Doctor Who star Jenna Coleman: "Peter Capaldi is almost the opposite of Matt Smith"

As she returns to the Tardis for a second series, the actress discusses Capaldi versus Smith, alien chit-chat… and the advantages of being 5ft 2in

It's approaching seven o'clock on a Friday evening in a forest near Cardiff and filming of the new series of Doctor Who has wrapped for another week. Jenna Coleman, soon to complete her second series as the Doctor's latest companion, Clara Oswald, prepares to be driven back along the M4 towards London for a precious two-day reunion with her boyfriend, the Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden.

"This is how we spend our Friday nights, travelling from Cardiff to London," she says, "we" apparently referring to gaggles of commuting TV performers. "There's so much being filmed in Wales at the moment – Doctor Who, Da Vinci's Demons, Atlantis – that I keep bumping into actors at the service station."

Series eight of the rebooted time-travel saga began filming at the Cardiff Bay studios of BBC Wales back in January, and only completed earlier this month. "The job is so consuming," says Coleman. "When I'm here in Cardiff, it's me and Peter, all day, every day."

Peter, of course, is the 56-year-old Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, formerly best-known as the sweary Thick of It spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker, now reincarnated as the 12th Doctor. Capaldi has revealed that, unlike with his predecessor (played by 31-year-old Matt Smith), whose Doctor was engaged in a close relationship with Clara that once led to a passionate kiss, there will be no flirting between the Time Lord and his companion here.

"I always thought Matt was so young- looking but had this older, wiser quality about him, whereas Peter is almost the opposite," observes the 28-year-old Coleman. "Somehow he has this energy that is younger. Visually, obviously, it is very different."

 

Despite rumours ranging from the plausible (Rory Kinnear) to the bizarre (David Beckham), Capaldi was the one and only choice of showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to replace Smith, the news being revealed to Coleman on the same day that Prince Charles and Camilla happened to be visiting the set.

"They told me and Matt together," she says. "I don't think even Peter had any idea that he was the only person who'd read for the part."

 

What was it like, adjusting to a new actor in the role? "He looks completely different and acts completely differently," says Coleman. "We're discovering that it's much more of a turbulent relationship [between the characters]; he brings out the control freak in Clara because she can't quite pin him down. It's always an interesting dynamic with the Doctor, anyway; one moment he's your friend, and in another moment he's this weird alien, and in another moment he's being this annoying kind of toddler and you're the adult, and in the next moment he's playing the wise old grandfather."

Coleman is herself relatively new to the show, having gradually replaced Karen Gillan, who played Amy Pond, during the course of the seventh season, Moffat claiming that one reason he cast her was that she was the only potential companion who could speak faster than Smith. "That comes in handy with Doctor Who: there's so much story to tell in 45 minutes."

"The auditioning process was really unusual," reveals Coleman. "Steven and the other producers and the director all left the room and left me and Matt for about 50 minutes to chat through the scenes and play off each other. It was very relaxed. I had no idea what they wanted at all, I was just playing around with accents and going from Mary Poppins to this London girl to this person from a different planet, while Matt kept throwing different curve balls at me."

Before she auditioned, Coleman watched the 2010 Matt Smith/Karen Gillen episode "The Eleventh Hour", because she had never seen the show before – unsurprisingly, since she was only four in 1989, when the BBC pulled its original incarnation of Doctor Who. "And I was about 18 when it came back with Billie [Piper] and Chris [Eccleston]. It was something that I was very aware of because it was kind of everywhere, but it simply wasn't on during my childhood."

Coleman with Matthew Goode in Stephen Poliakoff's Dancing on the Edge Coleman with Matthew Goode in Stephen Poliakoff's Dancing on the Edge (Rex Features)
That childhood was spent in Blackpool, a town Coleman thinks would make a brilliant setting for a Doctor Who story. "You can imagine all those lights and all the amusements turning against you somehow." Her father and brother run a shop-fitting business, and Coleman has no idea where her theatrical urge came from. "It's something I've been doing from a really young age but it's not in the family at all."

Aged 11, she appeared as a bridesmaid in the musical Summer Holiday with Darren Day, receiving a Debenhams voucher for her efforts. After a rebellious patch in her mid-teens, she went on to become head girl at Arnold School in her home town, and won a place to study English at York University, although before she could take it up, she was offered the part of Jasmine Thomas in Emmerdale.

Jasmine's storylines eventually started drying up, so Coleman decided to leave – and things got decidedly racier: Jasmine had a lesbian affair with her best friend Debbie, became pregnant by Debbie's father and had an abortion before clubbing her policeman boyfriend to death with a chair leg. "A really good exit story," she calls it.

Like so many soap actors before her, Coleman discovered her stint on Emmerdale had categorised her in the minds of casting directors: "It was hard for people to see you in a different role." So, having moved to London, taken some bar shifts and started an Open University degree in English, Coleman decided to try her luck thousands of miles from such preconceptions – in the annual Los Angeles TV pilot season, renting a room in West Hollywood.

New dimension: Coleman in Doctor Who with Matt Smith (BBC) New dimension: Coleman in Doctor Who with Matt Smith (BBC)
"It was great because I never had a gap year or anything like that. You'd get a pilot that was set in a 1930s jazz bar and you'd go off and just look into that for a day, even if it wasn't a part you'd get in a million years; I enjoyed the process and just reading different scripts. I came back to England a lot more fearless." And also with a tiny part in the 2011 action movie Captain America: The First Avenger – enough to snag a leading role in the BBC4 adaptation of John Braine's Room at the Top, before she was cast in Julian Fellowes' Titanic and as Rosie in Stephen Poliakoff's Dancing on the Edge. "I've never worked with a director who'd written something before, so it was really interesting," she says of Poliakoff. "The detail in everything was immense, how the camera was going to pan… you could really feel how it was going to work."

Read more: Peter Capaldi: 'I gave up Doctor Who collection'
Peter Capaldi: 'I'm Doctor Who, how did that happen?'
Doctor Who finale will be filled with 'action and emotion'

Doctor Who has launched her into a completely new dimension, however – towards a global audience, some of whom she will meet as she joins Capaldi on a promotional world tour taking in South Korea, Sydney, New York, Mexico and Rio de Janeiro. "It's going to be a proper shock to the system," she says. "We've been living in this mythical world for seven months – chasing things and green screens and aliens – and now we're going to go out into the real world."

Then there are the Whovians: how does an actor relatively new to the whole Time Lord dynasty cope with fans steeped in 50 years of Doctor Who lore? "I've swotted up on it," she admits. "There's so much mythology and some important stuff you really do need to know. For instance, there was something in the episode we were doing yesterday that we didn't understand so Peter Googled it and it went back to 40 years ago and one of Jon Pertwee's episodes."

Coleman says: 'There's so much mythology ... There was something in one episode we didn't understand. Peter Googled it, and it went back 40 years to a Jon Pertwee episode' (Benjamin McMahon) Coleman says: 'There's so much mythology ... There was something in one episode we didn't understand. Peter Googled it, and it went back 40 years to a Jon Pertwee episode' (Benjamin McMahon)
Fans are usually respectful and keen only to discuss the finer points of the show, and she hasn't met anyone seriously creepy yet, claiming she's still able to ride undisturbed on the London underground. It also helps being 5ft 2in: "I walked past two people with Doctor Who shirts on the other day who completely didn't see me."

In between her first two series as Clara, Coleman, who had been billed throughout her career as Jenna-Louise Coleman, suddenly lost the Louise bit – prompting one newspaper to report on "the mystery of the missing Louise". "Peter now has a nickname for me: 'the artist formerly known as JLC'," she says. "The boring truth is that people have never really called me Jenna-Louise and I just found it very strange because I started to do more interviews and go places where people I didn't know kept calling me Jenna-Louise. It sounded odd to me."

After a rough cut of the opening episode of the new series was leaked online last month, along with scripts for a further five episodes, Coleman is understandably vigilant about not dropping further storyline details – though she will reveal that her oddest moment was fighting with a man while dressed as a Victorian governess. "And you keep having these out-of-body experiences, like finding yourself chatting to aliens."

Coleman in the new Doctor Who series with Peter Capaldi (PA) Coleman in the new Doctor Who series with Peter Capaldi (PA)
How weird is it to meet your first Dalek? "Ha! I turned into a Dalek in my very first episode. That's way more cool than just meeting one."

The only advice Steven Moffat gave Coleman was to react to what was going on around her. Did Gillan pass on any tips? "My first day we were in the make-up chairs together as I was in one of Karen's episodes. She was really supportive and sent me messages saying, 'Just enjoy it,' and gave me tips on Cardiff. I wish I had asked her advice as there are so many questions you want to ask. But it's the same as has happened with me and Peter – it kind of feels like a new show in a way."

Billie Piper aside, who was already a teenage pop star and married to Chris Evans before her stint as Rose Tyler, being Doctor Who's female companion has been a career pinnacle for most of the actresses involved. From Elisabeth Sladen (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker's companion, Sarah Jane Smith) and Katy Manning (Pertwee's longest-serving partner, Jo Grant) to more recent manifestations such as Freema Agyeman (David Tennant's sidekick Martha Jones) and Gillan – whose upcoming US sitcom Selfie is reportedly pretty dire – the BBC sci-fi classic has thrown a very long shadow indeed on its young female co-stars. It's not, however, something Coleman is thinking about right now.

"At the moment I'm really happy," she says. "It's one of those jobs that will only happen once – the whole adventure that it brings. The key is not to worry about the future, and enjoy it."

'Doctor Who' returns to BBC1 on Saturday

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?