Karen Gillan will never forget her summer in Berlin as the filming of Gunpowder Milkshake challenged the Scottish actor like never before. In Navot Papushado’s stylish actioner, Gillan plays an assassin named Sam who’s haunted by her mother’s (Lena Headey) abandonment 15 years earlier. But when a job goes wrong, Sam has to reconcile her past while protecting a little girl named Emily (Chloe Coleman) from her handler, Nathan (Paul Giamatti), and her fellow hired guns. Since Gillan’s commitment to Jumanji: The Next Level preceded Gunpowder, she’s particularly grateful for Jumanji and Mission: Impossible stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood for giving her a fighting chance to play Sam on short notice.
“I was on Jumanji: The Next Level right up until I had to go to Berlin to start training. So I only had three weeks,” Gillan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I had those three weeks of training, but then we continued all through the film, too. But luckily, on Jumanji, I had already been training with the Mission: Impossible stunt team, so I was really in the zone. So I ran straight to Berlin afterwards and just immersed myself in a boot camp where they would have me running around the studio every day. There was boxing, choreography, learning how to fire guns, gun safety and changing ammo really quickly like I’ve done it a thousand times. (Laughs.) There was everything you could think of to get me ready for the film in time.”
Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker James Gunn recently reiterated that the upcoming threequel in the series is “probably” his last Guardians film. Drax actor Dave Bautista has also expressed a similar sentiment the last year or so. Despite all this, Gillan would love to continue on as Nebula, if she had her druthers.
“I love my character so much. I’m sort of obsessed with her,” Gillan shares. “I just get such a kick out of playing a character that’s really removed from myself. But I also feel really emotionally invested in her through everything that she’s gone through with Thanos and all of that. So I would love to continue the journey of the character. I don’t know what that would really look like without James or Dave, but I really like playing her, so I’m not eager to finish.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Gillan also discusses Gunpowder‘s action sequences in detail, as well as the sequel talk from StudioCanal’s Cannes presentation. She also discusses the Thor 4 quarantine bubble and how it informed her subsequent experience on Judd Apatow’s The Bubble, which is about pandemic-era production.
The diner and milkshake industry is going to love you guys for the inevitable spike in sales. I almost talked myself into going to a 24-hour place last night.
(Laughs.) I love that. Yeah, maybe I’ll throw a little milkshake party or something.
Just to get my worst question out of the way: What’s Karen Gillan’s go-to milkshake flavor?
Ooh! It’s always been the same my whole life, and it is strawberry. I don’t like the chocolate ones. I think that they’re too much. (Laughs.)
So it seemed like you were posting training videos forever, but how long did you actually train?
(Laughs.) I mean, where do I begin? So I had three weeks before we started shooting to do all of the training; I was on Jumanji: The Next Level right up until I had to go to Berlin to start training. So I only had three weeks.
Wow, it felt so much longer than that.
It did feel longer than that! It was probably because I was posting my videos all through filming as well. So I had those three weeks of training, but then we continued all through the film, too. But luckily, on Jumanji, I had already been training with the Mission: Impossible stunt team, so I was really in the zone. But obviously, I didn’t know any of the choreography that I needed to know for Gunpowder Milkshake. So I ran straight to Berlin afterwards and just immersed myself in a boot camp where they would have me running around the studio every day. There was boxing, choreography, learning how to fire guns, gun safety and changing ammo really quickly like I’ve done it a thousand times. (Laughs.) There was everything you could think of to get me ready for the film in time.
So I love how you and Dave Bautista have both worked closely with Chloe Coleman. Are the two of you going to lobby to make her an honorary Guardian?
(Gasps.) Yes, we totally should do that! That’s a great idea. Let me call James [Gunn] and see what strings we can pull. (Laughs.) She’d make a great Guardian.
Starting with the bowling alley sequence, what made that set piece particularly difficult?
That one was probably the most challenging of all of them because it’s the first time that you see my character fight. So we really knew that we needed to make that impressive because it’s quite a long build up until you see her fight, and you want that to feel like a payoff. But also, the director was like, “For the first section of it, I want it to be all in one take in and a long tracking shot with just actors, no stunt doubles.” And we were like, “Agh!” (Laughs.) But we were so excited by the challenge of it. So we knew that we needed to make that pretty much perfect because there was nowhere to hide, really. There were no cut points to hide behind or anything. So that’s always more nerve-wracking when it’s all actors rather than a mix of actors and stunt doubles. What’s great about stunt doubles is if the actor is slightly off, they can adjust in the moment because they’re so quick and have very fast reflexes. But with all actors, we can get a bit carried away after we hear, “Action!” and the adrenaline is pumping. We want to give it 110 percent, so it’s more nerve-wracking because we’re all doing that. But luckily, nobody got hurt, so that’s good. So it was quite an exhilarating experience because we needed to get it in one take.
I love the split diopter shots in that scene, as well as the others throughout the movie.
Yeah, the director actually introduced me to split diopters, which was cool. I didn’t know about them before. This is random and nerdy, but I made a short film and I was like, “I couldn’t get both things in focus and I really wanted that.” And he was like, “Oh, what you need is a split diopter.” And then he explained it to me and sent me a tutorial video. (Laughs.) And now they’re in our movie.
So the paralyzed arms fight. What was the key to pulling that bizarre sequence off?
OK, so when I read the script and got to that part, that is when I rang my agent. When I was at the end of that sequence in the script, I was like, “I have to be in this film.” It was just one of those sequences where I’d never seen anything like it before. I thought it was really inventive and original. Literally in the script, they had written, “The audience won’t know whether to laugh or what to do, but they will know they’ve never seen anything like this before.” And I was like, “Yep, that’s exactly how I feel.” So I remember we shot the bowling alley sequence, and then I had to go in the next day and learn the routine for the paralyzed arm sequence. And that was difficult because I could not move after we had filmed the bowling alley. Even my stunt double was like, “I am tired.” And I was like, “If she’s tired, then think how I feel.” (Laughs.) She’s a machine! So that was a challenge, but we just walked through it. We didn’t go 100 percent; we saved it for the day. And I just learned all the steps. I had to isolate my arms and not use them, which was a huge challenge, and use my body to gather momentum to swing my arms around. It actually wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. Finally, all the random drama school training that we’ve done came into play for that, more so than any acting I’ve done. (Laughs.)
Since Chloe probably couldn’t partake in any of the driving sequence, was piecing that set piece together rather complicated?
That was actually weirdly challenging. So they filmed all of the stuff themselves in the car park. What do you call those?
And then they played the footage on a screen while we sat in a studio, not moving. So Chloe had to match all of her steering wheel movements to the movements that were happening on the screen, if that makes sense. And that was a huge challenge for her.
Did the library sequence take the most time since it has the most beats?
Yeah, definitely. It was early on in the shoot that we were doing all of the library stuff. So that was probably a week of different sections of the fight sequence, and yeah, that was definitely the longest.
Overall, I liked how you didn’t settle for gunplay the whole time. You were always using random items as weapons such as a panda bear suitcase.
Was that a major point of conversation?
It actually wasn’t a major bit of conversation. It was already like that in the script, which I really liked because it’s nice to have some variety. Even Sam probably finds guns a bit boring. She likes to get the practice in with all different types of weapons, especially when the goons are coming after her. I think that because she knows she could just deal with them immediately, but she probably stretches it out and doesn’t shut them down straight away so she can get the practice in. That’s my theory, anyway. So she’s fighting with suitcases, a giant tooth and all sorts of different things that she can use as weapons. I just like the creativity of that. It’s a little more original.
Which came first: the bowling alley and then the bowling jacket? Or the bowling jacket and then the bowling alley?
Great question! I think I’m going to hazard a guess and say that the bowling alley came first. I don’t know why. We need to ask Navot. I will find out.
Ryan Gosling’s Drive jacket has some competition, finally.
I know! That’s an honor because I love Drive. I love that film.
Ralph Ineson’s voice literally purrs. What’s he like as a scene partner?
(Laughs.) He was incredible because, first of all, I was such a fan of his from the British Office. He is amazing in that. So he delivered this monologue in Gunpowder Milkshake, and yeah, he truly does purr. It’s kind of mesmerizing. He was sympathetic, yet he was the bad guy. So he danced that line really nicely. But what was interesting was I think that they rewrote that monologue the night before. (Laughs.) So it was something completely different. But he got it all in one, and I think most of it plays in one take as well. So it was just really impressive to see that he had just gotten that and then delivered it like that.
So what can you say about this sequel talk coming out of Cannes?
I can say that I don’t know whether there’s going to be a sequel or not. (Laughs.) All I can say is I really hope so because I had the time of my life with all of the women in this movie. It was such an amazing summer in Berlin, and I would love to do it again.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
So we all saw your Instagram story about the latest mold you did for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Do you have to go through that process every time you play Nebula?
Most times, yes, because your face kind of changes over the years. I’ve been playing this character for eight years now, which is insane because when I signed up, it was for eight days of filming. (Laughs.) And now, it’s eight years later. So, yeah, we have to do that before each film, and that’s so they can make the mold specifically for your face, perfectly.
That’s interesting because you’d think that your Thor 4 mold would have sufficed.
Ah, so Thor 4 was the one where I did not do one. I did not do one for Thor, but I’m trying to not give anything away. (Laughs.) But for the longer, more intensive ones, there would be a mold.
You went down to Australia to shoot Thor 4 with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast, and it sounded like quite the ordeal when you consider scheduling, traveling, a two-week quarantine and everything that comes with pandemic-era production. So given the circumstances, did Taika Waititi create a little more material for you guys to shoot?
I don’t think that really affected what we ended up doing in the movie. I think it just made it a longer experience, but to be honest, the way Australia has handled the pandemic is so impressive in terms of just being so strict on the quarantine. But I think we all were very respectful towards that and appreciated that they were cracking down on the rules. And honestly, I’m just grateful that we were able to work during the pandemic. It was just really nice to be back on a set.
You also made a movie called The Bubble with Judd Apatow, and it’s about the very subject of pandemic-era production. Did anything from your Thor 4 bubble make it into The Bubble movie?
(Laughs.) I mean, I can say that it was definitely the best research I’ve done prior to making a film. I lived the exact subject of the film. (Laughs.) And during the quarantine in a hotel, you kind of emerge from that completely unable to interact socially because you’ve forgotten how to do it and everybody’s feeling the same way. So you’re just in a room with a bunch of socially awkward superheroes. (Laughs.) And then you go back to work and kind of readjust. So that is all in The Bubble. It’s really crazy how accurate The Bubble is to that experience. I was like, “I just lived this. Now, I’m acting this.” But The Bubble is hilarious. I had such a good time on that film. I’m going to have a hard time going back to sticking to a script, I think.
You also shot Riley Stearns’ Dual with Aaron Paul prior to Thor 4. Was that set helpful to The Bubble as well?
I will say that Thor was better research for me because of the type of film that the characters are making in The Bubble, which is one of those huge-budget creature movies. So it just felt very similar in a way. Dual was more of an indie movie, but there were definitely those experiences, too. That was in Finland as well, so that was a cool experience.
What else can you say about Dual?
So Dual is a film about a girl who finds out she’s got a terminal illness, and so she has a clone made of herself to ease the pain of her family. However, then she recovers from her terminal illness, and is left with the clone. And in this world, if that happens, you have to fight your clone in a duel to the death to see which one of you gets to live the life of that person. And the film is all of her preparation to fight her clone in the big fight. So there is a little action in there, but nothing compared to Gunpowder Milkshake. She’s more or less a normal girl trying to learn how to fight. But it’s an amazing script. It was one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Riley Stearns is just such a unique individual, director and writer. And it was really nice because I had this really fun contrast starting with Dual, which was written in such a unique way that you have to be word perfect; that’s the best way to serve Riley Stearns’ writing I would say. And then I went on to the Judd Apatow movie, which was also written really well, but he encourages improvisation. So I had two very different experiences one after the other.
Returning to Nebula-related matters, Dave once told me that James had to update the Guardians 3 script since it’s getting made much later than originally intended. So how many drafts have you read to this point?
I’ve read one, but I haven’t read the new one. I read one a long time ago. It could be completely different now, but what I read was amazing.
James has said that Guardians 3 is “probably” his last Guardians film. Dave also sounds like he’s ready to move on. But what about you? Would you like to keep playing Nebula long after Guardians 3?
I love my character so much. I’m sort of obsessed with her. (Laughs.) I just get such a kick out of playing a character that’s really removed from myself. But I also feel really emotionally invested in her through everything that she’s gone through with Thanos and all of that. So I would love to continue the journey of the character. I don’t know what that would really look like without James or Dave, but I really like playing her, so I’m not eager to finish.
What constitutes a good day at work for you? Is it more than just feeling confident in your performance?
I would say that’s a huge part of it. (Laughs.) A good day would be tackling a scene that I was maybe slightly nervous about and having it go well. I feel like you’ve always got one or two scenes in there that you’re building yourself up for. Like, “Can I do this? Do I know how to do this? Is it going to go OK?” So a good day at work is when they do go OK. And maybe a good day is when I’ve just had fun, or done something that was fun, or worked with other actors that are particularly fun to me. (Laughs.) Yeah, that’s an interesting question.
What’s the latest with you and your own filmmaking endeavors?
So I have almost finished writing a script for a new film called Axe Wound, and I’m really, really excited about it. It’s not quite where I want it to be, but I’m almost finished. And then I’m going to get it out into the world and get it made. So hopefully, I can dive into that next year if I have the time.
There’s a new trend in Hollywood as narrative features are being made about the making of movies like The Godfather, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, etc. So in terms of on-set and off-set intrigue, which project of yours would make for the most interesting making-of movie?
Ooh! My mind immediately went to The Bubble because it’s double meta. (Laughs.) It’d be the making of a film about the making of a dinosaur movie. Is that one step too far? It might be. (Laughs.)
What’s the most therapeutic job you’ve ever had?
It would probably be facing things that scare me just because I feel like anxiety can grow unless you keep on top of it. So I constantly have to do the things that do cause anxiety to sort of keep the anxiety down, in a way. So I would probably say that the first Jumanji was good for me because it was quite a big leap for where I was in my career. I was working with some people that I just really, really respected, and it was nerve-wracking in a good way where I’m like, “These are people that are at the top of their game.” So I would say that that had me really, really excited. I also faced some fears, and I came out more confident at the end of it.
Lastly, when actors work with a certain food or drink for many takes or scenes, they sometimes get sick of that particular item for a long while. So what’s your current relationship status with milkshakes?
(Laughs.) I still enjoy milkshakes. You know why? Because they made them out of yogurt for me on Gunpowder; I was trying to be in shape as an assassin. So I didn’t ruin the good milkshakes because I was drinking the horrible milkshakes. (Laughs.)
Gunpowder Milkshake is now streaming on Netflix.