Pearl Mackie on Bill: “She’s Funny and Geeky and Vulnerable”

Sitting down for a coffee with ‘the girl who is about to go galactic’, The Guardian have caught up with companion-in-waiting Pearl Mackie who shared her thoughts on life since landing the role on Doctor Who, her early career, and just what she can or can’t say about the new series (spoilers: it’s not a lot).

Within hours of making her bow as the new companion in the Friend from the Future, Mackie was already getting photo messages from cosplaying fans, so it comes as no surprise to learn that she’s already getting attention from selfie-seeking fans in the street.

Mackie said:

“It’s already happening. The other day, I was in my friend’s shop just over there and this French guy comes in. I say, ‘I don’t work here, but someone will be with you in a minute.’ He says, ‘Non, non, non! You are Pearl Mackie, yes? Can I take your picture?”

Meet Bill 1

It’s something she’ll have to get used to after acing her audition where Casting director Andy Pryor and his team looked at 70 people, met 50, recalled 10, and honed that to a final five, who read – with Capaldi – a new scene. Among those on the shortlist to play Bill, the new assistant, was Mackie, a graduate of Bristol Old Vic theatre school.

“I turned up in T-shirt, jeans and some yellow boots and I felt out of my depth. It was the Soho Hotel – so posh!”

The rich trappings didn’t put her off. She had read the part in advance and felt she already understood the character.

“I knew I could bring her to life. She’s funny and geeky and vulnerable. There’s a goofiness to her and a big heart. She gets things wrong, she has a temper. I thought, ‘I know her. I could play her’…I think the two characters’ complement each other. I don’t have a lot of experience travelling through space and time, you see.”

As for anything substantial, unfortunately, Mackie had two BBC minders on hand to apply the thumbscrews should she let slip any details about the forthcoming series – attempts to glean why Bill is called Bill or what she does for a living are met with a curt ‘can’t say’.

However, on the subject of who was her favourite Doctor she, well actually, because she grew up during the barren years where children across the land were denied a trip through space and time with the Doctor, and was then subsequently too old to enjoy it when it returned in 2005, she ‘can’t say’ that either!

Mackie did say:

“I haven’t got one. The thing is, it wasn’t on when I was a kid…I was 15 or 16, and it wasn’t my thing. I was going through my rebellious phase…I was, erm, hanging out.”

Those formative years were where she found her voice, quite literally in this case, as she first fell for the soulful sounds of the black women singers whom she still loves now:

“I’ve always been attracted to music, and women like Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Tina Turner showed the path, in a way. They’re all tough women, but not afraid to be vulnerable. They made me feel someone like me could do that.”

And do that she did, Mackie has her own band called Freddie and the Hoares – you can hear her singing The Lady is a Tramp on Soundcloud), and, in bring another black or mixed race role model to the screen in the form of Bill, she’ll no doubt inspire another generation to define themselves by what they love.

But for now, it’s back to work on Doctor Who.

“I’ve never worked so hard. We filmed four of the 12 episodes in Cardiff. I have a flat there so I don’t have to travel all the time. Work, innit? I feel like I’ve joined a big family.”

You can read more about Mackie’s early years and her love of Prince over at The Guardian