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River Song Unplugged - A Special Dragon Con Question and Answer Session with Alex Kingston



The following is a special SpoilerTV report from Dragon Con, with a special thank you to the Media Relations staff of Dragon Con and a shout out to my fellow reporters who participated in this session,

For the record, Alex Kingston loves Dragon Con, a lot! In fact, she even said she would love to come back and be in the parade next year, some of us think she’d make a great Grand Marshal!

So here is charming Alex Kingston talking Dragon Con, karaoke, going incognito, future plans, boxing and of course, Doctor Who.

She began the session by talking about her plans to go to John Barrowman’s Karaoke event that evening (Sunday) where some fans might get a taste of River Song Unplugged. When asked if she had a favorite karaoke song, she said if she sang it would likely be the only karaoke song that she knew that was in her deep register, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking.”

Q – With Jodie Whitaker being brought in as the new, female Doctor, was there some thought that they might bring you in for that role at all? Was it ever discussed? Did you throw it out there?

AK – No, I never threw it out there, that would mean I married myself. I love the fact that River is her own person and she ultimately gave away all her regenerations to save the Doctor. So, I don’t think it could work, well mind you, it’s Doctor Who and anything can happen. But, I’m quite happy for River to be a separate spirit from the Doctor’s spirit, then it just gives more opportunity for them to have adventures together as opposed to her having an adventure with herself.


Q – You’ve been, over your career, a star of a big series in America and a big series in Britain, what is the difference between working on a show in Britain and working on a show in America?
AK – Craft Service! Hands down, craft service! It’s quite interesting, actually, the BBC’s been an institution for so long, not just in Britain, but across the world really in terms of its production, but the BBC working day tends to be similar to working on a low budget, independent movie here.

So, you’re very aware, in a way, of the lack of resources when it comes to comfort. So, for example, filming in Cardiff on Doctor Who, the trailers that we’re all given are sort of like old caravans from the 1970’s – very, very moldy carpets and not particularly a nice place to sit and relax, in fact, maybe that’s deliberate.

My gosh, when I was doing ER or even Arrow when it comes to craft services, there’s tables of food laden and in fact, you have to learn NOT to go to craft services otherwise the pounds sort of get put on. There is no craft service in England, just a certain time in the day when somebody will come with a tray and cups of tea and curled up sandwiches, if you’re lucky, or some soggy biscuits.


Q - I know this isn’t your first Dragon Con. We’d love to hear your thoughts on coming back. How it’s different to other conventions – what makes it special.

AK – Dragon Con is in a different league. I came here for the first time last year and I flew in from Toronto. I had been at a convention in Toronto so I didn’t arrive, gosh it must have been about 2 in the morning. Coming off that flight I just assumed that I would get to the hotel and it would be all sort of just like quiet. Maybe somebody going around with a vacuum cleaner, you know, getting ready for the next day. I thought I had walked into a scene from Blade Runner.

I got out of the car and I was in this dystopian world, crazy people in bondage, beer and there’s this Chewbacca standing over there and I just thought “What is this?” It’s mad, but fantastic!

I had such a good time last year, I was determined to come back and this time I’m actually daring to, when my day is done, I’m daring to actually go out and do some people watching, because that’s the thing, when you’re working behind a desk and doing photo ops all the time, you don’t really get to see and experience Dragon Con in the way that all of you do and I’m longing to just watch people and look at their costumes. So, I did a little bit of that last night and I intend to do some more of that tonight (Sunday).

Q – Will you be in costume?

AK – Absolutely!

Q – What is your favorite cosplay that you’ve seen?

AK – Oh my gosh, coming up the escalator yesterday, I was going up and people were filtering down and there were like 10 Roman Legionnaires sort of just coming down the escalators, all looking terribly serious, some on their cell phones and I thought, this is fabulous! And then there were some sort of jittery, large mice. They were brilliant, because they had kind of like this whole movement down. There were two of them and they were walking around doing the sort of strange, jittering and I was fascinated. By that, it was a whole performance and they were in role as it were and they weren’t going to drop that.

I love this because there are people that obviously get together. They think of a film or sort of a theme and they all then contribute. There were a group of people that I think they were being the contents of an aquarium? There was somebody walking around and they were just sort of like a giant goldfish. I mean there was Neptune, and there was another sort of like fishy woman and there was someone else, I don’t know, there were a starfish or something. But, they all walked around together as a group, maybe they were a rock pool or something. But anything goes, doesn’t it? It’s just amazing!

Q – Doctor Who fans have seen River have a chance to expand on her character in the Big Finish audios. Can you speak to how her characterization differs in the audios than the television series?
AK – Funnily enough, there are some fans who dress in River’s clothes from the audio recordings. I mean, oh, my gosh, that’s sort of like they’re very, very hard core.

I love doing the Big Finish audio stories because, first of all, I think they are very well written. The writers, they absolutely take the show very seriously. They want to keep what they’re creating at the same sort of standard and level as the stories that are on the television show and I think the production levels are really extraordinary.

And the writers get it, they get who we are. They are obviously massive fans themselves. They really are contributing to that world.

And what I’ve enjoyed joining this company, is that I really get to time travel because I’m doing stories with Paul McGann, with Colin Baker, with Sylvester McCoy, it’s sort of like its endless.

I’ve got some more coming up and I’m not going to tell you who I’m going to be doing those stories with. So, it gives me, as River, the opportunity to sort of believe that she really has had relationships with all reincarnations or incarnations of the Doctor.

And, because you’re listening to it, everybody who listens to these stories creates their own version of whatever world the story is set in. They create their own vision of that in their head so everybody’s idea is going to be a little different, which I love because I think rather, in a way, instead of radio dying, this is keeping it alive and I think that’s super important.

So, I really don’t think River differs to how she’s portrayed on television precisely because they are so careful to stay true to all the characters from the TV show, but I love it and actually the food there is amazing!
In fact, most actors say yes precisely because of the food.


Q – Do you have a particular story, out of Big Finish that is your favorite right now?
AK – Probably, it’s the storyline with Paul McGann, I can’t remember now the title of it, something to do with a clock.


Q – To piggyback on that question about the Big Finish, you actually surpassed Liz Slayton as working with the most Doctors of any companion. Do you have a favorite Doctor you worked with?
AK – Well they’re all the same, aren’t they? It’s all the same person, the same spirit. It’s just different physical incarnations, but ultimately, they’re the same so I can’t really answer that.


Q – How is the preparation different for the Big Finish audios as opposed to actually being on the television show?
AK – If truth be told, there really isn’t that much rehearsal when you’re doing the television show. There’s a lot of rehearsal for all of the technical stuff so typically what happens is that prior to a scene being shot, if it’s a scene that involves any kind of stunt or if it involves any kind of alien enemy or anything like that, anything technical – they will spend ages sort of working on that and refining it, making sure that it’s all fine and then they just say “action” and we have to wing it.

Interestingly, and I don’t think it’s a good thing, but it sort of seems like the way television is going or certainly Doctor Who, is the actors, in a funny sort of way, we’re the last people to be considered. Everything else is that thing that carries the most importance in terms of people making sure that’s all going to work and I think it’s, probably, because we’re not important. I think it’s just they assume we know exactly what we’re going to do and are going to do it perfectly.

But, it can be a little frustrating sometimes because, as an actor you want to also be given the chance to just rehearse and try things out and time is so limited and you know, time is money and so as long as everything works technically, fine, they’ll say, “Ok, we got it, let’s move on,” whereas as an actor you want to go, “You know, I’d like to try and do that and give it a different spin”, but you’re not given that chance so that can be quite frustrating.

Whereas, with the Big Finish, you get into these little glass booths and they’re sort of arranged in a horseshoe shape and we can all see each other and you have cans on so you can hear everybody as well, but you can only hear them through the cans.

There’s one run through, we all just read, it goes by pages really, so it’s like scenes. We record each scene individually, and a scene might last a page, it might last 5 pages. So, you have to sort of stand there and have your pages arranged so you can read them without people hearing the pages rustling or whatever.

And we’ll read once, then they’ll record one and if there’s any little slip ups or if they feel that somebody could interpret a line differently or something like that then they’ll say, “Let’s go back and let’s just pick up this section,” and so you’ll repeat.

The great thing is that, because you can see everybody, we laugh a lot. I mean I’m not sure actually whether they add bloopers at the end of the box set but certainly there’s a LOT of laughter because we’re watching one another sort of pretending to kiss or there’s always running, but we aren’t allowed to run because we’d sound like a heard of elephants and so whenever we’re running I see everybody (She pantomimes running in place). It’s crazy, you have no idea what actors get up to really.

Q – What projects do you have coming up? Where can we see Alex Kingston next?
AK – I actually just heard, somebody told me here, I didn’t know that Canadian show- Shoot the Messenger – that I had done, I guess it was 2 years ago that we filmed it – that it’s just been greenlit for another series. So that would be great because that means I’d be going back to work on that series and expanding the character of the newspaper editor.
I have just recently, not permanently relocated to England, but I’ve moved back for a little bit. So, I’m hoping that come the end of the summer that I’ll start looking to do theatre work there for a bit. That’s my first love really, and a few years back I did Macbeth with Kenneth Brannagh and that sort of just kind of got all those theatre juices bubbling and I’d love to go back on stage again for sure.


Q – Do you have a dream role?
AK – I’d love to play Cleopatra, that’s one of my dream roles.


Q - Can you talk about a scene that really touched you, whether it was filming it or watching it back later, on Doctor Who?
AK – Actually, I have to say, it’s interesting because with all three Doctors so far, there’s been a moment where it’s been difficult for me to just hold myself together. And obviously in the science in the library story arc it’s where River decides to sacrifice herself for the Doctor. And when I watch that back, I don’t get emotional at watching the character of River doing that, actually I get emotional when I see David get emotional because his Doctor isn’t kind of like that – he sort of holds that back a little bit and certainly not having known him other than just working on those two episodes, to see it get to him, that gets to me.

There’s a moment with Matt Smith, again, it’s where River and the Doctor have to say goodbye. All those moments are the ones where when I look at them it makes me get a bit teary.

I can’t watch the one with Peter Capaldi, in The Husbands of River Song.That last scene, was so hard for me to shoot because even though we shoot out of sequence, that scene they left until the last moment to film. And I, of course, know what’s coming up, now that she’s been given her sonic screwdriver, but yet, of course, River doesn’t. She has an inkling but she doesn’t know and so I had to work really hard not to cry and I didn’t succeed. We had to do a couple of takes, I just started bawling and again I saw Peter, you know he’s tough, he doesn’t show or share those emotions and the last few moments we were filming and I was looking at him and said, “My God! You’re teary-eyed! Don’t do that, cuz it will likely be me too!”

So, I think it’s important, those moments are sort of in a sense few and far between and because they are makes them all the more poignant that way.

Q – How are you enjoying boxing? I heard you took up boxing.
AK – I like it! Oh, my god! It’s exhausting. It’s absolutely exhausting, but, yeah, I had a go and I thought maybe I’d just do one and that would be it but I kind of got hooked and so, yeah, I’ve had 3 lessons. I’m actually quite strong so, yeah, I’m going to try and keep it up.

Q – I want to try to promote a Battle of the Sexes between you and Sean Pertwee. He’s been doing that (boxing) a long time.
AK – He’ll knock me out.

Thank you again to Alex Kingston for spending time with us at Dragon Con and another thank you to the media relations staff there as well.

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