Marie Claire is supported by her audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to purchase.
The Scottish actress on why shooting Tarantino-esque thriller Gunpowder Milkshake with her female acting heroes was so meaningful (and how she prepared for the massive action flick in just three weeks)
Karen Gillan, speaking to us from LA via Zoom, is reeling from what sounds like a downright brutal action thriller Gunpowder Milkshake. Gillan plays Sam in the film, a curiously sensitive hit man who follows in her mother’s infamous footsteps (Lena Headey plays her mother, Scarlet) with the powerful trio of Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino taking on the roles of the “librarians.” take oneself. Directed by Navot Papushado, the female-focused carnage of a movie (you’ve been warned) is a fun, classy, adrenaline-filled ride — AKA everything we want from cinema right now. Here Gillan explains what making the film entailed…
Gunpowder milkshake was excellent. Are you satisfied with the feedback so far?
Yes, it’s great to see people rave about seeing a group of women kick ass and not wearing sexy outfits. That seems to be the general consensus, which I like.
Absolute. I actually wanted to ask what you did with that famous bomber jacket. It will definitely become a piece of wardrobe history!
I know. It is so funny. I think people loved Ryan Gosling’s bomber jacket in Drive and it definitely has those vibes, but it’s a bit cuter, it has a baby tiger on it. And I’ve kept it all, it’s in my wardrobe now.
I don’t blame you. And you’re right, it is cool that the female characters aren’t scantily dressed. You can’t wait to wear normal clothes!
Yeah, and it’s not those sexy killer outfits. It’s more practical, but they also have fun with it. It just feels like it’s not because of the male gaze, which is quite refreshing.
It’s a really interesting movie because it manages to tackle some pretty serious topics like the mother-child relationship and abandonment issues, but it does it with humor. And also a lot of action and violence…
Yes. I think that’s what really attracted me to the project, knowing that I could run around in these exciting action scenes, but also that there’s a lot of emotion and heart in it, something I could cling to. I don’t know if I could play a part if there wasn’t an emotional hook to get me in, which I could then use to get through the performance. So I really liked that her mother left her and those feelings of being unworthy and how that manifests for the rest of her life. It was interesting.
Absolute. And despite such weighty topics, it still manages to be really funny in some places, doesn’t it?
Yes, there is definitely humor in it. The action scenes are cool and impressive, but they’re also a bit comical and a bit ridiculous. There is one where I lose the use of my arms. And so I have to fight three men without my arms, where I look like a gangly cartoon character.
How’s blood? It was pretty bloody…
I’m okay with blood. I grew up watching a lot of horror movies, so I’m completely impervious to blood. But when it comes to actually firing guns, I can’t keep my eyes open. I don’t understand how people just casually keep their eyes open while firing a gun. There’s such a thump in it and I can’t keep my eyes open – which isn’t good when you’re in a movie called Gunpowder Milkshake.
That’s hilarious. But this wasn’t your first action movie – you’d had training before and you were filming Jumanji 2 just before that, weren’t you. So how prepared did you feel to tackle this?
Hell yes. I only had three weeks to prepare for Gunpowder, but I just got off Jumanji 2 and we had the Mission Impossible stunt team, so I was definitely in the zone of training and learning routines and weapons. I rolled right in, luckily – I was in the zone. Because three weeks is not very long to learn all those routines. So we just went to boot camp, which involved running my stunt double around the studio every morning, boxing with her, training and learning the routines in slow motion. And then gradually pick up speed every time we did it.
I can’t imagine the physicality, it just looks exhausting. Did you go to bed completely exhausted every night?
Yes, continue. I remember waking up the next day after two days of fighting and thinking, ‘I can’t move, I’ve never felt like this before’. And then I had to go in to rehearse for the next fight scene. Even my stunt double was like, “I’m tired.” I was like, ‘If you are feeling tired…I’m just a mortal!’ [laughs].
Did you have any injuries on set? Or did you give someone something?
I accidentally kicked someone in the balls. I shouldn’t laugh about it, but in hindsight I know the balls are okay, apparently.
Oh my God. Were they okay?
Fine. They’re fine. He’s an ex-marine. So he’s probably been kicked in the balls before. So now that we all know he’s okay, I can laugh about it.
Was the physical aspect and the training the toughest?
Yes, I would say that. It was demanding and something different from what I normally do. I’ve done action before, but mostly I’m an actress who only uses words. So having to learn this completely new skillset with completely new weapons that I’ve never heard of before was pretty intense.
Now you can add all those crazy guns to your resume, if there is such a section!
Yes! Do we have any resumes? [laughs]. I’m going to write it there…
One element I really liked was the librarians [played by Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino]. It was brilliant to see a trio of women form the main characters, and of course Lena Headey’s character. What was it like working with those women?
It was amazing. It was so cool. I signed up for the project and those roles hadn’t been cast yet. So I assumed we’d get some great people, but I didn’t expect to have this lineup. It was just one after the other. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be so surprised by the stars all through the movie, I’m going to have the best acting class of my life!’. And I sure was. They just have such a natural gravitational pull and they’re so impressive. If they are in the room, you know and you just want to stare at them. they have that aura. I was like, ‘Oh, that is who I want to be’.
And they all brought something so different into it, it was really magical to see their chemistry.
Yes definitely. I mean, we’ve got like Michelle Yeoh, who’s an action legend, so she knows what she’s doing with that. Dan Angela Bassett, who is simply the most extraordinary actress. Oh my god, talk about natural gravitas! And Carla Gugino played a different vibe, like the more bookish kind of motherly character and I’ve been such a fan of hers for years. And, of course, Lena Headey is also one of my favorite actresses. I love them all.
I saw some videos of you and Lena walking around backstage and it looked like this pleasure – did you immediately have a good relationship?
Yes, we certainly did. And I was happy to hear that Lena Headey likes a crazy Instagram video. Once we found that out about each other, we went to the races and filmed stuff like that all day! There are so many that I didn’t even post that take like 10 minutes! We had a great time and filmed the action movie in between all our Instagram posts [laughs].
Is there anything you learned about yourself while filming?
Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know, I definitely had one of the best times of my life in that movie. And I don’t know what the reasons are, it was probably just a combination of things. So it makes me want to feel that way all the time. I don’t know what I’ve learned about myself… that I can’t keep my eyes open when firing guns? But that I could probably fight someone? That’s quite empowering.
Do you think it felt different to be an actress on set, surrounded by so many strong female protagonists? Did you feel that?
Yes, it certainly was. And maybe that was one of the reasons I had one of the best times of my life on set. I’ve actually never been in a predominantly female movie, now that I think about it. It was definitely a different vibe, like I was definitely getting advice from actresses and they were helping me, I was learning. And I felt really comfortable too. It became this real sisterhood in a way. It was just great fun, it was a good atmosphere.
What kind of things did you learn from them? Practical things?
Yes. So I’m going to be an actor nerd here [laughs] but things like, maybe you’re not sure why you’re supposed to be doing something as stupid as running away at that point – which sounds petty, but that’s a choice. And I remember at that point I had to leave for the script and thought, ‘I don’t know why I’d leave? I don’t want to go, I don’t go.” And Angela Bassett said, ‘This is why she would leave’. I forget what reason she gave, but she made it so clear in one simple sentence. So I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s why you’re so good at this’. So I was like, ‘I have to leave right now’.
That kind of face-to-face interaction is often the most effective, isn’t it?
Yes. And I think people who really, Real good at things have a knack for making them seem very simple. Like it’s not complicated.
As someone who has just worked so hard on this masterpiece, I dare not ask what you will do next. But can you tell us what’s in the pipeline for you?
We have a few more Marvel movies coming out, Thor and then Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, which we haven’t shot yet. And then I just shot the new Judd Apatow movie, a comedy about actors trying to make a movie during a pandemic [The Bubble]. I had such fun with that movie, loved every second of it.
When you got the script for that, you thought, ‘A movie about the pandemic can’t work, can it?’!
You know, I read it and I was filming Thor during the pandemic. And this is about actors trying to make a big budget movie during the pandemic. So I was like, ‘this is’ So accurate” – I couldn’t even believe how accurate it was. And it was hilarious. It’s like putting a group of nasty actors together in a hotel and just watching them get beaten up emotionally. And honestly, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for people to watch.
It’s very reassuring to see how successful people find life difficult, and don’t just see that “ambitious” side of things. It’s pretty nice to get that glimpse, don’t you think?
Yes, I like seeing people get beat up sometimes, especially if you don’t have much sympathy for them. So, like a group of overpaid franchise actors screaming about what room they got in the hotel, it’s fun to watch those kinds of characters get beat up. And that’s definitely what this movie is.
Gunpowder Milkshake is out now.