Matt Smith is a lanky, lean man with deep eyes full of excitement, joy, and kindness, which is no surprise to his fans and Doctor Who loyalists, who felt no fear taking his hand for five insanely fun years aboard the TARDIS. His incarnation, the 11th, of the eternal Time Lord may have been in the body of a young man—the youngest ever to wield the sonic screwdriver—but he had the gravitas of a seasoned alien unafraid to take the wheel, something that was clear in his first Dragon Con appearance on Saturday afternoon in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom, which greeted him with a standing ovation.
Aaron J. Sagers, editor-at-large from SyFy, moderated the Q&A session and provided plenty of chemistry and banter for Smith to play off.
“It’s mad,” Smith said of the Con, “I love it…. It even has ‘Dragon’ in the name.” He described it as having the energy and spirit of lawlessness—and even complimented the costume contest at one point. He offered up something unique for attendees: two of his oldest, closest childhood friends from Northampton, Johnny and Alex, whom he brought up on stage for a selfie.
Most of the panel was a wonderful and warm discussion of his iconic role and his post Who work, which includes Mapplethorpe (upcoming), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, American Psycho The Musical, and Netflix’s The Crown, where he portrays Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, during the early years of his marriage to Queen Elizabeth II.
Yet, as he said, “I owe everything to Doctor Who,” which made him the actor he is today. “I miss him,” he admitted. “I miss playing the Doctor.”
Asked to compare preparation for the Doctor with preparation for Phillip, he said, “I sort of feel like they were both aliens,” as Phillip was an outsider who had difficulty integrating into the royal family. Smith prepared for both roles in similar ways as each was uniquely iconic. For the Doctor, Smith didn’t want to lean too heavily on past actors’ depictions lest his digress into mimicry. And, he didn’t want to just mimic the living Phillip; he needed his portrayal to be real, with flavor and tone, but simultaneously inventive and creative.
“It’s got to be very singular,” he said, following, jokingly, with, “Try following David Tennant.” Yet, Smith took Tennant’s advice when developing his version of the Doctor, which he knew he wanted to be clumsy and professorial. The advice was simple: Listen to no one. Also, “Don’t break Doctor Who.” Smith elaborated that he didn’t want to tarnish the image of who The Doctor was and ruin that for fans later down the road. “Everyone has an opinion, but it has to be really singular,” he again stressed. He passed this advice to his successor, Peter Capaldi, who will step away this winter from his role as the 12th Doctor, making way for Jodi Whittaker—who will be the first female version of the intrepid Time Lord.
“You’re in for a ride, mate,” Smith told the audience of Whittaker’s upcoming tenure, later joking that finally some hot dudes will be traveling in the TARDIS though, as he said, he “had Rory Pond.” Rory, played by Arthur Darvill, was Smith’s companion, along with Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), for whom the Doctor had a strong, non-romantic affinity.
“You are so intertwined with your companions,” Smith said of losing Amy and Rory in series 7. “My Doctor loved Amy Pond so much, and I found that hard to let go.” He then recounted meeting Amy as a child (played by Gillan’s cousin) while eating fish sticks and custard, an idea that he can’t claim but that he loved, calling it a “brilliant, romantic way to meet a companion.” For that scene, Smith had to eat 12 fish sticks, but didn’t mind the custard. “It was like a midnight feast in real life,” he said, pausing, “and narratively.”
Additionally, Smith talked about his relationship with Darvill and Gillan out of character. “You grow close to the people you work with. You are with them nine months out of the year. After doing the show for four years, you tend to make bonds. That was the greatest part of the show.” He joked repeatedly about calling Darvill, after reading new scripts (which he did with a cup of tea), and saying, “Yeah, you’re dead again,” and talked late in the panel about “jazzing around” on set. “I was the prankster,” he said, noting that he loved to hide in Karen’s trailer shower and jump out to scare her. One day, he made her cry. “Anything that would wind Karen up just made me so happy.”
Smith described himself as a goofy, odd, weird, and even “misplaced” kid with a speech impediment who was lucky to have good friends and family. But it’s that upbringing that makes him gravitate to alien, outsider roles, saying, “Anyone that feels odd and peculiar, continue thus.” He later continued to encourage this idea, telling aspiring actors (and artists, in general) to never give up, try your best, work harder than the person next to you, immerse yourself in films and plays, watch the actors that you love over and over, and spend time your own imagination.
His is particularly spectacular. When asked about what room he would want in the TARDIS, he said it would have these elements: a grumpy hippo named Clive with a private “grassland” room, an otter named Boris who is a fan of line dancing, a tennis court, a drum kit, a cinema, a bar, and, of course, a library filled with Roald Dahl books. Also, it would be raining sweets.
Smith said he admires Daniel Day-Lewis’ work and Jack Nicholson’s work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And, best of all, he loves the Ace Ventura films. Batman is his favorite superhero, and he thinks the Joker would be cool to play, which, Sagers pointed out, is an amazing idea as the Joker is an agent of chaos—not that dissimilar from the Doctor. “If I had stayed on,” Smith said, “that’s where it would have gone.”
He later, elaborated on this, saying that he was always interested in the darker components of his Doctor, who has a lot of blood on his hands. He’s left many people behind and “that’s why he has to be funny. If he wasn’t, he’d be in trouble.” He recounted a scene where his Doctor opens a closet door and looks into the dark; Smith imagined all the Doctor incarnations hanging from nooses in there, with an empty one waiting for him. He then joked that there should be a whole episode of The Doctor in a therapy session.
Smith talked about preparing for both American Psycho The Musical—for which he had 7 weeks to get fit and learn to sing—and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Of Psycho, he said, “I was petrified… but if I get through this, I can get through anything.” For Zombies, of Mr. Collins, he thought, “he’s got to be the complete opposite of Mr. Darcy.” Meaning, instead of being heroic and roguish, he needed to “fumble and bumble.” Smith worked with an acting coach, who he wishes he’d had for Doctor Who as he helped him channel his energy instead of wasting it. He then joked, “Read the book and hope for the best.”
When asked about specific Doctor Who episodes in his canon, he said he found “Vincent and the Doctor” to be an especially emotional episode—as they help Vincent van Gogh see the magnitude of his immeasurable contribution to art—and “The 11th Hour” (his first full episode) to be very high-pressure. “I was pleased with how it turned out,” he said of the latter. But, filming “The Beast Below” was particularly fun, as he and Gillan just slid down a huge slide all day. He also enjoyed filming “The Lodger” with James Corden as he got to play football (soccer)—his first love—all day. He also loved working with the “mad and doctor-y” Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor) on the 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor,” which he described as a “centerpiece” larger than just his incarnation of the Doctor.
He also admires many episodes from past doctors, including Christopher Eccelston’s “The Empty Child.” He joked that Tennant’s last episode, where the 10th Doctor regenerates, was his favorite, saying, “the last 10 minutes are particularly interesting.”
He said he would ask former Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat what the Paternoster gang was up to and, to the delight of the audience, suggested they get a spin-off before switching to some discussion of River Song (played by Alex Kingston), The Doctor’s sometime companion, romantic interest, and eventual wife. He said “anything with River Song” was always surprising in a script as Moffat kept her plotline and connections to Rory and Amy very secret. When someone asked what a child between River and the Doctor would be like, he exclaimed “Sweet mother of God!” He then mused, tongue in cheek, that anyone who makes a baby with Kingston will have “a wonderful time, frankly.” He said the Doctor—who is a bit of a child himself—couldn’t handle baby.
Of course, Smith still likes bowties. “Yeah, bowties are cool,” he said, while admitting he couldn’t tie one—he wore clip-ons! “They are!” As for what’s next for him and the Doctor, who knows. Smith said he wouldn’t mind directing an episode, which he feels he could do quite well. That would please a lot of people because, as Smith noted, people cheer for the Doctor like they cheer for no one else. And Dragon Con cheered for Matt Smith, whose indelible, mad-cap portrayal of the Doctor will always be worth cheering for.