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Karen Gillan & Sleeping Dogs Director On Her Femme Fatale Role And Russell Crowe Collaboration


Russell Crowe’s nuanced performance as a detective with Alzheimer’s adds depth and intensity to the noir mystery of
Sleeping Dogs
Karen Gillan shines as a complex femme fatale character who navigates deception and intelligence in the search for truth.
Director Adam Cooper’s collaborative approach and attention to detail in pacing make this film a riveting and rewatchable mystery.

Sleeping Dogs is a modern noir that follows Roy Freeman, a former homicide detective suffering from Alzheimer’s. Asked to reinvestigate one of his former cases before the man convicted of the crime is executed, Roy must begin from the beginning due to the disease completely wiping out his memories. Roy faces countless obstacles in his search for the truth, and each new revelation sparks new questions about who and what he can trust, including his own mind.

Sleeping Dogs approaches the noir mystery through the lens of memory loss, seeming to take inspiration from classics like Christopher Nolan’s Momento and Shutter Island. Russell Crowe brings to life a layered character desperately searching for the truth, not only in the case but in who he was. Karen Gillan becomes a chameleon in the role, transitioning from a charming young woman to a manipulative femme fatale with something to hide and everything to lose. With each new clue revealed, the audience slowly discovers the truth about who the killer is and who Roy Freeman was before he lost his memories.


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Screen Rant interviewed director and co-writer Adam Cooper and star Karen Gillan about their new noir mystery movie, Sleeping Dogs. Gillan shared the nerve-wracking experience of working with Russell Crowe, getting into the mindset of a femme fatale, and which version of Poison Ivy she wants to play in the DC Universe. Cooper praised the nuance Crowe brought to the role and explained how the support of the crew helped him as a first time director.

Karen Gillan Reveals Her Initial Reaction To The Sleeping Dogs Script

Russell Crowe as Roy in Sleeping Dogs

Screen Rant: Adam, the Roy character is based on the book The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici. How did you come across that story and what made you want to adapt that into a film?

Adam Cooper: It was introduced by a guy named Pouya Shahbazian, who I had worked with on Allegiant, and my partner Bill Collage and I were given the book as a galley pre-publication. It had already sold at auction and it was going to be published, but we read it before it was published.

I was really compelled by the story of this man who was bereft of memory, who was tasked with reinvestigating a case that he doesn’t remember, because it put him in this very vulnerable position of confronting characters who knew him, but he actually could not remember, so he wouldn’t know if they were friend or foe.

I really liked that, and I really liked that there was an opportunity to play with memory, to explore themes around that. And also that the plot was very much this mechanism through which the character ends up getting revealed. You’re just in lockstep with the character as he is uncovering things; you’re never ahead of him. So I liked that.

Karen, your character’s name is Laura Baines. She’s at the center of this mystery. Tell us a little bit about Laura and what attracted you to this complex character.

Karen Gillan: She’s such an interesting character. When I first read the script, I was like, “I must play this.” But I didn’t know how I would play it, which is part of the appeal, actually, because I knew it was going to be a challenge to figure this out. All I knew is that she was incredibly intelligent and referenced really sophisticated things like classical music, art, and spoke five languages. But also she’s a shapeshifter and can change the mask that she’s wearing depending on who she’s interacting with. And that, to me, was the crux of it, where I was like, Oh, that seems really, really fun to play these different versions of her, and I know who she is underneath, but the audience can make up their own mind on that.

Russel Crowe Brought “A Lot Of Nuance” To His Sleeping Dogs Role

Russell Crowe looking defeated as Roy in Sleeping Dogs

Absolutely. Now, Adam, I love the role memory plays in Sleeping Dogs, the existential crisis or question of Roy thinking, “Who am I?”, and him trying to reclaim his past. What did Russell bring to the role of Roy that wasn’t on the page?

Adam Cooper: A lot of nuance. I think when you’re imagining this thing, when you’re imagining a character who’s struggling with memory, in my mind, maybe I thought it would be bigger than it was. But I think his performance is so understated and he does so much incredible work really with just his eyes and facial expression. And then he also brings, because he plays it in two timeframes, I think he brings an incredible intensity to the part. And it’s just kind of magical that he can do so much by sometimes not doing a lot. So I think he brings presence, incredible presence.

Karen, can you talk about working with him in Sleeping Dogs?

Karen Gillan: Oh my god, it was so nerve-racking because he’s such a legend. I’m a fan. I’m a big fan of his. I already was, so walking into this, I was just having these moments where I’m opposite Russell Crowe in a scene. I’m just going to take that in for a second, then I would get back into it. But no, what struck me immediately is when I watched him acting in the first scene that we did together, I was like, “Oh, that’s why you’re a movie star,” like there it is.

It’s, as you said, that understated, seemingly doing nothing yet doing everything. I think he just really has such a good relationship with the camera. It’s like whatever is existing between the camera and him is magic. That’s something I have had to work on as an actor, is realizing that actually if you think it, the camera’s going to pick it up. You don’t have to necessarily tell everyone what you’re thinking, and he is the master of that. It’s all going on underneath.

Adam, I love the pacing of this film. I was trying to crack the case alongside Roy in every single scene, and I think this has fantastic rewatchability. Did you lay breadcrumbs around the mystery, so audiences can kind of discover it on their own if they were trying?

Adam Cooper: Yeah, we tried to make sure that everything was earned, and we had to be subtle about how we were earning those things. But yeah, I think with a movie like this, it has to hold up under scrutiny, and so we definitely were really cognizant of that. Certainly in the writing of the script when we were shooting it, and then also really making sure all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed in post-production when we’re watching everything. Because it’s then that you really have the opportunity to see how much all your storytelling holds up. So yeah, definitely something that we were cognizant of.

Karen Gillan Praises Sleeping Dogs Director For Making Everyone Feel Heard

Russell Crowe looking at a baseball bat as Roy in Sleeping Dogs

Karen, Adam co-wrote Sleeping Dogs, but he makes his directorial debut with this film. What did his directing style add to Sleeping Dogs?

Karen Gillan: Adam is… Look at him getting nervous or embarrassed; I can’t tell. He was amazing to work with, truly. I’m shocked that that was your first feature, truly. It was just such a beautifully collaborative process. He really made everyone feel really heard, but also knew his own mind too, and I think that’s the key, isn’t it? At least making people feel heard; you can decide what you actually take and listen to. But that’s what we want from a filmmaker, someone with their own point of view, and we want to bring that vision to life.

And I had just such a good time. He really created a safe, comfortable atmosphere on set, which is a huge thing for me, because I’m just so unbelievably receptive to people’s energies. It’s a blessing and a curse in life, and he has such a good energy that I felt just really good the whole time.

Adam, what was your biggest challenge as a director that was an unexpected one throughout the course of the process of shooting this film?

Adam Cooper: This is probably common, but time and money, man. Time and money. When you’re building it, you don’t think about some of the practical considerations or really realize. You always hear it, make sure you have enough time to do everything that you want to do, but you don’t really realize just the practical implications of choices in the script phase. So when you’re really on the ground and getting into it, it creeps up on you in a way, that it can be kind of daunting. So really just time was the big thing.

Karen, can you discuss the advantages of having your director who was also one of the co-writers of the film, and how that helps inform your performance and the choices you made in Sleeping Dogs?

Karen Gillan: Yeah, I’ve done that a few times where the filmmaker is also the writer, and it is great. I love that, because you can tweak things as you’re doing it. Adam was very open to that and we were able to add little things in. Nothing changed drastically, but we were able to be looser with it. Yeah, I’ve worked with other people that are the same. I guess the filmmaker that’s written it is much more comfortable being like, “Why don’t you try that? Say that. Change the line to this,” and it maybe lends itself to a little bit more discovery on the day.

Sleeping Dogs Director Recounts His First Meeting With Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe in Sleeping Dogs 2

Adam, what do you think you learned about yourself through working on this film, seeing as you co-wrote it and then directed it?

Adam Cooper: I guess probably that I’m stronger than I thought I was. It really tests you. I think I learned that I could really lean on other people. That I could be vulnerable about what I knew and what I didn’t know, and that can be a really valuable asset because it makes room for other people to fill that vacuum and do their best work. So I think I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was and that I don’t have to know how to do everything.

The theme is all about how memories shape us. What were some of the memories that stood out the most while making this movie?

Karen Gillan: I think as always, my answers are the things that are not on screen a lot of the time, like the bonding time. I literally remember it was summer in Melbourne, Australia, and we were all going out for dinner, and my character references Rachmaninoff piano concerto too, so I was listening to that on loop for the whole shoot. And I remember having my head out the window of the car blasting that, and I had one wine, and I was like, “I’ve never felt better in my life.”

Adam Cooper: I remember going to the Australian Open in Melbourne with Karen and my wife, Liz, and Russell. I remember meeting Russell for the first time in the midst of pre-production, going to his farm and riding ATVs with cattle running around alongside us. I remember each of the actors’ last days, and I remember Karen’s last day was a scene that she shot with Russell, the scene when she shows up at his house that talked about the book. That was Karen’s last day.

Karen Gillan: A good one. I’m like, “My god, I’ve got to deliver to the legend that is Russell Crowe.”

Adam Cooper: And I remember Karen’s first day working with Russell, because it was the very first opportunity to see what that chemistry would be like. That was the flashback bar scene, Karen.

Karen Gillan: Yes, that’s right. Yeah.

Adam Cooper: Yeah, those are the things I remember.

Sleeping Dogs’ Femme Fatale Is A Dream Role For Karen Gillan

Karen Gillan in Sleeping Dogs

Karen, this isn’t the type of role we see you in often. Can you discuss leaning into the femme fatale role in Sleeping Dogs?

Karen Gillan: Femme fatale. Ooo, I never thought I’d hear those words. It was really interesting for me. She’s kind of my dream role in a way, because I think her personality is such that she is playing various roles to different people in her life. And so there was a slightly performative aspect to it. I was like, “Oh, I need to do that just enough so people get the sense that it might not be genuine, but not so much that I just look like a bad actor.” So I was trying to find that balance.

And it was just really cool. I’d done so much research into that personality type and what might drive someone to the point where they do that in their lives. And so she’s a psychology student. Can’t say that. And so it’s like, for me, that’s my dream role, because that’s what I would’ve done if I wasn’t an actor, basically. I’m really interested in that stuff.

Poison Ivy 23 Harley Quinn 41 Pride Variant Cover: Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn sit side by side.

Speaking of femme fatale, Karen, you are a frequent collaborator with James Gunn who is now helming the DCU. You’ve stated before that you wanted to play Poison Ivy in that universe. Which version of Poison Ivy would you want to play, the femme fatale that’s an adversary to Batman, or the Poison Ivy who’s a part of the Gotham City Sirens in a relationship with Harley Quinn?

Karen Gillan: Oh, good question. In a relationship with Harley Quinn sounds excellent.

Adam Cooper: I want to play Batman.

Karen Gillan: You’d be perfect.

Now, you guys shot this movie in Melbourne. What did the energy of Melbourne add to Sleeping Dogs?

Adam Cooper: Melbourne’s a great city. I’d never been before. Incredible food. It’s a clean city. It’s vibrant. The weather changes four times in one day. They have lots of great events. But I think the biggest thing was just the people.

It was an entirely, with the exception of my DP and my editor, everybody was a Melbourne local, so the whole crew was from Melbourne, and they were all just really wonderful people. They signed up, they worked really hard. There were no bad attitudes. And for me, as a first time filmmaker, having the crew behind me and that energy, they were tireless. It was a really, really great experience. So, the people.

About Sleeping Dogs

Retired homicide detective Roy Freeman, while undergoing treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, is forced to re-open an old case involving the murder of a college professor when new information comes from a mysterious woman.

Sleeping Dogs

is in theaters now.

Sleeping Dogs

Based on the novel by E.O. Chirovici, Sleeping Dogs is a crime thriller that follows a former homicide detective who returns to the field after receiving an experimental Alzheimer’s treatment. With a fresh perspective and a renewed mind, the detective revisits a cold case of the murder of a college professor.

Director Adam Cooper

Release Date March 22, 2024

Studio(s) Nickel City Pictures , Highland Film Group , Gramercy Park Media , Film Victoria

Distributor(s) Highland Film Group , Nickel City Pictures

Writers Adam Cooper , Bill Collage , E.O. Chirovici

Cast Karen Gillan , Russell Crowe , Marton Csokas , Tommy Flanagan , Kelly Greyson , Lucy-Rose Leonard , Thomas M. Wright , Elizabeth Blackmore

Runtime 110 Minutes

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