Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan on playing ‘The Shrimp’

Doctor Who star Karen Gillan talks to TV&Satellite Week magazine about playing former model Jean Shrimpton in the BBC4 drama We’ll Take Manhattan, which centres on the model’s relationship with David Bailey in the 1960s…

How would you describe the drama?

“It’s a love story really about the mischief Jean and Bailey got up to on a shoot in New York. We also show the transition that went on from the late-Fifties to the beginning of the whirlwind of the Sixties and how they contributed to that.”

Did you know much about them?

“My boyfriend is a photographer so I was aware of David Bailey. He’s also shown me pictures of Jean Shrimpton and said, ‘Look at this girl’ and I thought she was amazing. Although she is not remembered as much as someone like Twiggy, she was so huge at the time.”

What was it about them as a couple that made them so iconic?

“Bailey was quite rebellious and wanted to try stuff out and be a bit more experimental, which really reinforced the whole idea of the Sixties. Jean had a real spirit, too, so by coming together they brought something brand new to the table.”

How do they react to each other in the drama?

“We show how Jean has never really encountered someone like Bailey before; he is quite impolite, but there is something about him that is different from all the other photographers of that era. In turn she really surprises him, with her really strong, spread-legged stance that was frowned upon at that time.”

What kind of reaction do we see them receiving?

“They encounter Lady Clare Rendlesham, the fashion editor of Vogue, who goes to New York with them. She is not very happy with how it is going because she wants very glamorous, pretty pictures with mannequin-style models, but Bailey wants to do something different and Jean just can’t fit that mould. In the end though, the people at Vogue come to see them as young, fresh and quite hip.”

Have you enjoyed wearing the Sixties fashions?

“Very much. What is most interesting is how her look evolves, so it is a real journey. She starts off not really understanding and a bit scruffy and I was keen for her to not lose that scruffiness, but she just becomes more of a woman and her clothes reflect that.”

Has it helped that you have been a model yourself?

“Yes, just because I understand what it feels like to traipse around eight castings a day and how it feels when people are looking at you but are not actually looking at you.”

Is it hard to decide which projects to take on now you are leaving Doctor Who?

“Yes because I want to do things that I actually care about, rather than just doing it to work for the sake of it, so I want to choose carefully. I don’t know what I am going to do next, hopefully something else comes along that I feel this passionately about.”

Has Matt Smith given you any advice?

“I did speak to him about what it is like to do something other than Doctor Who. He just told me to really savour the experience because it is going to be really different from Doctor Who. You really see the difference when you start working on something else, but it is good to exercise other parts of your acting range.”

We’ll Take Manhattan screens on BBC4 on Thursday, January 26 at 9pm