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Matt Smith on Leaving Doctor Who and Being Discovered by Ryan Gosling

Matt Smith. Photo: Getty Images

Matt Smith has yet to shoot his final episode of Doctor Who, but he’s already begun saying his good-byes. Sadness hadn’t sunk in yet, at least not for him, when Vulture met up with the actor earlier today in Los Angeles — which is forgivable only because he was positively giddy while talking about getting to work with his predecessor David Tennant on the series’ 50th-anniversary special and de-wigging his former co-star Karen Gillan over dinner (his mum didn’t like that). We quizzed him further about deciding to leave the show and starring in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster. (Is Gosling a fellow Whovian? Sort of!) But first, there was the matter of his neon-turquoise socks.

I love your socks.
I am a fan of a bright sock. They’re bold.

When did you decide to abandon me … us … the fans?
Well, sometimes you think, Now is the time. To be honest with you, it was something I was considering for a while. I talked to Steven [Moffat, series boss] about it, I talked to my family about it. I don’t know really. It was a very hard decision to come to because it’s such a wonderful show and I love making it so much. But also, part of the value of the show is leaving at the right time and allowing someone else to take over. That re-galvanizes it in a way as well. Who knows if it’s wrong or right? I guess I’ll know in a year’s time when I’m unemployed somewhere.

Did Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill know you were leaving during their final episodes? Did you know as early as then?
To be really honest, even when they left last year, we talked about me leaving the year after. It’s kinda always been the plan, really. But then you talk to Steven and he’s a very persuasive man.

Did he try to convince you to stay?
No, we just talked about it. Obviously that’s a private conversation and it sort of has to remain that way. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a fabulous man, a great friend, and a wonderful writer.

Going back to Karen, did you get to see her newly shaved head at Comic-Con last weekend?
I knew about that actually, because I had dinner with her and was taking her wig off mid-meal.

You didn’t.
I did, and my mom got really cross with me. She was like, “Leave her alone, Matt!” My mum and my sister actually tweeted some pictures from dinner, not with the wig off, but yeah, I got in lots of trouble for that. So  I knew that was coming at Comic-Con. [A publicist hands Matt a Coke and a cup of tea.] Thanks, Lex. Cheers, darling. Look at this: It’s a double whammy of caffeine.

How do you think she looks bald?
Weird. Unnerving. And she’s unnerving anyway. But she’s a beautiful girl and she has those blue eyes, she can pull it off — nice shoes! I like purple suede!

Thank you! This is my favorite interview already. Tell me about working with David Tennant on the 50th Anniversary special. Did you both get to drive the Tardis?
Our first scene was on the Tardis! It was me, David, and John [Hurt] actually, and we were flying the Tardis. I remember saying to Dave, “Dave, I don’t want to hog all the flying duties.” Literally, you have those conversations. Seriously, I went, “Do you want to fly it for a bit?” We all flew it. He flies his. That trailer [that debuted at Comic-Con] was fun. That got ’em going. You know what’s cool? No one put it online.

Steven did threaten to never bring any Sherlock and Doctor Who treats to Comic-Con if that trailer found its way onto the web.
True. He’s wielding his powah.

How does Eleven get on with Ten and Rose?
Well first, [Billie Piper, who plays Rose] is a great friend of mine anyway. We’ve worked together and I’m very fond of her. She’s wonderful. But yeah, bizarrely, if you look at previous Doctor Who stories, they tend to be quite grouchy with each other, but I think Ten and Eleven actually like each other. David and I do in real life as well, and our Doctors are quite collaborative.

Did he pass on any advice back when you took over?
He just wished me luck, really. He said, “I’m always here to talk, and if you need me, give me a ring.” But it’s always an individual experience where you sort of have to go through the highs and lows on your own. It’s a bit like playing Hamlet. Not to place too much importance on what we do, but it has to be totally an individual response.

What do you think of the idea of a female Doctor?
It’s absolutely feasible. I don’t see why not. As long as it’s the best actor or actress or fish or otter, it doesn’t matter.

I don’t remember talk of a woman taking the role after Tennant announced he was leaving. Why do you think that’s happening now?
Maybe I’ve put everyone off men [laughs]. They’re like, “Enough!” God. I don’t know.

Do you remember your first audition for the Doctor?
Yeah, Steven wants to release it online. He asked me the other day, “Do you mind if I did?” And I said, “I don’t.” I’ve never seen it. I was wearing a stripey top and a tweed blazer, and there was a goldfish in the room, and I got in and sort of looked at the goldfish in attempt to look sort of breezy and at ease. I started randomly talking about the goldfish. I was doing the scene with Amy Pond when the Doctor wakes up in “The Eleventh Hour” and she’s gasps and he’s like, “IT’S YOU!”

Have you ever been confused by any of the stories or time lines?
No, because it’s my job to make sense of it and to make sense of it for you. Hey, look, I guess some people find the writing and the storytelling complicated sometimes, but I say to that, “Isn’t that better than it being really easy?” Isn’t it better if you’re like, “Okay, I just saw that — what did I just see?” Eventually Steve peppers it back — you think now we’re going toward the Doctor’s final hour, which is toward Trenzalore. Steven mentioned that in season five. Season five! The Silence was mentioned! He peppers this brilliant storytelling all the way through, and for my money that’s a much more interesting way to write. Aren’t all the layers what we fans of sci-fi want? I’m like, Cool, throw it at me. Is it complicated? Yes. Are we going back in time? Yes. Are we going forward in time? Yes. Are we meeting a character we’ve met in the future? Yes. Is she my wife? Yes.

River is Eleven’s one true love, right?
Yeah! I think River and Amerlia and Clara, but I think River in a different way to the others. River’s the only one … She’s the only character that my Doctor has ever consciously kissed. And my Doctor’s not really that kissy. [Jenna Coleman, who plays Clara, walks in the room.] Hi, Jenna!

Coleman: Whatever.
Smith: This is what I have to deal with every day, you see?
Coleman: Quiet time now, Matt. Quiet time.
Smith: She beats me down. [He gets up and steals a punch bowl full of English biscuits from the table she’s at.] I’m not sharing any of these. Do you want one? Listen, you’ve got to take one of these for later. These are really old ones, as well. I haven’t had a Caramel in quite some time. Sorry, where were we?

You steal things! What are you planning to steal from set once you’re done?
I plan on taking the sonic screwdriver.

I don’t think you’re allowed to, are you?
I don’t care. And I’ll take my jacket, probably. I’m really sad to be leaving! I love the show!

Can you talk about, in great detail, your first meeting with Ryan Gosling?
It was in New York. I think my head exploded. Like, Whoa. He’s the dude. He’s really clever and a really good bloke. He has a really singular yet collaborative sort of personality. I was really impressed. I just thought, Wow, you’re really going to make something extraordinary. He afforded great freedom to his actors and he gave me great confidence and courage to try and be something really different. Weirdly, the way that he heard about me was because of that speech in “The Pandorica Opens.”

Yeah. You know when I’m talking to the aliens? I’m playing a bit of a lunatic in his movie and he said, “Imagine if there were no spaceships and that character was just on his own, talking to no one. How mad would he seem?”

That’s what he said he was going for?
Yeah! It was cool that it was Doctor Who. I think he just stumbled across it on BBC America one day. I had such a wonderful time. Christina Hendricks was just brilliant. Iain De Caestecker’s a good guy and did really great work, Ben Mendelsohn … Saoirse Ronan is just an alien of talent. She’s like Michael Jordan, man.

Did you talk Mad Men with Christina?
Yeah, yeah. She’s like an American, voluptuous Karen Gillan. I was bowled over by Christina. She was the coolest cat. I’m respectful of not poking too hard as far as spoilers go.

Have you seen Only God Forgives?
I haven’t yet. I thought Drive was an amazing, amazing film. And actually I met the costume designer on the Gosling film I’ve just done and I was like, “Jackets! Get me a cool jacket!”

The gold sequin number I’ve seen looked … interesting.
[Laughs] I’m going to ask [to keep] that one because I loved that jacket. Eva Mendes actually found that. She went to a charity shop and found that jacket for me. Isn’t it awesome? She is cool as well. One of the best experiences I’ve had.

Can you say anything else about the character you’re playing in it?
He’s called Bully, and it’s kind of nice to leave it to when you see it. It depends on how Ryan cuts it all together, but we can say he’s slightly unhinged.

And judging by the photos that are out there, he will also be shirtless and possibly doing karaoke at some point.
Yeah, pretty much [laughs]. I was like, “Sign me up!” when I read that scene.

No shirt, no problem.
Exactly. I saw The Place Beyond the Pines when I was making the film and was like, “Dang! Now that is some time in the gym. Holy mother of God.” I’m nowhere near that.

Matt Smith on Leaving Doctor Who