When "Doctor Who" next steps out of his time- and space-traveling police box, the TARDIS, he'll meet his new companion, Clara Oswald. He's not going to know what to think of her.
That's because Clara, or 26-year-old Jenna-Louise Coleman actually, has appeared in the series twice before. In last fall's "The Asylum of the Daleks" episode, she was the futuristic, souffle-making Oswin, who was transformed into a Dalek. In the "Doctor Who" Christmas special, "The Snowmen," she was 18th century governess Clara Oswin Oswald, who the Doctor couldn't save from death.
With the premiere of "The Bells of St. John" at 7 p.m. CT March 30 on BBC America, the thoroughly contemporary Clara Oswald will bewilder the Doctor (Matt Smith) like no companion has before her.
"She absolutely challenges him. I think she's not intimidated by him at all," Coleman told me during a phone interview last week from LA. "I think she's curious. She's spirited and she's an adventurer at heart. She wants to explore.
"She finds [the Doctor] amazing and ridiculous in equal measure, so it kind of keeps him in check. He isn't used to someone like Clara, so he doesn't quite know how to deal with her."
Although the Doctor seems to think there is some connection between the Claras, according to Coleman this new Clara is not the same women we've previously met.
"You'll see an essence in the same way there was an essence of Oswin in Christmas Clara, there was a similar essence running through them, a similar spirit. We'll see that again with this Clara," said Coleman, who claims the Doctor and presumably the audience will figure out the mystery of the Claras by the end of the season.
She wasn't familiar with the twisty mythologies of "Doctor Who" when she auditioned for the series because she didn't watch "Doctor Who" growing up. But don't hold that against her; the actress explained the show had been off the air when she was a child and didn't return until 2005 when she was 18.
But she did watch the 2005 episode "The Eleventh Hour," then chose not to watch more Matt Smith episodes with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as his companions, the Ponds.
"I kind of didn't really want to know anything about the Doctor and Amy relationship," she said. "And didn't really want to pick up on anything and I think it worked well because the addition is then very spontaneous because I didn't know the Doctor. So I was reacting very spontaneously to Matt as the Doctor because I was technically meeting him for the first time with no kind of previous awareness."
During filming, she did watch the first five episodes of Season 7--the final episodes with the Ponds--and noticed that the Doctor's relationship with Clara is different than it was with the Ponds.
"He was their protector, almost like their granddad, and now he's like a young boy again," she said. "That's happening with us as actors, too. Matt will expect a line to come in a certain way and it can be a bit jarring when something happens that neither of us expects."
Coleman, who dates "Game of Thrones" star Richard Madden, talked more about Clara, the Doctor and bringing Madden into the Doctor fold. It's all after the prequel video below:
I can't wait for the new episodes.
Great, yeah it's exciting; I just saw it for the first time. We did a screening in London on Friday. So, it's the first time I've seen it and I think it's in pretty good shape, it's looking good. Yeah, it's great, I like them really well.
So you liked the episode?
Yeah I did. It's really great because there's so many elements to the show that really make it from, you know, the CGI and the music, and then just seeing kind of it put together like what you've been working on. So it's great and it's kind of, just makes you really see kind of, how clever Steven Moffat really is. [Laughs.]
And how is this new girl, this new companion?
Yeah. Well [Laughs.] It's strange actually because this is really sort of Take 3. I feel like there's been a good reaction to the previous episodes, but you just never know because I feel like it's the beginning again for this one, so it does kind of feel like a new start again each time were introduced to a new Clara. Another reintroduction.
She was a Dalek in "Asylum of the Daleks." She was Oswin, right? In the Christmas special she was Clara Oswin Oswald. Is this Clara one of those people?
No, this is basically an entirely new start. This is Clara who is living in contemporary London. She's like as a nanny. She looks after two kids and she's kind of trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life while she's at University. So this is a completely different Clara.
How's the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara changed since the other Claras.
Yeah, it's interesting because obviously to her, she just opens the door to the doctor standing there and has never met him before. But he's got all this prior knowledge as does the audience, but she's meeting the doctor in [Saturday's] episode for the first time. It's a new reaction to meeting the Doctor and how this Clara takes to him.
It's interesting because with the set-up we've got from "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen," there's so much story-wise going on other than these two guys meeting for the first time. It's so much more complex. It's been really fun to play ... There's so much running through it because we've met her twice before.
It sets up for what I think is a really interesting dynamic because these guys, they really get on and they really like each other but there's just all these questions, questions, questions going on in their heads and they're trying to figure each other out, so it makes for an interesting dynamic.
She challenges him. She's not afraid to ask the questions or just go along with him. She's not just clinging onto the Doctor's hand. She's his match and she's part of the team. And she likes to offer something up.
In teasers different characters call her the Girl Twice Dead, The Impossible Girl, The Only Mystery Worth Solving. Is the Doctor going solve that mystery by the end of these eight episodes?
Yes, of course. It's not going to come easy, but we do get payoff, absolutely. ... But like I said it's going to arch over the course of the [season] and then there will be payoff for the numerous Claras that we have met. It will all come together.
All right. So now the doctor said that Amy Pond was the girl who didn't make sense and he says Clara is the impossible girl. So does that mean that he just doesn't understand women at all?
[Laughs.] Possibly. Potentially, I think maybe that is ultimately what the Doctor is saying. [Laughs.]
So you like this new Clara a lot?
[Laughs.] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. There's definitely an essence. You'll see an essence in the same way there was an Oswin in Christmas Clara, there was a similar essence running through them, a similar spirit. We'll see that again with this Clara.
How has it been working with Matt?
It's been wonderful, like every single day is so different and he is just really taking care of me and kind of let me experience it for myself. But he's just a really great friend and he's a wonderful, very generous actor, full of infectious energy; and he's very kind, I think. He's very kind to the crew and to everyone that we're working with and it just makes a very lovely place to work. And I think it's a lot down to him.
Were you scared at first when you first started?
Of course, I mean I think it's the same thing as when you're the new girl at school kind of feeling. But as soon as I got the job, you do get those first job nerves I suppose. But the moment I read "Asylum of the Daleks," it's like that kind of goes out the window and all that takes over is the excitement of the job and what you got to do and how good the script is. And then you kind of can't wait to get started so that takes over and kind of rides you through really. It goes so fast on the show and you work at such a pace that there kind of really isn't any time for analysis.
Do you feel kind of special because you've only been on the show a little bit and you've already played three characters?
Yeah, I love it! [Laughs.] For me it's an absolute joy. I'm up for popping in as other people. But it's been an absolute joy; it's how I auditioned as well. It's a story Steven came up with during the audition process. And it has kind of developed and gone on from there, and become interesting and intercut and complex and has developed into the introduction of new companion.
And I think it's very clever of him because we've all been with Amy and Rory. I'm falling in love with them and I think it's always hard to bring somebody else in, but what he's done is he's created such an intrigue and an interest, so it's fun. I think it's a very clever way to bring in somebody new.
Before the audition did you try to catch up on episodes and see what it's all about?
I did I watch "The Eleventh Hour," which I loved, and then consciously decided not to watch anymore because I kind of didn't really want to know anything about the Doctor and Amy relationship. I didn't really want to pick up on anything. I think it worked well because the audition then was very spontaneous because I didn't know the Doctor. I was reacting very spontaneously to Matt as the Doctor because I was technically meeting him for the first time with no kind of previous awareness.
Steven has said that in auditions he sort of tells the actor about the character and sometimes they end up telling him about the character. And that's what happened with you?
Goodness knows. I kind of went in there and enjoyed myself. Matt made me feel like he was auditioning with me. It felt very much like it wasn't Matt's got the job and I'm trying to get the job. It was like Matt was an actor to another actor. "Let's play and we're in this together. And we're a team." And that's how it felt straight away; we felt like a team. So maybe that was what Steven feels.
You couldn't even tell anyone the role you were auditioning.
I couldn't tell anybody. [Laughs.] It was strange because I was going off to Cardiff to film very soon after the "Asylum of the Daleks," so at this point [the casting] hadn't been released. And my housemates were wondering my bags were being packed and I was going to Cardiff. I tried to come up with all these kind of intricate [stories]. I said, "Well I'm going to shoot a pilot of a comedy TV show. They're filming in Cardiff." It got a little bit absurd really. So anyway, thank God it got through to the press about six weeks later.
That must've been hard just because you were excited to tell somebody.
Yeah, exactly. But it just a strange thing to have a secret like that. And when you know it's a secret, the temptation is even worse. [Laughs.]
What were you doing when you found out you got the role?
I was in a supermarket and I just couldn't carry on shopping. I went for a walk and phoned up my mom; I told my mom. It was really strange because I went home and all my friends got in from work and it's kind of another normal day. They ask, "Good day?" And I'm like, "Uh-hum, yeah, fine." You just can't tell anybody.
So you proved what a great actress you were on that day?
[Laughs.] Yeah. It's quite scary isn't it?
I talked to Richard [Madden] last year and I asked him if he was excited that you were coming on and if he would try to get on as a guest star? He said he'd love to get on as a guest star. So are you going to speak up on his behalf?
Absolutely. Absolutely, I think it's something he would absolutely love to do because he's a really big fan of the show.
Would you ever want to be on "Game of Thrones"?
Tell me something fun about "The Bells of St. John."
Motorbike. Can it be more than like one-word answers?
Yes. But motorbike is good. You have to drive with Matt, how was that?
It was great. It looks good, but we were going quite slow in the back of the low loader without having to do any driving at all. But we kind of looked a bit cool, you know? And it was just one of those days that I think I'll always remember, driving around past Big Ben and Houses of Parliament in London on the back of a motorbike with Doctor Who. It was a pretty cool day.
And he didn't wreck? Because he's notorious for being clumsy.
I think he possibly did fall over once. I mean that's kind of a daily occurrence with Matt.
What can you tell us about the new foe we'll see Saturday, the Spoonheads? (Read What aliens are hiding in the new poster?)
They are scary. Again I just saw it last week from the screening and yeah, they are pretty terrifying. It's such a great kind of contemporary idea and concept.
What was your favorite part of doing this season?
All of it. I mean, from episode to episode, it's amazing finishing on one episode and then you walk into the shoot or the next day and it's completely been transformed into a different world. One day you're on a submarine and you wake up the next day and you're in a factory in Victorian England. Every day is so different. It's just the beauty of what the show can offer you--the variety.
Not only am I in different worlds; we've got all these actors coming in and out, these amazing sets and costumes. We're visiting all these different periods. But it's rather like you say, I had the opportunity to play loads of different characters and meeting the Doctor as well. So it's been really an absolute joy for me as an actress.
Has anything changed for you since getting cast?
No. I've been asked this a lot, but I kind of feel removed really, because we've just been in the studio and then we're pressing. So I haven't had that kind of direct experience with any fans yet or anything like that. So all of that is yet to come.
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