Karen Gillan: Director, time traveller, alien and Scot

We chat to the former Doctor Who and Avengers star as she makes her directorial debut with The Party’s Just Beginning. But could she return to her Tardis roots?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14:  Actress/director Karen Gillan attends the Build Series to discuss

Forget travelling in time and space, battling Thanos or teaming up with The Rock – for Karen Gillan, the biggest challenge in recent years has been writing, shooting and starring in her feature directorial debut The Party’s Just Beginning, an offbeat drama that follows a troubled young woman that was released in the US some months ago.

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Now, the film is finally getting a release in the UK, and we took the chance to catch up with Gillan about her new career turn, her hopes for directing in the future, as well as where she stands on the whole superhero movie-vs-“real” cinema debate.

Plus, we touch on her mammoth year starring as antihero Nebula in Avengers: Endgame, and her possible reunion with an old Doctor Who pal…


Hi Karen – are you excited that the Party’s Just Beginning has a UK release date?

Yaay! Woohoo! Yeah, I’m over the moon actually, because it already came out in the States and I’m like ‘but people need to see it in the place where it’s set!’

Finally, the people of Inverness can see themselves represented onscreen.

We actually played Inverness film festival with the film, and so we showed it to an Invernesian audience. And that was the one I was most nervous for. Everyone’s opinion means a lot, but this is my town opinion. I really wanted to make sure that they were happy with everything that was in there.

And they were, actually – which is good!

You’ve written and directed this film – for our readers who might not know, what’s it about?

The film is about a girl who is dealing with the suicide of her best friend, in the highlands of Scotland where the suicide rate is significantly higher than any other area.

And the film is a dark story told from a slightly surreal and sometimes comedic standpoint.

Well described! You star in the film, but also it’s your feature-length directorial debut. How was working as a director vs working as an actor?

I loved being a director so much. I’d made two short films prior to the feature but I also grew up in Inverness making films on my video camera around my house, little horror films, so it sort of felt like I’d returned to something that I was vaguely familiar with already.

And it was really amazing to be involved in the whole creative process from start to finish, rather than just coming in for one section and then seeing the finished movie. To sit through every stage of making a film is a brilliant, informative experience.

Has it changed the way you see the directors you’ve worked with in the past?

I just have a little more empathy towards directors. I think I’m a little easier to work with as an actress now, because I just kind of understand their perspective a little bit more, and so things are quicker and can run more smoothly.

I mean I love acting so much as well. Both at the same time was a bit of a challenge. I think doing them separately would be something I’d do from now on.

Do you have plans to direct more? Anything else in the pipeline?

Millions of ideas are floating around all the time! And so I just write them all down, and whichever one I feel inspired to work on I’ll just do that, whenever I get a second.

I just directed a horror short film earlier this year, which we’re just finishing in postproduction. Which has been an amazing experience because it was my first time really playing in the horror genre since I was a child, with my video camera.

Like the proper horror genre – we’re in a scary house situation. I feel like I tried some new things, some creative choices, and really kind of honed in a little bit more on what my style is as a filmmaker. So hopefully that will come out to the world, and if not I’ll make a feature-length version of it at some point, probably.

That sounds cool – anything you can tease, like a title?

It’s called the Hoarding, that’s all I can tell you so far.

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You’ve had a lot of good news recently – Disney put you forward to be considered for an Oscar nomination for playing Nebula in Avengers: Endgame. Was that exciting?

Um, that’s so crazy! And really sweet! Lord knows if that would amount to anything, but no, really really honoured that they would even consider doing that.

It strikes me that you work on both these smaller, indie and artistic movies as well as the big blockbusters. Given that, how did you respond to the discussion sparked by Martin Scorsese about whether superhero films are true cinema?

I would say that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Personally, I think that it’s all cinema, it’s just different types of cinema. Just to be clear I am the biggest Martin Scorsese fan, Taxi Driver has to be one of my top films of all time.

Marvel movies are a particular type of cinema where it appeals to the masses, and it’s a joyous popcorn experience. But you know, that’s a brilliant type of cinema to be delivering to the audiences. With all these screens we have at home and everything, there isn’t a huge incentive to leave your house and go to see a film any more.

The reason to go down to the cinema is for some sort of otherworldly experience. And I think Marvel movies provide that, and horror movies can provide that as well.

Do you think superhero movies will ever get recognition from the film establishment, or from awards shows like the Oscars?

I think they should have an Oscar category, personally, because it’s just undeniable how popular they are and how much of an appetite there is for these movies.

And within these movies, I know these filmmakers are incredibly artistic people, and they’re just choosing to express themselves through this type of film.

Just as much heart goes into it, an incredible amount of thought, care. You’ve got people like James Gunn and Taika Waititi – these are incredible artists making really cool choices within these films, and they’re very cinematic.

L: disney, sky picsR: Getty TL

Speaking of James Gunn, it must have been nice to have him reinstated for the final Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and for you guys to be able to complete that trilogy in style. Were you pleased with how that all worked out?

Yeah, and it wouldn’t have felt right to complete the trilogy without him, truly. He’s the brain behind all of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and characters, and so it definitely didn’t sit right with us that we might continue without him. So we’re all just overjoyed that he’s back.

Some of our readers will know you from your Doctor Who days, which are a little way back now…

Yaaaay!

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Oh, count the geeks. How many did you spot?

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….and I saw that you’ve been meeting [ex-Doctor Who showrunner] Steven Moffat a few times recently. Is it nice to catch up with your old Tardis pals?

Oh yeah, I was just in London a couple of weeks ago I think? And I saw Steven Moffat and I saw Arthur Darvill and Matt Smith all in a few days. So yeah, definitely. I saw Arthur and Matt’s plays that are on in London at the moment, with Steven. So it was a reunion for all of us.

We try to keep in touch as much as possible. We all still definitely have a bond that we share from our days on Doctor Who. It was such an incredible experience. It was the best!

Could you and Steven ever work together again?

It would be amazing to work with Steven again. He is one of my favourite screenwriters in the world – I truly think he is top level.

And so yeah I would definitely love to direct something that he’s written at some point. We are talking about something, but that’s all I can say.

And finally, being known for big franchises like Marvel, or Doctor Who, or the Jumanji movies, are you excited for all your UK fans to see this film? I understand it’s quite personal to you.

Yeah I definitely am. It’s quite a personal, vulnerable thing to do to write a film and make it yourself and put it out into the world. So it’s definitely a passion project for me, that I did between jumping around the franchise films.

I am excited for people to share that. It’s scary! But I am excited for people to catch a glimpse into what type of filmmaker I am, and what type of stories I want to tell as a filmmaker.

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The Party’s Just Beginning is in UK cinemas now