When the first image from Sony's Jumanji remake hit the web, many people were left confused. Why was Karen Gillan's character wearing such a skimpy outfit in the jungle? Why was she surrounded by three appropriately dressed men? And most importantly, what did Gillan herself think about the situation? The actor initially tweeted that her minuscule outfit would make sense in the grand concept of the film, but for some fans, that answer felt unsatisfying. Now that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle hits theaters on Dec. 22, though, Gillan is expanding on her thoughts over the controversy.
"I thought that it was actually pretty understandable," the actor tells Bustle of the uproar over her outfit, speaking via phone recently. "I didn’t expect there to be that much controversy immediately surrounding it, but I do think that people had a point."
In Jumanji, Gillan plays a teenage girl named Martha who, along with three other characters, become trapped inside a '90s video game. Her avatar, Ruby Roundhouse, is a powerful, athletic woman in the vein of Lara Croft, "and we all know that that character just looks like a male fantasy basically, and that’s something that we wanted to poke fun at," Gillan says. "But I didn’t necessarily see [the criticism] as a bad thing, because it opens up the conversation on gender equality. It’s good things are changing and people are having uproars about that."
Not all fans will be satisfied by that explanation — why do women have to be sexualized in video games at all? — but Gillan says that for her, at least, her character's outfit helped her connect to the role. "When I first put it on, it was less than I would normally wear," the actor says with a laugh. But "it was so helpful for me to play with it just because she felt exposed in it and so therefore that made Martha feel uncomfortable."
That exposure, Gillan continues, became something of a "thrown into the deep end of the pool" situation. "I think it’s just a really interesting idea to take someone who lacks that sort of confidence and put them in the body of someone you would assume has that confidence," she explains.
Gillan herself says she struggles with this issue, just like countless others. "Hardly any of us have complete self-confidence," she says. "We’ve all got our little things." The 30-year-old adds that she was actually very interested in how Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would show a complicated female character. "It's getting a bit like, all right we’ve seen sort of this sexy badass woman before in all action movies. Let’s show flaws and weaknesses as well as strengths," she says. "Because ultimately that’s more representative of what females are like. We’re very layered."
How Martha as Ruby Roundhouse embraces her new body type isn't going to please everyone, to be sure, as body positivity or physical acceptance isn't the be-all-end-all of self-confidence, nor should it be. But Gillan does say that the Martha/Ruby character is the closest to her actual personality that she's ever played. "Usually I’m suppressing [my own] awkwardness and trying to be more sort of badass, so it was cool to not have to suppress anything," the actor says. "The character was just sort of perfect for me."
Gillan has certainly played plenty of badass women over the years, from Doctor Who's Amy Pond to Guardians of the Galaxy's Nebula. Yet the fact that Gillan was the only woman in the main cast of Jumanji didn't escape her. Although Jack Black is technically also playing a teenage girl as well, Gillan was the solo female hero of the game avatars, which, she says, was not an uncommon feeling for her. "I’m sort of weirdly used to being like the only girl in situations," she says. "It’s just something that I’ve spoken to other actresses about and oddly it’s a position that you’re in a lot, which maybe says quite a lot about our current state of female characters."
Recently, Gillan recalls, she was at a Marvel event where all of the women in various casts were hanging out when Brie Larson (who will be playing Captain Marvel) said, "Wouldn’t this be so great if it was like this on set everyday? We should make an all-female movie!" Gillan says that Larson's enthusiasm was contagious. "All of us were like, 'Yeah, let’s do it!’ So that would be a bit of a dream come true to work with Brie and Zoe Saldana again."
But the actor actually has her eye on a DC character as well; she'd love to play a female Joker. "That would be fun," she says. It does sound like a pretty great idea — let's just hope there's no crop top and booty shorts involved in the costume.