Pearl Mackie is about to take up one of the biggest roles on television. Is she nervous?
Doctor Who is back this month with a brand new companion. But who is Pearl Mackie? And what sort of companion will she be?
Writer Alix O’Neill had a chat with her to find out.
You’re about to hit our screens as Doctor Who’s latest companion, Bill. How did it feel to land the role?
‘It was so surreal. I was asked back to read with Peter [Capaldi] at The Soho Hotel in London, but I couldn’t tell anyone – it was like MI5 stuff. I didn’t hear anything for over a week, so when my agent called, I didn’t believe [I’d got] it. There was a lot of crying and laughing.’
Doctor Who is a British TV institution. Do you worry about living up to the fans’ expectations?
‘Nerves come with all of the best things in life. Jenna Coleman, Karen Gillan – there’s such an amazing legacy in terms of companions, but Bill’s really different to all of them. She has quite an interesting way of perceiving the Doctor. I’ve watched various episodes over the years, but I wanted to bring something fresh to the role, so I’ve tried to avoid seeing previous companions’ work. I’ll do a binge-watch when I finish filming.’
What’s it like working with Peter Capaldi?
‘Peter is wonderful. He’s a real actor’s actor – so encouraging and supportive. For someone with that much experience, he’s really open to what I have to bring.’
You’ve had roles in Doctors and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, but Doctor Who brings a new level of fame. Are you ready for the attention?
‘I’ve already been recognised a few times! I was sitting in my friend’s vintage shop in [London’s] Brixton Market one Saturday morning when these guys came in and were being really weird. They left the shop, then came back in and walked right up to me. I said, “Oh, I don’t work here.” Then, one of them – a French guy – asked, “Are you Pearl Mackie? I love Doctor Who!” It was so strange, but great. The fans have been lovely.’
What was your first acting experience?
‘I was talking about this with Matt Lucas [who plays Nardole in the series] the other day. I played Nancy in a school production of Oliver when I was ten. Afterwards, my mum said, “Wow, you were really crying in that scene.” I was like, “No Mum, I was looking right at the lights – that helps you to cry.” She knew she had an actress on her hands. On Sunday nights she would plait my hair and we’d watch old films like Meet Me In St. Louis – I loved Judy Garland. I told Mum that’s what I wanted to do when I was older. My friends and family are over the moon for me now. They’ve been so supportive.’
James Corden recently said acting is becoming an elitist profession. As a mixed-race female actor, do you agree?
‘It’s still quite hard to get high-profile roles if you’re from a minority background or you’re not financially in a position that enables you go to drama school with ease. I’ve personally experienced that and it’s very difficult. Take last year’s #OscarsSoWhite debacle – that [lack of diversity in Hollywood] filters down to TV and theatre. But the controversy brought the issue to the fore and the amazing speech Idris Elba made to MPs has created an awareness that things need to change. And if you look at this year’s Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, it’s already changing for the better. Who knows – the next Doctor Who could be
a woman or a person of colour.’
If you could travel back in time, what period in history would you visit?
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‘I’d love to experience an Elizabethan play first-hand at Shakespeare’s Globe. Apparently, the actors back then didn’t have the whole script, only their cue line. I’m keen to see whether that was true and if so, how it affected their performance.’
Doctor Who returns this month to BBC One