Karen Gillan (‘We’ll Take Manhattan’) interview

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Coming to BBC Four later this month, We’ll Take Manhattan stars Karen Gillan in her first lead role since starring as Amy Pond in Doctor Who.

Written and directed by John McKay (Life On Mars, Robin Hood), the new one-off drama explores the explosive love affair between photographer David Bailey and 1960s supermodel Jean Shrimpton.

Focusing on a wild and unpredictable 1962 Vogue photo shoot in New York, the drama brings to life the story of two young people falling in love, misbehaving, and inadvertently defining the style of the Sixties along the way.

We’ll Take Manhattan airs at 9pm on Thursday 26th January on BBC Four.

What appealed to you about the role of Jean Shrimpton?

“Well, I was already really interested in Jean Shrimpton and David Bailey before this script was given to me and when I read it I just loved it. I also felt playing the role of Jean would be an exciting challenge because she’s so different to Amy Pond.”

What was it like filming in New York?

“Filming in New York was crazy! We had to get up at 3am to film on the streets when they were relatively empty and we ended up running around Fifth Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge!

“It was amazing because it felt like the cast and crew were a real team and we all just clubbed together to make it happen. There were no trailers or toilets though which was interesting!”

How did the crew make it look like you were in the 1960s?

“The production team have used some CGI to give the drama a real authentic Sixties feel, however, we also filmed in front of buildings that were from that period.

“Some of my scenes were shot in front of green screen in the UK but it was brilliant to actually go to New York and feel what it must have been like to be Jean during that famous photo shoot.”

What was it like working with Aneurin who plays Bailey?

“Aneurin is totally convincing as David Bailey and he does a brilliant Cockney accent. He was amazing to work with, really diligent. In fact he stayed in character between takes!”

Are you a fan of Sixties fashion and how did the production team make you look so like Jean Shrimpton?

“I’m a massive fan and always have been. I adore vintage clothes so this was right up my street in terms of costume. The clothes that I loved the most were the ones recreated from the actual Vogue shoot. The costume department made exact replicas and they were the most beautiful clothes I’ve ever worn.

“I did wear a brown wig because my natural hair colour is quite red and I also attended lots of contact lens fittings because Jean‟s eye colour is blue and I have brown eyes. However, the contact lenses didn‟t work well on camera so we ended up sticking to my natural eye colour.”

What research did you undertake for the role?

“I read Jean Shrimpton’s autobiography, ‘The Guide to Modelling’, which she wrote during the height of her modelling career and that was really insightful. Unfortunately, there isn’t much TV footage of her available so I could only find a couple of pieces of audio online where I could listen to her voice and the way she spoke.

“I worked with a dialect coach, we all did actually, because funnily enough Aneurin and I are both not English! I’m Scottish and he’s Welsh so we had to change our accents.

“However, for me it wasn’t just about nailing Jean’s accent, I also had to try and master the quality of her voice and make the way I spoke specific to the Sixties period. Once I felt I’d mastered her voice I then had to tweak it to let a modern audience know what class she actually is because this drama is so much about class.

“You’ve got David Bailey who is working class, Jean who’s in the middle and then Lady Claire who’s very posh. So to a modern ear I think Jean’s natural accent would have sounded very posh and I therefore had to dampen it down and make it little more neutral.”

Has being a former model helped you with the role?

“Yes, so much! I know what it’s like to be a model and go to castings where some people like what they see and others look at you with distaste. It’s a strange sensation to be completely judged on how you look and that‟s something I can understand because I used to be in that situation.

Finally, were there any funny incidents while filming?

“We filmed a really funny scene where it’s supposed to be winter in New York and actually it was beyond boiling hot! I was the hottest I’ve ever been in my entire life! It was hotter than Bikram Yoga!

“In the scene I had to look like I‟m shivering on Brooklyn Bridge but in reality I was surrounded by a huge crowd, which you can’t see in shot, and they were shouting out and taking pictures. It was so hard!

“They were feet away from me and then some joggers were shouting “You’re blocking the way, where’s your permit?” It was one of the craziest experiences of my life and needless to say it was extremely difficult to pretend that I was freezing cold!”

> Buy Jean Shrimpton’s autobiography on Amazon.

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