Bustle — Karen Gillan’s Directorial Debut Is Nothing Like Her Previous Work — But Don’t Be So Surprised: “I’ve been released from a very tight ponytail,” actor and filmmaker Karen Gillan says when she sits down opposite me in the Bustle green room and I ask how she is. “It’s the best feeling in the world. Liberation.”
It’s tempting to look for the symbolism in the phrasing she uses to describe her post-photoshoot “release.” After all, the actor who found fame in high-profile, crowd-pleasing projects like Doctor Who, where she played companion Amy Pond, and Guardians of the Galaxy, as Gamora’s villainous sister Nebula, is currently doing press for her first feature-length independent film as a writer/director. (Bustle is her last stop today, hence the hair freedom.) The blistering character drama, The Party’s Just Beginning, available on iTunes and on demand, charts the path of grief for one lost young woman. But Gillan doesn’t operate by the assumption that you have to shed one skin to reveal another.
For her, whether she’s hacking through the middle of the jungle with The Rock or huddled up in a tiny house in her hometown in Scotland, making movies is “the same job.” So though audiences may feel the culture shock of seeing the 32-year-old transition from Jumanji‘s blockbuster wit and adventure to The Party’s Just Beginning’s exploration of anguish and depression, she’s perfectly comfortable moving between them.
Sure, when you’re working on an Avengers film, “you sort of get to be like a child that doesn’t have to be responsible for anything,” she says, because of all the assistance and perks. But, she adds, “when it comes down to it, we’re just people in a place delivering lines of dialogue to each other.” It’s the assessment of a seasoned pro, pushing against the public’s inclination to see actors as one thing or another, and a good reminder that so many of the limits we project on performers are just that: projected.
After all, Gillan’s been doing the legwork for her debut as a filmmaker long before she nabbed a part in Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning The Big Short, shared the small screen with John Cho in the much-mourned sitcom Selfie (she says they “should totally make a movie version” of Henry and Eliza’s story and “just wrap it up for everyone,” by the way), or teamed up with most of the Marvel crew in Infinity War. The Party’s Just Beginning has been part of her life through it all, and she’s not surprised or disappointed that it took six years to make.
“Thank God that that’s the case,” she says. “I feel like as a filmmaker and storyteller, I’ve just grown so much over those years. I’m so glad I didn’t direct it when I was about 24.”