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'I could have texted all night': Selfie a modern My Fair Lady

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HOLLYWOOD -- For fans of Britain's most storied sci-fi export, she's immediately recognizable as Amy Pond.

But these days, Scottish-born actress Karen Gillan is more like Amy Across-the-Pond, having transplanted herself and her career from the U.K. to the U.S. to take a starring role in the new ABC sitcom Selfie.

The series is a 21st-century reimagining of the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady tale, with Gillan playing a self-created social-media star named Eliza Dooley, who has nearly 300,000 "followers" who pay attention to her every post, tweet and Instagram selfie, but no actual friends she can confide in or on whom she can count.

The shallowness of her online stardom becomes apparent after she has an embarrassing moment on a business trip, and the very social media that has fuelled her small-c celebrity turns her into a viral-video victim. Shamed and struggling to make sense of what's happened, she turns to a co-worker named Henry (no, not Higgins), played by John Cho (Harold & Kumar, Star Trek Into Darkness), a marketing genius whose ability to rehabilitate damaged brands has made him a rising star in the corporate family.

She doesn't know him; she's so self-obsessed, she doesn't really know anybody. And while he doesn't know her either, he knows about her and her flimsy, superficial celebrity, and he absolutely does not like her.

But when she begs for his help, he realizes that she might be his ultimate perception-reversal challenge -- if he can turn her into a nice person who actually cares about others, maybe he really is the genius his bosses have proclaimed him to be.

When this very American story debuts Sept. 30 on ABC, there'll be no rain in Spain falling mainly on the plains. But there will be plenty of opportunities for Eliza to falter and fail and for Henry to pick her up and point her in the right direction.

"There are baby steps and some of these habits die hard," series creator Emily Kapnek (Suburgatory) said during ABC's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "There are things that will change more immediately, but I think with her character, it's a little bit of one step forward, two steps back."

And as much as Eliza is an app-addicted social-media butterfly with no interest in the real world, Henry is a work-obsessed loner who, despite his aptitude for reshaping others' lives, has never taken the time to build a social life of his own. So while Henry's doing what he can to help Eliza, she's also doing more than he could have imagined to help him.

"At the start, I think it's very natural to judge Eliza and, in some ways, share Henry's attitude and be a bit sort of repelled by what she represents and the work she needs to do," said Kapnek. "But Karen did such an amazing job, I think, of growing empathy very early on (in the series pilot). I think your heart breaks for her.

"As far as ... Henry's flaws (are concerned), it's very much our intention that the line between teacher and student get blurry very quickly. So we're going to be focusing on the fact that some of what he's preaching, he's not necessarily practising, and that his own life needs work, as well."

When she answered questions during this rather charming press-tour encounter, Gillan spoke with the distinctive Scottish lilt that Doctor Who fans know so well. But when Selfie shows itself to the North American TV audience this fall, Gillan's brogue will have disappeared, replaced by a seamlessly adopted American accent.

"Obviously it's a very different story if we tell the story of a Scottish girl who is sort of shunned by her co-workers," said Kapnek. "That obviously just takes on an entirely different meaning. So it was just important to the material that she be American. And I actually think Karen did a fantastic job.

"In fact, Karen had actually done roles before with an American accent, and we were supplied with tons of (video) material that showcased that and it was really nicely done. I mean, I agree (the Scottish accent) is very endearing, but, again, for our story, I think everyone felt strongly that the show would be (about) an American girl."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2014 C3

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