In terms of genre cred, Karen Gillan's is as vast as the inside of the TARDIS. She's given us sci-fi with her iconic role as Amy Pond in Doctor Who, comics and superheroics as Nebula with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame (among other MCU work to come), action and fantasy with the Jumanji films, horror with Oculus, and now — thanks to Spies in Disguise — she's entered the wide world of animation.
"I was already intrigued to voice something because I haven't done a lot of voice acting, so that was new territory for me," Gillan told SYFY FANGRRLS. "But what really sold it for me was when I met our brilliant directors and they talked me through the vision of the film, and they did a visual presentation."
It was in that presentation that directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane introduced her to Eyes, a specialist in spectral analysis and quantum optical thermography and partner to communications specialist Ears, played by none other than DJ Khaled, which she calls "one of the funniest pairings I think I've ever seen." Gillan immediately connected with her animated counterpart.
"She's super nerdy and into technology. And then they unveiled the visual for the character, and she's the most gangly, red-headed girl I've ever seen. And I was like, 'OK, I think I'd be the only person that can do this because that's what I really look like.'"
The choice to play a geeky tech genius is no accident. For Gillan, she knows her fanbase includes many, many young women and girls, and she keeps them in mind as she chooses her roles.
"Growing up I connected with so many amazing female characters, in all types of different entertainment, whether it was pop stars or movies, actresses, and so I've always aspired to be some sort of inspiration for younger girls," Gillan says. "To be an example, to inspire girls to go into the professions that they want to, and show them that that is an option. And I guess I worked a lot in the sci-fi space, which has been cool, and I've seen the effects that my characters have had on younger women. There's a lot of empowerment that goes on, especially with the action movies that I do. And so it's incredibly important to me, I don't think I could ever really play a role that didn't have an element of that to it, it's vital."
The genre space is by no means an area Gillan is trapped by — she's made her fair share of dramas, comedies, and historical films based in reality — but she's also perfectly fine with her space queen status.
"I love acting in those types of things because everything's very heightened, and you're in all of these other worlds," she says. "I mean, being constantly in life or death situations is quite stimulating as an actor. And so I like that, I think it's really fun. I guess I've just fallen into that a little bit, but I'm very happy about it. It all started on Doctor Who for me, and I've just been on spaceships ever since."
Space, superheroes, and science may permeate most of her work, but a film in which Will Smith portrays a secret agent who gets turned into a pigeon whose boss is played by Reba McEntire is certainly a new aspect to this already jam-packed resume.
"It's crazy. It's like if we were all there in person it would be the craziest ensemble," Gillan says. "And it's funny because you don't really work with them in the same room either, you're just in a booth on your own, and then you're like, 'Oh wait, I was in a movie with Will Smith.' Mind is blown."
While Gillan has done some audio work related to Doctor Who, this is her first time playing a brand new character, one she wasn't already deeply tied to. For the actress, Spies in Disguise was an entirely new experience. So new, she didn't know what we've come to learn from other voiceover performers is the biggest perk of voice work: wearing pajamas to the studio.
"Pajamas? I didn't know I could do that. I'm really annoyed that I didn't do that. Do you mean I didn't need to get dressed that day?"
Aside from having to put on real clothes to go to work, just like the rest of us, Gillan found a lot to enjoy in this new role.
"It was fun to let loose and do something that's lighthearted and just a load of fun. But I took it as seriously as any other job because it's a good message in this movie. What I really connected with in the movie was just a sense of fighting bad with good rather than fighting bad with bad," she says. "And I think that's such a great message for anyone dealing with any negative situations. And so I thought it was a secretly important movie where it had this great message, but it was very palatable and fun to consume."
One of her co-stars in Spies in Disguise is also her co-star in the Avengers films: Tom Holland. And in terms of sheer odds, it won't be her last MCU co-star and might actually become the norm.
"I'm starting to think that," she agrees. "I mean there's just so many of us now, it's like a family that's just completely expanded at such a rate. So yeah, it's pretty probable that we'll all be working together multiple times."
In fact with Nebula, her villain-turned-avenging ally, Gillan will see her next voiceover role, reprising the character on Disney+'s What If...? Which is fitting, as a lot went into creating the character's voice in the first place.
"She has a different voice quality, which is an impression of Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood, so I'm more aware of the voice," she says. I instantly hear the sound of that character's speaking manner in my head and the inspiration is immediately recognizable. "It was James Gunn's idea to do that, and that was one of those moments where the character was unlocked in an instant and I was like, 'Oh, you're such a good director.' Because she was kind of meh, and then she became really interesting."
With the joys of voice work comes challenges and restrictions though, particularly for a performer known for her soulful eyes and sparkling smile.
"I only had my voice to convey emotions, and as an actor, I think a lot of it's more like what's going on behind the eyes, and these subtle hints as to what they're really thinking underneath it all. But with the voice, you don't really have that luxury," she explains. "It was a totally different sensation."
And with different sensations and experiences come very different questions. Like, were she a spy in disguise, what would be her disguise? She doesn't even pause before her answer.
This fits so perfectly with what we know of Gillan and just her general demeanor in this conversation. A precious ginger puppy.
"Yes, that's what I'd be — a precious ginger puppy that everybody can't resist. And then when they least expect it, I will do my spy stuff."
Truth be told, a precious puppy that can actually kick your ass is a very good description of Karen Gillan.
"I will take that," she says. And even on the phone, we can hear her smile. One animated film down and she's already a pro at expressing her face just through her voice.
Spies in Disguise is available to own now on Digital, 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD.