‘Doctor Who’ finale: Jenna-Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

May 17, 2013 | 5:09 p.m.
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"Doctor Who" actress Jenna-Louise Coleman is photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio in March 2013. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

jennalouisecoleman3 Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

"Doctor Who" actress Jenna-Louise Coleman is photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio in March 2013. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

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Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman film an episode of "Doctor Who" in London on Oct. 16, 2012. (Neil Mockford / FilmMagic)

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Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

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Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

dwclara3 Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

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Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

clara3 Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

dwclara4 Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

gotpremiere Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

"Doctor Who" star Jenna-Louise Coleman, right, and her boyfriend Richard Madden, who plays Robb Stark in "Game of Thrones," attend the HBO show's Season 3 premiere in Hollywood in March 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

jennalouisecoleman1 Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

"Doctor Who" actress Jenna-Louise Coleman is photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio in March 2013. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

jennalouisecoleman5 Doctor Who finale: Jenna Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

"Doctor Who" actress Jenna-Louise Coleman is photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio in March 2013. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Fans of the BBC sci-fi series “Doctor Who” know that this season’s biggest mystery isn’t about sinister aliens or otherworldly adventures, but rather about the origins of the latest in the Doctor’s long and lovely line of traveling companions.

Played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, Clara Oswald has been dubbed “the impossible girl.” Before the Doctor (Matt Smith) recruited Clara, a London nanny, to join him on his jaunts through time and space, he had met her before — or at least he met two women who looked just like her. Both women died, and Clara’s existence baffles the Time Lord.

Coleman’s Clara has big shoes to fill after the departure of  Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, a fan-favorite companion who shared the screen with Matt Smith’s Doctor for 2 1/2 seasons. Like Amy, Clara is adventurous and spirited and not afraid to engage the Doctor in teasing banter — a dynamic that Coleman compares to Indiana Jones’ sparky relationship with Marion Ravenwood in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Coleman’s debut season wraps up Saturday night with the coyly titled episode “The Name of the Doctor,” airing at 8 p.m. PT on BBC America, but Hero Complex sat down with the leading lady earlier this spring to talk about landing the role, working with Smith, and what’s next for the mysterious Clara.

HC: You had a long run in “Emmerdale,” not to mention “Waterloo Road” and Julian Fellowes’ “Titanic” miniseries. How is being a lead different from acting in an ensemble?

"Doctor Who" actress Jenna-Louise Coleman is photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio in March 2013. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

“Doctor Who’s” Jenna-Louise Coleman is photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio in March. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

JLC: I really noticed my first couple of months the difference is with Matt. Matt, when he comes on set, he very much sets a tone on set, and he sets an atmosphere, and in the same way as a director always does. I’ve played some great supporting parts, and some great other leading parts, but you’re coming into somebody else’s set often, and you pick up on a tone and a feel, and it’s down to those people. So I think that’s kind of what a lead is, and it’s something that Matt does really, really well. It’s a very warm atmosphere, and I think a lot of it is down to him, really. He comes onto set every day and he’s there to greet everybody and be like, “OK, we’re a team.” He’s just a brilliant leading man, and he’s so prepared, and that’s one thing I noticed coming into the job. I suppose when you’ve got guest actors in and out — every two weeks we have a new episode with people in and out — it’s your show, in a way, which is a new thing for me, to welcome people onto the show and look after people.

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HC: Can you tell us a little about your audition and your first impressions of working with Matt?

JLC: There’s so much secrecy, it’s insane! You’ve got the code names, and “Men on Waves” was my code name. The initial plot was a Mary Poppins governess character, so I really took to that straight away, ‘cause it was period, and I get to be Mary Poppins pretty much, plus I’m bossing the Doctor around, and it was very twee and very fun. I had a line like [she slips into an exaggerated accent], “The thing about living entities, Doctor, they tend to know who’s boss.” So I really enjoyed the script, but they only ever give you a couple of scenes to read, and then it kind of developed as it went on and changed. …

I never knew Matt before, so I just met him in the audition room. But we’re in the same agency at home, so … we instantly had a bit of a connection in there. He just gave me a big hug, instantly. You were really nervous, but then he just wrapped his arms around you, and you’re like, “Aww, you’re really nice!” So that diffused the situation, and then everybody left the audition room, and they were like, “Here’s the scenes. You guys just go and work them out, and then we’ll come back in and watch.” So it didn’t feel like Matt sat behind the desk auditioning me, it was like he was in it with me. It really makes that difference. He gave me the confidence to kind of just play with him, and we’re playing the scenes back and forth and trying things, and I felt comfortable to grab his hand, so it was a good way to audition for a show like this.

HC: Was there any point at which you felt confident that the role was yours?

JLC: My first meeting with Matt, I went from like, “OK, this interesting, this could be … but it’s going to be a really long process. I’m just going to go in and audition and enjoy myself, because it feels a very long way off and not really that possible at the moment.” But then when I went in to read with Matt, the difference was I was like, “I want this job.” Working with Matt in the audition room was what it was. … I just kind of left, and I was walking round, and I was buzzed, like really, really happy after the meeting, and I was like, “Aw, actually, this job would be brilliant. I’d love this job.”

HC: Had you been a fan of the show before you auditioned?

JLC: I was always familiar. I’ve always known who all the Doctors are and all the companions, but it was never on the TV when I was growing up. It came back in 2005, and I was 18. But it worked in my favor, I think, because I didn’t know Matt as the Doctor, so I didn’t know what he was going to throw at me.

HC: So you didn’t go back and watch the old episodes?

JLC: I’ve just got the classics on DVD, so I’d love to go back and watch it, but when I first started the job, I watched “The Eleventh Hour” while I was auditioning — Matt and Karen’s first episode, which I loved — but instantly, I was like, “I don’t want to watch anymore.” I think there’s just something in [executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat’s] writing that’s rhythmical. There’s a beat to it, and it’s about the chemistry in a way, and it’s about that beat, and about that kind of banter. I felt like there’s just something, even subconsciously, that I’m going to pick up on, so I kind of don’t want to see too much. … I spoke to Steven about it as well. As the companion, you approach it in different ways. Like Matt watched every single episode. He had the TARDIS manual. But obviously he’s the Doctor; he’s experienced these 11 different Doctors’ lives. He’s experienced everything, and it kind of informs him. As a companion, you’ve never seen an alien before, you’ve never been to outer space, you’ve never met anyone like the Doctor, so it’s a case of trusting your instincts and letting that play. Which is quite tough to do, because I’m more like, “Let’s research everything we can!” So it’s the case of throwing all of that out the window and turning up on set and being open to playing around.

"Doctor Who" companions: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman). (BBC)

“Doctor Who” recent companions, from left: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman). (BBC)

HC: You’ve spent some time with Arthur Darvill (Rory) and Karen?

JLC: My first episode that I did, which we filmed in secret, it was Oswin in “Asylum of the Daleks.” I had only recently got the job, and Karen and Matt and Arthur were still filming their first part of the season. I was in makeup with them all and in the trailers, and it was kind of like I was just the new girl. I kind of wanted to go up to Karen and be like, “Tell me everything I need to know! Tell me what to do!” But I was just trying to play it cool a little bit. She was really sweet. She’s texted me loads. And me and Matt, we pretended like, “Karen’s giving me advice on how to deal with you,” and Karen was on board with it, so the two of us were having a bit of fun with him, teasing him. She’s just really, really supportive. She’s lovely.

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HC: It must be strange to be part of such an iconic tale, with all these different versions of Doctors and companions.

JLC: It’s funny, because it didn’t feel like that. When you’re removed from it, you see it as the brand, but actually when you’re inside it and you’re in the studios, it’s not until you see iconic things like the TARDIS that you’re like, “Oh wow, I’m in this.” But because we had a new TARDIS as well, everything felt different and new.

HC: Karen Gillan has mentioned that Steven Moffat will keep secrets from the cast based on what their characters know. Did Steven let you in on the mystery behind Clara?

JLC: Auditioning, I knew about these three individual characters — there’s Oswin, there was the Christmas Clara, and then we go back and we meet another Clara, contemporary Clara. So I’ve always known that there was these three characters, but they don’t inform each other at all, so I just completely had to see them and play them as self-contained. Obviously the curiosity was like, “Why? Why, Why, Why!? Tell me the secrets, tell me the twists!” I don’t think Steven would have told me if I asked him. But I didn’t need to know, so I asked him not to know. If you know things, I even think subconsciously you start to play them. I’m completely oblivious on screen, so I thought it’s better that I remain completely oblivious in real life. But now I know.

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald in an episode of “Doctor Who.” (BBC America)

HC: So how would you characterize contemporary Clara, the one we get to know the best?

JLC: I think she’s in that phase of her life where’s finished university, she’s done an English degree, she loves to read, but she doesn’t know what to do with her life or what she wants to do. So she’s in this limbo. She’s always, always, always wanted to travel. That’s like her big dream. She’s got this book, which is “101 Places to See,” and it’s what her mum gave her, so it’s something that she’s always wanted to do. She plays her cards quite close to her chest. She’s quite a dreamer at heart, but she’d never really admit it. I don’t think she’s the type to really like cry in front of people. She plays it quite cool, but actually she’s a big dreamer. But she’s also got spirit as well, the same way as the other incarnations that we’ve already seen.

HC: Would you say there’s a common thread that runs between each of these three characters?

JLC: She’s not afraid to give the Doctor what for. She’s just not intimidated by him. She’s got this kind of feisty spirit, and we’ve definitely seen that across the three. She just wants to know more. She wants to know the answers to things. She’s also not like a damsel in distress.

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HC: Would you say you’re similar to her?

JLC: Yeah, I think so. I’m nowhere near as brave. If a space guy really landed on my doorstep, I’d have a heart attack. But I like to think I have some of her spirit.

"Doctor Who" star Jenna-Louise Coleman, right, and her boyfriend Richard Madden, who plays Robb Stark in "Game of Thrones," attend the HBO show's Season 3 premiere in Hollywood in March 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

“Doctor Who” star Jenna-Louise Coleman and her boyfriend Richard Madden attend the “Game of Thrones” Hollywood premiere in March. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

HC: Do you have the same sort of playfully combative relationship with Matt off set?

JLC: Matt likes to wind me up. He’s a really big tease. He started off so polite and gentlemanly, and you could see him sussing me out, trying to find the best way to wind me up. That’s what he likes to do. He’s always very good humored, but he does it with everyone on set. It’s very funny.

HC: Your boyfriend, Richard Madden, is also in a genre show — as Robb Stark in “Game of Thrones,” and we saw you at that show’s premiere earlier this year. Do you watch each other’s shows?

JLC: He came to the “Doctor Who” premiere in London, and he’s a big fan of the show. He loves the show. So it’s kind of like we’re mutual fans of each other’s shows. It’s great, because we can talk scripts, or I can be like, “Oh, there’s a scene today,” and we can talk things through and get his perspective on things, or vice versa. Also, I respect him as an actor, so it’s quite good sometimes to have another actor, but an outsider’s opinion on stuff.

HC: Has there been a favorite episode or scene for you so far?

JLC: The whole Christmas episode for me was like a big fairy tale come true. I got to walk on clouds, and like, oh my God, just pinching yourself sometimes. I felt like I was in a storybook. And the second episode [“The Rings of Akhaten”] is Clara’s first trip into outer space, so we go to this alien planet and we’ve got scenes where we’re in an amphitheater of aliens, so we had so many extras that day, and me and Matt sat amongst them all. It’s like, “Our jobes are so weird but really cool!” We were transported into a really weird alien world, and it’s kind of her first chance to see what life is going to be like traveling with him. It was an amazing episode to shoot. It was beautifully written by Neil Cross, so it was really heartwarming. I love that episode in particular. There are just moments, you know, riding on the back of a motorbike, going past Big Ben and the houses of Parliament on the back of a motorbike with [the] Doctor.  There are just certain moments that stick in my mind.

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of “Doctor Who.” (BBC America)

HC: There’s really not another show like it.

JLC: It’s really unique that it’s a show that I can talk about with my grandma, and my grandma appreciates and loves it, and then also my best friend’s little brother, who’s like 7 or 8 years old. You get fans across all the generations. It’s a really universal show, and I don’t think there are many shows that can appeal to that kind of audience. It’s nice, when my auntie from Australia came over, when I first got the job, she’s telling me about when she was younger and she used to hide behind the sofa from the Daleks, and was terrified. It’s nice that so many people grow up in England and are like, “Oh, my doctor was… .” It’s just a very imaginative show.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark

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Comments


4 Responses to ‘Doctor Who’ finale: Jenna-Louise Coleman on the mystery of Clara

  1. Sam Sheldon says:

    So interesting to follow the show. First saw Dr Who in 1985 while I was in college with Tom Baker as the doctor and his companion Sarah. I raced home from classes so I could watch it as I ate supper. I was hooked and have kept up with the series ever since!

  2. Lawrence A. says:

    The first time I really knew and saw Doctor Who was the revival back in 2005. At that time, I did not know it was a revival nor it was a continuation of a new show. What really appealed to me about the show is the actors/actresses that really immerse themselves in the roles and I thought the whole time the Doctor was actually a human, mad scientists/time traveler. It was only until when the Doctor regenerated from Christopher Ecceleston to David Tennant that I did not realize he was actually an alien. That's kind of original, so I did some investigation about if there was any past doctor who shows and there was and I got hooked right away.

  3. rodney says:

    who is clara

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