15 Minutes with Doctor Who’s Michelle Gomez

In 2014, Doctor Who‘s arch-enemy, the Master, was reborn-but, for the first time in the character’s 45 year history, he was played by a she. As the murderous “Missy,” Michelle Gomez has sent a new generation of Doctor Who fans scurrying behind the sofa-and flocking to fan conventions like Fan Expo Canada.

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Michelle Gomez, Doctor Who
Photo: BBC

Doctor Who‘s Michelle Gomez: The RD Interview

Reader’s Digest: On Sept. 1, 2016, you’ll be making your Canadian convention debut at Fan Expo Canada. Have you been to Canada before?
Michelle Gomez: I was in Canada earlier this year—in Ottawa—for the first time. I really loved it. It actually felt like a home from home, because I was surrounded by a lot of Scottish people. They seem to set up camp there! It was a very lovely trip, indeed.

RD: What were your impressions of the Great White North?
MG: It all seemed very tidy. [Laughs] Very clean, very organized. Everything was in its place, and I kind of like that! The Tulip Festival was on, so the city was covered in flowers. It was a beautiful time to arrive.

RD: Do you have a bucket list of things you want to do while you’re in Toronto for Fan Expo Canada?
MG: I have friends that are from Toronto, and they promised to give me a list of things I must do. I’m terribly excited to see what those things might be!

RD: Now this is not your first fan convention. What would be your advice for first-time Fan Expo Canada goers?
MG: Pace yourself! Turn up with the right attitude-to have fun and enjoy it. There might be some lines you have to stand in to meet some of your heroes, but my experience is that even when you’re standing in line, there’s so much to see. There are lots of amazing costumes. Everybody makes such a great effort.

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Michelle Gomez rehearsing in Doctor Who
Photo: BBC

RD: What’s been your most memorable experience at a fan convention?
MG: I’ve been to a few now, but the first one will always stand out. It was in Atlanta, and I just remember feeling very relieved that Missy had been accepted as the Master. I still actually can’t quite believe that Missy has such a fan base, because it was a big leap, you know, to go from “the Master” to “the Mistress,” and we didn’t realize that it would be a success. And to see so many people dressed as Missy… Wow! That really blew me away. I’ve really enjoyed every convention since, because I get a chance to have little one-on-ones with all the fans, and it really fills me up. It’s wonderful.

RD: “Cosplay” [dressing up in costume as popular science fiction and fantasy characters] is huge on the convention scene. Why do you think it’s such a big trend?
MG: I think it’s because people get to immerse themselves in their favourite characters and feel like they’re a part of the show they’ve come to invest in. It’s a great opportunity to escape this world that we’re living in today, which, I suppose, can be a bit challenging at times. Fan Expo Canada is an arena that embraces that, and gives them an opportunity to dress up, live out their fantasies, and have a laugh, really.

RD: Have you ever been tempted to cosplay at a convention yourself?
MG: No, not really, because as an actor, that’s what I have to do for a living! I’m always relieved just to get into my own clothes.

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Michelle Gomez as Missy in Doctor Who
Photo: BBC

RD: What’s been your wildest fan experience at a convention?
MG: It was in Atlanta, my first convention, and one of my fans asked me to sign their chest. Somebody joked that they should have it tattooed-and I didn’t believe that, obviously-but then they did! They tattooed my terrible, shaky handwriting onto their beautiful flesh. It was very odd indeed. And I vowed that would be the one and only flesh autograph that would ever be given out by me!

RD: The fear-factor has always been a huge part of Doctor Who‘s appeal. How do you make Missy so absolutely terrifying?
MG: [Laughs] I think the secret is that she-Missy-is just terribly charming! It’s her casual cruelty that draws you in. But like any good villain, you mustn’t get too close. Just when you forget that she’s dangerous, she annihilates you. That’s Missy… She just can’t help herself!

RD: But you seem so lovely in real life… Where does that delightfully wicked performance come from?
MG: The real beauty of this job for me is that it’s a culmination of all the other characters I’ve got to play in the last 20 years of my acting career. And I’ve been really lucky, actually, because [Doctor Who executive producer and writer] Steven Moffat seems to know my voice. The scripts are written for me, really, and there’s a lot of freedom when I get on set; it’s all very comfortable. There’s a freedom in that. I get to play! And I think that’s what’s made Missy so unpredictable and… Joyful, really. There’s a sort of joy to her killing, which makes her a true psychopath. That’s what’s worrying, is that she just doesn’t seem to have any conscience about it at all.

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Michelle Gomez as Missy, Doctor Who
Photo: BBC

RD: In the previous season, it appeared that Missy met her demise at the hands (or gun sticks, rather) of the dreaded Daleks. Will we be seeing Missy again?
MG: I don’t know! I mean, I hope so… There’s always a temptation to pull out when you’re on top. and then never be seen again. But that would make me sad, because I’m having so much fun with her. So I should think we’ll be seeing at least another season of Missy…

RD: One thing we’ve yet to see on Doctor Who is Missy’s TARDIS. Does Missy have her own time/space machine? What’s it disguised as?
MG: Yes. It would have to be a beautiful Hermes bag-a sort of upscale version of the carpet bag that Mary Poppins used. It would have to be something that she would just step out of!

RD: Missy’s parting quip-“Say something nice”-seems an appropriate way to end our chat. What’s the nicest thing someone’s ever said to you?
MG: For a long time, I’ve heard that I’m like the younger version of Maggie Smith, and that’s the biggest compliment you could ever give me. I hold actresses Maggie Smith and Frances de la Tour in such high regard, and want to be either of them-or both of them-when I grow up!

Next, check out countdown of the 13 greatest Doctor Who quotes of all time.

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