Karen Gillan on how 'toxic family dynamics' enticed her to Marvel stardom

·3-min read
Photo credit: Aingeru Zorita - Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Aingeru Zorita - Hearst Owned

Karen Gillan is our October cover star, and trust us when we say that this is a star who's happiest with her thinking cap on.

The 34-year-old Inverness actress was back on the big screen this summer when she reprised the role of Guardians of the Galaxy’s tortured bionic antihero Nebula in Thor: Love and Thunder.

When she considers a new film or TV role, she starts by taking an academic-style deep dive into the character’s psyche. Who are they? What motivates them? What hurt have they experienced? Then she asks herself this question: do I want to know what it’s like to carry that pain? If the answer is yes, she’ll sign on to the project. If it’s a no, she’ll pass.

It was the curiosity about other people’s lived experiences that led her to the part of Nebula. The character is the adopted daughter of bad guy Thanos and the “sister” of Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana). According to Marvel lore, while growing up the siblings were forced to fight by their unhinged father figure, and this backstory is one of the reasons Karen took the role.

Photo credit: Aingeru Zorita - Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Aingeru Zorita - Hearst Owned

She says: ‘My favourite thing about playing Nebula is exploring what it feels like to be the scapegoated sibling within a toxic family dynamic. Before I even got the role, that drew me to it. There’s a lot of material there.’

But her love of psychology doesn’t start and end when she is handed a script. In her free time, Karen reads critical-psychology essays - not only to better embody her characters’ experiences, but to analyse her emotional landscape. She says her anxiety, which often keeps her up at night, has gotten worse since she found fame.

‘It’s been easier to ignore my body than it has been to confront the situation,’ Karen says. ‘I’ve repressed the feeling instead of taking it seriously and listening to my body. And I’m just now turning that around.’

Her imposter syndrome is surprising even to her, considering she’s the first person to tell you about her hard work and ambition. (Sidenote: she’s also developing an app). And though her career is a line-up of iconic anti-damsels in distress, she says she’s always starstruck by the ‘giant movie stars’ she’s with on-set.

‘Some days I don’t feel anxious at all; then others, I’m like, “I can’t do this. This is insane. This is a big, huge movie and I have to do this in front of people. There’s no way,”’ she says. ‘I literally think I can’t do it. That’s how bad it gets. You can’t really reason with someone when they’re in that state of mind.’ So, she has adopted a new technique to deal. ‘I invite all of the anxiety in. It may sound weird, but I’ve been researching the psychology of it.'

Read the full interview in the October issue of Women's Health. On sale from Tuesday 13th September - don't miss it.


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