Director-writer James Gardner made his feature directorial debut with Jellyfish at Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows a troubled teen named Sarah Taylor, played by newcomer Liv Hill, as she finds her voice through stand up comedy.
“Jellyfish centers around a girl who is a young carer and she’s got a lot of volatile energies as a result of the built up angst inside her because of her manic-depressive mum,” actress Liv Hill told me on the Jellyfish red carpet. “Through stand up comedy she’s able to release these energies as an escapism.”
With a focus on a young girl caring for her manic-depressive mother and being forced to be the sole provider for her family, Gardner needed to find the perfect actress for the role. “It was difficult. It was a really hard casting process to find a teenage girl who could carry the weight of the entire film on her shoulders,” he told me about casting the role of Sarah Taylor. “It took about six months to find Liv [Hill], but we found her and the rest as they say is history. We cast the rest of the film very easily.”
Watch my interview with Jellyfish director, writer, and producer James Gardner, below:
And according to Hill playing Sarah felt instinctual. “I had a gut feeling about it,” she said about the role. “I just loved it and I think when you love something and it’s intrinsic you just got to fight for it.”
While Hill was the perfect choice to play a character with a knack for stand up comedy, don’t expect to see her doing it on her own time. “I really have a lot of respect for anyone who does stand up comedy because I think it’s so vulnerable and exposing, much more than acting as someone else,” she told me. “I really enjoyed playing a character who does comedy because I’d never do it in real life.”
She explained that while stand up is at the forefront of the film, Jellyfish isn’t a dark comedy. “It’s a drama fundamentally with comedic aspects,” she said about tackling both the darker and comedic aspects of the script. “All I did really is just have to say the lines of the script, which were funny, as in the stand up. It was more about the drama, and that’s just acting I suppose.”
Watch my interview with Jellyfish actress Liv Hill, below:
Gardner gave more insight into the writing process for this project. “When I write, I write a lot. I just write ideas and some of them sink like a lead balloon and other ideas rise to the surface like a hot air balloon,” he said about the Jellyfish script. “There were things about this story and this character, there were different parts of this story, that all kind of rose together. When I put them together that’s when I started being able to see what the full story was and who this character was, what the world she lived in was, and how that was all going to fit together in the story that I wanted to tell.”
When it comes to the end of the film, Gardner left it open to interpretation. “Oh god,” exclaimed Gardner when asked about what he wants audiences to take away from Jellyfish. “The reason that’s an “oh god” is because the ending is designed to make people think. The way you think about it is very much determined by your own disposition. How you feel about life, whether you’re someone who chooses to laugh at the bad things or whether or not you choose to cry over the bad things. So what happens to Sarah after the film cuts to black is up to you. You take what you want from it is the answer.”
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