Karen Gillan: 'I don't know why I have such dark tastes, because I'm a very optimistic, positive person'

Karen Gillan: 'I don't know why I have such dark tastes, because I'm a very optimistic, positive person'

The Party's Just Beginning

As The Party's Just Beginning receives a Scottish BAFTA nomination, we catch up with the actor to hear more about her directorial debut

Nominated for a Scottish BAFTA, The Party's Just Beginning marks the directorial debut of actor Karen Gillan, who also wrote, produced and stars in the film. She plays Luisaidh, a directionless young woman struggling to deal with the suicide of her best friend. Set in the star's beloved home town of Inverness and peopled with recognisably flawed, relatable characters, the film tackles some powerfully emotional themes with touching honesty and dark humour. We sat down with Gillan to talk about her experience behind the camera, the cinematic qualities of Inverness and drinking coffee with superheroes.

Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from a statistic that I read on the internet which said that the suicide rates in the Highlands were significantly higher among young men than the rest of Scotland and I was so confused by that, because I grew up there and it's an idyllic place to live. It's always being voted the best place to live in the UK, so immediately there was an interesting contradiction there that I wanted to explore in the film.

Had you always wanted to direct?
Now that I look back on it, yes I think I had – I just didn't realise it at the time. I remember my first real taste of acting was when my parents bought me a video camera and I would make these horror movies all around my house with my parents and then with my friends, using tomato ketchup for blood. So I was directing, fully then, and it just makes perfect sense that now I've come full circle and I'm doing that again on a bigger scale.

Were you always drawn to dark material?
Always. I don't know why I have such dark tastes, because I'm a very optimistic, positive person, but it's always been like that – even when I try to draw things, they come out completely terrifying and evil-looking. It's weird.

Was it important for you to film in Inverness?
[Laughs] Yes, it was very important to me because I think we have a lot of generically Scottish stuff that goes out into the world and anyone in Scotland would know, if they watch the film, if something was shot in Glasgow, which is what was initially proposed. The film is in the Highlands and I feel like that's a big part of the story, so I just wanted to make it specific.

What are the qualities of the Highlands that appealed to you?
First of all, the cinematic landscapes are so beautiful, and for me, part of the contradiction of the story was having this beautiful postcard, touristy perfect place with a really dark story, so we needed both of those elements to get that across.

Had you picked up any tips on directing from observing the various directors you've worked with?
Yeah, I mean, I couldn't help but learn a lot from working with these people. I've been so lucky that I've gotten to work with some of the best directors in the film industry. I definitely picked up things from them and I've learned so much by just being in the environment.

How did you find the experience of directing yourself?
Actually, weirdly fine, because what I did was I just gave myself different options every single take, so I could just choose in the edit. And then I became so detached from myself in the edit that I would refer to the character as 'her' and I would be like, 'What other takes does she have? Can we look at when she did this?' and it became really strange and detached.

What was it like working on Avengers: Infinity War? It's extraordinary to think about the logistics of putting that together, the different characters and actors from all the films. How was the experience from your position, within that ensemble?
It was just amazing. I don't really get starstruck by actors, but looking around that cast was just insanity – it's like every movie star you've seen in the last however many years, they were all over the room, like superheroes drinking coffee. It was absurd, actually. It was just a brilliant experience. I loved working on it, I loved working with the Russo brothers, brilliant directors, and it felt like a really creative, friendly, inventive atmosphere.

What will be your lasting memories of working on Doctor Who?
Working with two of my best friends in the world, Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill. We had the time of our lives. It was a really special period of our lives where all of us were still quite young and running around and we'd all come from obscurity, so it was just one of those things that I'll probably never experience again, but it was so special.

The Party's Just Beginning had its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival on 24 Feb 2018. General release tbc.

The Party’s Just Beginning

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • UK
  • 1h 31min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Karen Gillan
  • Written by: Karen Gillan
  • Cast: Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Matthew Beard, Jamie Quinn, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond
  • UK release: 24 February 2018

In a bleak Inverness midwinter, Lucy (Gillan) is careering off the rails after the suicide of her best friend. She medicates her misery with joyless sex, chips and a belief in the power of positive drinking. Surrounded by bittersweet memories, she struggles to find someone to talk to or some reason to make life worthwhile…