She was a character who, by Karen Gillan’s own account, seemed destined for a single-film stint in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A “blue meanie” who could have been gone in a flash like so many forgotten villains who’ve tangled with the likes of Iron Man, Thor and their superhero brethren.
But as the lights came up on the epic franchise finale ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and fans dried their tears for their fallen faves, they also cheered the surprisingly redemptive arc of one of the most complex characters in the expansive 22-film series: intergalactic assassin Nebula, daughter of Thanos, sister-frenemy to Gamora — and the unlikeliest of Avengers.
Warning: Spoilers for ‘Avengers: Endgame’ follow.
Portrayed by Scottish actress Gillan (‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,’) over four of the MCU’s movies, the blue-skinned anti-heroine known for her seething space rage and cyborg enhancements entered the series as a ruthless antagonist in James Gunn’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.
In ‘Endgame’ — now the No 2 highest-grossing film of all time and still dominating theatres with a worldwide box office take of $2.5 billion and counting — Nebula comes out on the other side of war, finding forgiveness in herself and a capacity for change.
Q: Disney and Marvel are famously secretive when it comes to plot points and, well, every conceivable aspect of these films. When did you find out the extent to which Nebula would figure in “Infinity War” and “Endgame”?
A: I don’t think I realised the extent of it until I just watched the movie with everybody else. I knew that I had filmed all of that stuff, but I had no idea how it would fit into the other scenes and what kind of impact it would have. It felt like it was an important emotional role, but there’s no way of really knowing until you watch it. So I was almost in tears, just so happy the character was able to really shine through.
Q: And to think, when you first got the gig six years ago, you didn’t expect she’d last this long — you’ve said it was supposed to be just an eight-day role.
A: They were looking for an actress who was willing to shave her head — and I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I got into a Marvel movie at that point in my career. I read the audition scene for this character, and it was really apparent that she had this sibling rivalry with Gamora and something terrible happened with their father.
I did a screen test and played into the more emotional side of Nebula, which was pretty random, because the character she was in the movie I was auditioning for was not an emotional character at all. In that screen test, it felt like me and James Gunn found this version of this character that was really twisted and complex and interesting, and so it’s been very satisfying to watch her gradually show that side of her from movie to movie.
Q: When you were making ‘Endgame’, did you know only what your character’s part of the overall story was? Didn’t you and your castmates trade notes between scenes to try to figure out the plot?
A: Yes. There were bits of that. Just in conversation, like, “Interesting that you just mentioned that... “You tried to piece it together, but there was no way of really knowing. But I had an inkling that Nebula would play a prominent role, because I read [the 1991 Marvel limited comic series] ‘Infinity Gauntlet’ in preparation for the first time I played Nebula.
Q: How did it feel to film the scene in which Nebula confronts and kills her past self?
A: That was a really interesting thing to play, because I played both sides of it. I think that I found the hope in that situation for the character, because if you look at the past version of her, she has a line where she says, “He won’t let me leave.” And you realise in that moment how trapped the character is. Her future self gets her.
Q: What did you think of the choice to kill off Tony Stark, to have him make that ultimate sacrifice?
A: It was apt to give him a send-off with that kind of impact, because he’s the godfather of this universe — he kicked it all off, so it really felt like he should get a big farewell that was worthy of the impact that he’s had on this whole cinematic universe.
Q: What were your feelings on James Gunn being reinstated on ‘Guardians 3’?
A: I was so happy, because it truly feels like we’re part of this little family on ‘Guardians’. And to have your leader ripped away from you is a really weird feeling. I feel that it wouldn’t be the same type of “Guardians” movie without him. So much of it is his personality. The sense of humour, his taste in music, the characters — there’s so much of him in there, so that would have been quite a strange sensation to make it without him. We were just so happy when he came back. It feels like everything’s as it should be now.
Q: You just finished the ‘Jumanji’ sequel. And after making your directorial debut with ‘The Party’s Just Beginning’, you have more in the works behind the camera. What’s next in life?
A: I’m about to start on another film called ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’, which is an all-female assassin movie [co-starring Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett]. It’s some of the most original action I’ve ever read in my life. And I’m also still writing and creating with [‘The Party’s Just Beginning’ producer] Mali Elfman; we’re working on our next feature, which hopefully will go into production next year. I made another short horror film in my spare time, which was really fun. ...
Q: You’ve also said you’d like to direct a Marvel movie one day.
A: I would like to direct a superhero movie, across the board. I would just love to tackle that genre. I’ve worked in that sandbox for so many years now that I feel like I understand it, and there’s so much room to play within that genre. It would be cool to put my own spin on it. ‘The Dark Knight’ is one of my favourite movies ever.