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The Transformation Of Karen Gillan From Childhood To Doctor Who

Thanks to her recent run in the Marvel cinematic universe as the bald, superpowered Nebula, Karen Gillan's fans may be more accustomed to seeing her face daubed in blue makeup than framed by her trademark red locks. But the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" star got her breakout role on the legendary British sci-fi television series "Doctor Who," where she played Amy Pond, the fiery-haired companion to Matt Smith's Doctor from 2010 to 2013.

And before Gillan landed what was every geek girl's dream part — possibly now trumped by the time-traveling lead herself, thanks to trailblazing female Doctor Jodie Whittaker — the Scottish actor had a steady rise from small town to screen stardom.

Showing a creative flair and love for the movies from a young age, you might assume she was born for the business. As a child, she told Country and Townhouse, she "would just go around the house making horror films all the time, casting my parents in roles... There was tomato sauce everywhere." But despite the home-video antics, playing to a crowd didn't always come so naturally. "It was quite difficult for me then to get into performing because I was so nervous," she confessed to The Independent

So how did she come to conquer those nerves — and later, the whole universe — as the "Doctor Who" star we know today?

From council estate to the catwalk

Karen Gillan's Hollywood fame had humble beginnings. Per Country and Townhouse, she was born on a council estate in Inverness, Scotland, and the closest her family got to a showbiz connection was her dad's status as a regular at the local pub's open mic night. At age 16, she swapped her small town for the Scottish capital, studying Performance at Edinburgh's Telford College. After that, London was calling –- at 18, she enrolled at the city's Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. A well-known training ground for UK industry talent, its yearbooks are packed with British screen stalwarts — including Bonnie Langford, another former companion to TV's best-loved timelord from way back in the 1980s.

But before she lit up the nation's screens, Gillan was strutting the catwalk. Whilst in London, she was scouted by a modeling agency, even appearing at London Fashion Week. Despite her success as a model, her heart wasn't in the fashion industry. "I never cared about modelling," she told The Guardian, though the experience did come in handy when she played '60s icon Jean Shrimpton in the biopic "We'll Take Manhattan." Observing that "as a model you're powerless," Gillan expressed more creative ambitions.

Showing the first flickerings of this ambition and shifting her focus firmly to acting, she dropped out of drama school for a role she hoped would be her first break.

Drama school dropout

Karen Gillan's first screen appearance was on the ITV crime drama "Rebus," based on the Inspector Rebus novels by fellow Scott Ian Rankin. Though the show enjoyed a successful seven-year run, her character Teri Cotter appeared in just one episode. As a result, the job that followed was much less glamorous — pulled from in front of the camera to behind the bar, she worked in a London pub to pay the bills.

Despite this setback — one still common for many a jobbing actor — Gillan doesn't regret taking the risk. "It's good to go with your gut instincts in life," she told The Independent in a 2011 interview. "You just should. Even if it doesn't work out, something good will come out of it." And so it did.

Two years later, in 2008, she was cast in comedian Kevin Bishop's imaginatively titled TV sketch comedy series "The Kevin Bishop Show." Sending up celebrities and the famous faces of the British media, the satirical show saw Gillan develop her range as a performer. In what she called a "comedy crash course" in an interview with The Independent, she delivered side-splitting impersonations of stars from Angelina Jolie to Katy Perry.

Indeed, the "Doctor Who" casting that transformed Gillan's career came while "The Kevin Bishop Show" was still underway, its creator playfully remarking in The Daily Record that if her fame came to outstrip the sketch show, "we could just get her to play herself."

Becoming a time traveler

Bursting onto British screens as Amy Pond in 2010, Karen Gillan's introduction as the companion on "Doctor Who" was an unusual one. She first appeared as a kissogram — prompting some of the British media's more prurient voices to brand her "too sexy" for the family show, per BBC. That didn't stop her popularity with fans though — not least the young redheaded girls who Gillan says send her letters of thanks for inspiring them to take adventures like Amy's — and for encouraging them to embrace their ginger locks.

But this wasn't the first time Gillan had shared the screen with The Doctor. As noted by The Guardian, eagle-eyed Whovians may have spotted her in "The Fires Of Pompeii," an episode from David Tennant's stint as the timelord in season 4. There, she played a soothsayer in the doomed Italian city — and we can't help but wonder whether she foresaw her bright future on the sci-fi show.

Alongside her hapless but loveable husband Rory (Arthur Darvill), Amy rode the TARDIS until the end of season 7 in 2013. Orchestrating her exit with writer Steven Moffat, Gillan told IGN that she wanted to see Amy go out "on a high when the character was at her prime."

Gillan's own gains have been comparable. As well as achieving Marvel stardom, she has also written, directed, and starred in her own film, The Party's Just Beginning. With a long career doubtlessly still ahead of her, its title seems apt.