Karen Gillan is no stranger to the screen, whether it be big or small. You may know her from Doctor Who, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, or Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and Avengers: Infinity War, but at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival she showcased her multitude of skills as the writer, director, and star of her first solo feature film The Party’s Just Beginning.
In the film, Gillan plays Liusaidh, a young woman from the Scottish Highlands who’s still reeling from a recent loss and attempts to cope with it in destructive, booze-induced ways. “It’s about a girl dealing with the suicide of her best friend in the Highlands of Scottland,” Karen Gillan told me on the Tribeca Film Festival red carpet. “She has a really hard time connecting with people and communicating her angst towards the whole event, so it comes out in some quite self-destructive ways. It’s basically a character study into someone who’s enduring the aftermath of somebody’s suicide.”
Watch my interview with The Party’s Just Beginning director, writer, and star Karen Gillan, below:
A first-time writer-director, it took some serious multi-tasking to make the coming-of-age film, but Gillan was all in. “It just felt like the most natural thing in the world,” she said about writing, directing, and acting in The Party’s Just Beginning. “It was a lot of work but because I’m so enthusiastic for the story I just had the energy for it.”
Her inspiration for the film came when she learned the shocking statistics about the suicide rate in the Highlands. “I read that the suicide rates in the Highlands of Scotland are significantly higher among young men than the rest of Scotland,” she said. “It struck me as pretty strange because I grew up there and it’s such a beautiful, idyllic place to live, so I was like why is this looming over us? I wanted to explore that.”
The Party’s Just Beginning features a wonderful cast alongside Gillan, including her Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Lee Pace and comedian Rachel Jackson. “I’ve worked with Lee Pace before on Guardians of the Galaxy so I just sort of ran into him around Christmas time and was like be in my movie? And he was like yeah,” she said about how Pace was cast. “I just couldn’t believe that actually worked. He is such an amazing actor so I was so honored to have him come and make my writing so much better.” She watched a lot of self tapes to cast the other roles and reached out to her longtime friend Rachel Jackson to play the role of Donna. “My friend Rachel Jackson, who’s one of my best friends in the world, agreed to come on and do the film,” she said. “And it was the best thing in the world when you cast one of your friends and then they turn out to be absolutely brilliant.”
Watch my interview with The Party’s Just Beginning actress Rachel Jackson, below:
According to Jackson, The Party’s Just Beginning had been in development for quite some time. “Karen spoke to me a few years ago saying that she really wanted me to play this part Donna,” she told me on the Tribeca red carpet. “This is back in like 2013 when it was her first draft and she hadn’t found anyone to make it yet.”
The film has a dark wit about it that makes Gillan a complete stand out as a new writer. “[There’s] definitely a Scottish approach to everything in the film. It’s a very dark, serious subject matter that I wanted to treat with respect, but also come at from an authentically Scottish point of view where we just kind of find the humor in adversity,” said Gillan. “[That] is just something that is so typically Scottish.”
Jackson explained why this type of comedy is so important. “I think we need it. I think it’s the most important thing in the world because if we didn’t laugh we’d all fall apart. Genuinely. [With] comedy and tragedy, there’s a reason there’s such a fine line [between them] so it’s really fun to explore that.”
She added that she hopes the film will fuel the dialogue on mental health. “Hopefully it will start conversations. Obviously it’s such a dark subject matter about suicide. If someone’s feeling that they can talk to a friend,” Jackson said. “Because I think that’s the main problem with mental health issues. People just don’t feel comfortable enough taking about it and they need to. Everyone’s been through something bad in their life and everyone can help.”
Gillan proves that she is a force to be reckoned with in her directorial feature debut and has a knack for telling dark, witty, and compelling stories about important issues.