Karen Gillan is nothing if not patient. When a first-look image of the Scottish actress in costume for her part in the upcoming “Jumanji” sequel “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” arrived online last September, the adventure film was blasted for outfitting Gillan in what looked to be a stupid and sexist get-up that stood out against the more appropriate duds her (all male) co-stars were sporting. At the time, Gillan tweeted, “Yes I’m wearing child-sized clothes and YES there is a reason! The pay off is worth it.” It took over a year, but Gillan’s promise has panned out.
In “Welcome to the Jungle” – a modernized sequel to the Robin Williams-starring 1995 family film about a nefarious board game – Gillan plays Martha, an awkward teen who gets tossed into a video game with a pack of her high school brethren and has to fight her way out by outsmarting a very tricky adventure story. Well, that’s sort of who she plays.
The character of Martha is also played by Morgan Turner, said awkward teen who turns into the video game avatar Ruby Roundhouse when she enters the “Jumanji” game. That’s Gillan: an old-school video game character outfitted in a purposely ludicrous get-up. It’s the first thing her avatar comments on, and her unease with the outfit is apparent throughout the film.
“My character is not happy about it, and she’s a really interesting, introverted girl, but in the body of a warrior woman,” Gillan told IndieWire earlier this year. “It’s about her learning how to inhabit that and dealing with this ridiculous costume. Everything that anyone’s been saying about the costume is exactly what the character is saying about the costume.”
Gillan gets why people assumed the worst when that first peek at the film arrived, especially because so many films are guilty of kitting out their actresses in skimpy clothes that have little bearing on actual plot. “To be honest, I can understand people’s reactions. To look at that picture out of context, it does look like completely ridiculous,” Gillan said. “It was a fair response to the picture on its own.”
But inside the world of “Welcome to the Jungle,” the costume choice makes sense, and Gillan and her co-stars have a lot of fun when it comes to mixing up expectations. Jack Black is actually playing the avatar of another teen girl (the confident Bethany, played by Madison Iseman), while Dwayne Johnson is the video-game version of shy nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) and football star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is shocked to end up in the comparatively much smaller body of Kevin Hart.
“It’s explained and there’s a reason for it,” she said. “Everybody is playing against type, and everybody is playing avatars. They are not, on a physical level, real human beings. And they are inhabited by people who don’t know how to inhabit them.”
Gillan, a self-professed super-fan of the first film, credits the film’s screenplay for building out a remake that’s original enough to try something as unique as the avatar storyline.
“That was the thing that made me want the role,” Gillan said of the film’s re-engineering of its predecessor’s mythos. “Because I just think we’re inundated with reboots and remakes all the time, we need some original content, please! To then read the script and realize it is original content, while still paying homage to the original, I was like, ‘This is perfect.'”
It’s yet another foray into the franchise space for the former “Doctor Who” star, one that she finds to be increasingly receptive to the kind of creative work that she wants to do, especially since it often ends up being decidedly feminist in flavor. As “Guardians of the Galaxy” baddie Nebula, Gillan has consistently signed on for roles that allow her to explore those tendencies. Earlier this year, she praised the latest “Guardians of the Galaxy” for having a “great array of women…and different types of women” that go beyond the standard “strong female character” tropes.
Gillan will next be seen in the all-star team-up Marvel movie “Avengers: Infinity War,” which will arrive next summer and manages to bring together the majority of the MCU’s most compelling female characters. And they know it, too. In November, “Thor: Ragnarok” star Tessa Thompson said that she and some of her compatriots were pitching an all-female Marvel movie, a great idea made visible by a picture that soon followed, showing off many of the MCU’s leading ladies, all in one spot.
“I had no idea when we were taking that picture that it would sort of break the internet a little bit,” Gillan said when asked about the now-infamous photo, which also includes Thompson, Zoe Saldana, Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson, Danai Gurira, Evangeline Lilly, and Pom Klementeiff. It was taken the same day they pitched their idea to Feige at a Marvel event.
— Marvel Studios (@MarvelStudios) November 28, 2017
“Brie Larson was like, ‘We should go up to Kevin Feige and tell him to make an all-female Marvel movie,’ so we all marched up there in a group, a whole herd of us, and said that to him,” Gillan said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, that would be amazing!’ but he didn’t really commit to it, but he thought it would be a great idea.”
Although Feige has been characteristically cagey about announcing such a project, Gillan is ready for it. “Now is the time, more than ever,” Gillan said. “Look at the success of ‘Wonder Woman.’ It’s clear that we all want that.”
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” opens in theaters on December 20.