and was booked for the job. The drama school wouldn’t let me do it because they said it was too early in my training. It was just one episode of Rebus. But I thought, "I have to leave drama school and do it." So I left.

I still had the blind optimism of youth. I remember teachers saying, as I was walking out of the school, "You’re making one of the biggest mistakes of your life."

It was eight days of filming and then I was working in a pub. I was pulling pints every day and not getting any work. I decided to ring the director of Rebus and ask if he knew of any London agents. He happened to be in the same room as an agent who had just been given her own client list at a top agency. It was a weird synchronicity. She took me on and then I had access to all the auditions in London. That led to Doctor Who.

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond in Doctor Who, looking concerned
Karen Gillan as Amy Pond in Doctor Who. BBC

Did playing Amy Pond change your life overnight?

It was the best time ever. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten the part. It seemed like a miracle. I went back up to Scotland with two people from the BBC and my agent. We descended on my little house to tell my parents! One of the guys from the BBC posted something on his phone and it was immediately on the news on our television. It was the weirdest sensation. There were journalists knocking on our door within the hour. My mum was on her lunch break from Tesco and had to go back to work!

How did you handle losing your anonymity?

That was a shock to the system. All of a sudden, there were people outside my house waiting to take pictures. I was a normal 21-year-old who would go out and get drunk with her friends and suddenly it was like – you have to be careful about doing that now because it looks like you’re going off the rails if you go out with your friends and have alcohol. I was incredibly conscious of how things would be perceived. I started to tread really carefully. I’m still like that because of that experience.

You then traded the Whoniverse for the Marvel Universe — what was the move to Hollywood like?

I remember being really nervous to do the first Guardians of the Galaxy film because it was a big Hollywood movie, and I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I was in fight or flight mode, going to the set terrified. But when I got there, I realised, "Oh, this feels like Doctor Who, just bigger and with more perks! I know my way around a spaceship!"

You now live in LA — is it easier to have a more private life there?

I don’t know if anything will match the Doctor Who levels [of fame]. These things come in waves, and it depends on how much you’re in the public consciousness at the time. With Doctor Who, you were in people’s living rooms every Saturday night on a regular basis – that means that people really feel like they know you, so you can’t get around at all.

When you do a film, everybody recognises you for two weeks and then it calms down. I can just walk around and nobody will even look at me. I feel really happy about that, actually, because I think I would lose my mind if I couldn’t go for a coffee on my own. It’s my favourite thing.

Do you miss home?

I’m homesick every single day of my life. I’m on Rightmove all the time, looking at houses. I think there’s a possibility that I’ll come back at some point. I’ve made my house very Scottish- looking – it doesn’t feel like I’m in LA at all. It reminds me of a granny’s home in Scotland – which is what I am in my soul.

As a woman who is 5ft 10in, has height impacted your career?

Good question! I mean, not that I’m aware of, but it’s entirely possible that I haven’t gotten roles because I’m a foot taller than the male lead. I have noticed one disadvantage to being tall, though – when they film you, they’re looking up at you all the time. If you’re short, the camera looks down on you, and that is way more flattering. I’m like, "Why are you filming my double chin?!" Let’s get some taller cinematographers!


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