Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan enters a time machine of a different kind when she plays top ’60s model Jean Shrimpton in Ovation’s first original movie, We’ll Take Manhattan, premiering Saturday, March 3.
The film explores the relationship between ground-breaking British photographer David Bailey (Aneurin Barnard) and his model and muse Jean Shrimpton, particularly during their legendary New York photo shoot for British Vogue in 1962.
In this interview, Gillan, a former model talks about her familiarity with Shrimpton, fashion and her final days on Doctor Who.
Did you know anything about Jean Shrimpton before this project came up? And second, what was it like to sort of blend your old career with your new one?
I was aware of Jean Shrimpton before, because I was kind of interested in photography, and I knew about David Bailey. I remember a boyfriend showed me this picture. He was like, “This is the most beautiful woman that existed.” “Lovely. That’s great.” And then this came along, so I was like, “Yes.” So funny. But what’s really nice is it’s such a contrast to the character that I play in Doctor Who, Amy Pond. It’s completely different. This is a story, a coming‑of‑age story, and it’s about a girl kind of figuring out life and then something completely extraordinary happening to her. She’s just so different from Amy, which is what I want. I want variety.
How much research did you do into the actual Jean Shrimpton?
I actually knew this was going to be happening for quite some time, so I had quite a lot of time to research. Footage of her is very rare, so I managed to find a couple of clips of her talking and things, and I kind of had to make up the rest in terms of what she sounded and acted like. She wrote a guide to modeling right at the height of her modeling fame, so that was really helpful. I read that. And also, then, in later life, she wrote an autobiography, and she’s really honest in it because she’s a bit older and doesn’t care so much about offending people. That was really helpful in terms of her relationships and her relationship with David Bailey.
How much has this movie influenced your own fashion sense? Were you always into vintage?
I was always into vintage clothes, which is why it kind of appealed to me even more when the script came along. I’ve always loved the ’60s. Not just the fashion of the ’60s, but the whole sense of change, of revolution, and young people were so powerful at the time. And that’s what’s so interesting about the story of David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton because together they kind of changed the face of fashion. But I have been influenced since I shot the film in terms of what I’ve been choosing. I think my fashion sense has gotten a little better.
Jean Shrimpton is almost 70 years old now. I don’t know if she has any interest in being a public figure again. Did she have any input into this at all, and does she feel she’s been kind of overlooked as the first supermodel?
Well, actually, she doesn’t really like the fame aspect of what she did. So she gave her approval to have the film made, and then she didn’t want anything more to do with it. So I didn’t get to meet her, which was a little disappointing, but I respected that. But then she was sent a copy of the film, and she left a voicemail just asking how we got it so accurate, which was so nice and relieving, because there’s always that added pressure if the person is still alive that you’re portraying.
You are leaving Doctor Who, how do you feel about that?
I feel sad because I’m going to leave, but with any story, it has to come to an end, and you know, it was a mutual decision with me and Steven Moffat, the head writer of Doctor Who. We kind of had this lovely dinner and decided when the best time for me to go was, and, yes, it’s been decided. So I’m excited, but slightly scared.
How much of the next season of Doctor Who are you in?
Can’t tell you that.
There’s going to be a few episodes — a few really good episodes.
We’ll Take Manhattan premieres on Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT.