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Karen Gillan Talks ‘Sleeping Dogs’ and Also Not Knowing About Star-Lord’s Eventual MCU Return

After a healthy run of comedy and genre work, Karen Gillan felt it was time for a dramatic change.

Shortly before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s whirlwind press tour, Gillan returned to Australia where she shot Thor: Love and Thunder a couple years earlier, and joined the cast of Adam Cooper’s Sleeping Dogs, led by Russell Crowe. The twisty psychological crime drama follows Crowe’s retired homicide detective Roy Freeman, as his recovery from an experimental Alzheimer’s procedure prompts him to re-approach a murder case from a decade earlier. Gillan plays the enigmatic Laura Baines, the right-hand researcher to Marton Csokas’ Dr. Joseph Wieder and his memory reconsolidation therapy thesis.

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When Professor Wieder (Csokas) winds up dead, Freeman (Crowe) takes a newfound interest in Baines (Gillan) when he revisits the case a decade later. Sleeping Dogs plays with the tropes of the femme fatale through Baines, although Gillan hesitates to use that description for her.

“My interpretation of the character might not line up with everyone else’s interpretation, but I liked this idea that she was very performative,” Gillan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I thought it would be fun for me to watch some YouTube videos of people that she might want to emulate and then do a little bit of an affectation.”

Gillan is also looking back at the conclusion of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, and even she was surprised by the final message that Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord would return to the MCU someday. With the Quill-led Guardians films coming to a fitting end, his post-Vol. 3 future, along with his fellow Guardians, was a big question mark until that parting post-credit statement.

“It was pretty surprising, but it was cool as well. I was like, ‘Okay, what’s the plan here?’” Gillan says.

With Gunn moving over to co-run DC Studios with producer Peter Safran, Gillan has openly stated that she’d love to play Poison Ivy for her former director, but after the decade’s worth of work he already provided her, she’s not going to press him on the subject.

“I like to leave things up to the universe a little bit and see what happens, but I would absolutely love to work with James again. He’s the best,” Gillan shares.

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Gillan also discusses her highly popular vlog about her final Guardians experience, as well as the candid “in-character” photo she posted of Zoom couples therapy.

So where did Sleeping Dogs fall on your timeline?

Oh my god, since the pandemic, I have no sense of time. I don’t know if you’re experiencing that as well, but I thought I got married one year ago and I just realized it’s been two. (Laughs.) Anyway, I shot [Sleeping Dogs] last February and it would’ve been after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, I think.

What was your state of mind at the time? What were you looking for with regard to work?

I don’t know if I really was looking for anything in particular, but I do want to dabble in the dramatic space a little bit more just because I’ve gotten to do a fair bit of comedy and genre stuff. So I wanted to exercise that [dramatic] muscle a little bit, but I was pretty open-minded. This just came along, and I always think a sure sign that I should do something is when I’m reading it and I start reading the lines out loud just because it’s fun. So it’s for no one’s benefit but my own, and that’s when I’m like, “Well, if I’m having fun doing this right now, I should probably go and do this for a job.”

Karen Gillan as Laura Baines in the Action/Crime/Thriller film SLEEPING DOGS
Karen Gillan as Laura Baines in the Action/Crime/Thriller film SLEEPING DOGS

Your character is a walking spoiler, but was the chance to play in the femme fatale realm part of the appeal? 

My interpretation of the character might not line up with everyone else’s interpretation, but I liked this idea that she was very performative. Maybe she studied people that she deemed to be intellectual and were really into classical music and sophisticated things that she could talk about at dinner parties. So I thought it would be fun for me to watch some YouTube videos of people that she might want to emulate and then do a little bit of an affectation. It’s not an impression, but it’s more like this feeling that she doesn’t seem totally genuine. There’s something going on there that feels a little performative.

You briefly shared the forest set with Tommy Flanagan in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but Sleeping Dogs gave you one or two rather interesting scenes together. As fellow Scots, have you crossed paths a lot over the years?

I think it was just on Guardians, actually, but funnily enough, he’s from the same area in Easterhouse, Scotland as my mother. So I feel like I’ve just known him forever, but no, we haven’t actually worked on that many things together.

Karen Gillan as Laura Baines in the Action/Crime/Thriller film SLEEPING DOGS
Karen Gillan as “Laura Baines” in the Action/Crime/Thriller film SLEEPING DOGS

Russell Crowe’s former cop lives alone with Alzheimer’s, which is a terrifying existence. But it got me thinking about how important memory is for an actor. You have to memorize your lines and channel personal memories in certain scenes, if that’s the technique one uses. Could you remotely do your job without a healthy memory? 

I’m trying to imagine that because I rely heavily on my memory. I really wouldn’t be able to go into it without knowing my lines. I know them inside out so that I can then be really free emotionally and try a bunch of things that work or fail, and it’d be hard to concentrate on doing all that when you are limited by not knowing what word is next in your dialogue. So I would struggle without my memory. However, I’m sure there’s some people that have the technique of turning up and not knowing their lines and somehow getting through it, and sometimes that turns out brilliantly. So there isn’t one rule for everyone in this. It’s all about just trying to be as truthful and as in the moment as possible, and that can be with memory or without.

So I really liked the behind-the-scenes vlog that you did for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but something caught my attention after you’d gone through four hours of makeup and prosthetics to become Nebula. You went back to your trailer in full makeup, and then someone arrived to give you a Covid test. Wouldn’t it make sense to give you a Covid test before undergoing four hours of makeup? 

Yes, it would! The reason for that is because I had to start makeup so early that they didn’t have any staff that could come in at that hour to do a Covid test. They came in at the beginning of everybody’s normal day, but my normal day started at 3:00 AM. So we basically couldn’t do it until they came into work.

You don’t have to specify, but were there instances where people tested positive after going through hours and hours of makeup?

Yeah!

That photo of you attending Zoom couples therapy in your Nebula makeup is one of the most remarkably honest images I’ve ever seen. Between that and the vlog, did you intentionally want to show people the less glamorous side of an actor’s life?  

I just thought it was the funniest thing. My husband and I both thought it was the funniest, most ridiculous thing. So there was no strategy of wanting to show a real side. It was more that we had to because it was so funny. I also think it’s good to try to normalize therapy in any way that we can. There is still a little bit of a stigma attached to it, and if more people just talked about it in a normal fashion, maybe we can get to the point where people are more willing to go and seek help.

(L-R): Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Dave Bautista as Drax, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
(L-R): Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Dave Bautista as Drax, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

When you eventually saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, did that post-credit message about Star-Lord returning surprise you as well? Did you know that was coming?

No, I don’t remember seeing that in the script. So either I have a bad memory or it wasn’t in there. So it was pretty surprising, but it was cool as well. I was like, “Okay, what’s the plan here?”

Do you think Nebula and Drax are going to last long in their parental roles on Knowhere?

Yeah, I’d like to think so. Nebula has got a real sense of purpose now, and it’s such a major part of healing. She’s been through so much, and now she can finally accept love and show love towards other people. So the last stage of all that healing is helping other people, and that’s exactly what she’s doing.

I’m sure there’s a temptation to want to send Poison Ivy memes and gifs to [DC Studios boss] James Gunn, but considering that your Guardians casting already led to ten years of work, are you not going to force the issue? 

The fact that Nebula turned into ten years of work is the greatest thing that’s happened to me. So I like to leave things up to the universe a little bit and see what happens, but I would absolutely love to work with James again. He’s the best.

You also reunited with another Flanagan, Mike Flanagan, after first working with one another on Oculus (2013). How was Life of Chuck, based on Stephen King’s novella? 

Magical. Oh my god, it was just magical. It’s one of the more unique scripts that I’ve ever read in my life. I’ve just never really seen anything with that structure before. It’s a beautiful exploration, but I don’t want to give it away. So it was amazing to work with Flanagan again and see how he changed as a filmmaker, but in a lot of ways, he remained exactly the same. I actually got to see a version of the film, and it’s just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

And lastly, who do we blame for the next Jumanji being stuck in neutral?

If you find out, can you let me know? (Laughs.) Because I don’t know. I’m sure it’s tricky to wrangle everyone’s schedules, but I haven’t heard anything about it other than the fact that we will be doing it at some point. So we’re all so enthusiastic about it. We all love working on those films, and it’s just a matter of when.

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Sleeping Dogs releases only in theaters on March 22nd.

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