Karen Gillan on Finding Inspiration for Her Feature Directorial Debut ‘The Party’s Just Beginning’

When it came time to write and direct her first feature, “The Party’s Just Beginning,” actress Karen Gillan, who is best known for her role in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, found inspiration in her hometown of Inverness, Scotland, a city located in the remote Scottish Highlands. Despite its title, the film is several shades darker than one would expect from the former star of the sitcom “Selfie.”

The story centers around Liusaidh (Gillan), a young woman who is first introduced in an inebriated state at a pub. Afterwards, she engages in anonymous sex, and then treats herself to some fries before heading to the home she shares with her parents (Siobhan Redmond, Paul Higgins). It soon becomes apparent that this reckless behavior (the drinking and risky sex, not the fries) is something of a pattern for Liusaidh (pronounced “Lucy”), as she is still dealing with the aftermath of the suicide of her best friend, Alistair (Matthew Beard). But no amount of booze can stop her from being haunted by her dead pal, whom the viewer gets to know through flashbacks.

Gillan, who took the time to chat with Entertainment Voice at the film’s international premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, set out to make a love letter to Inverness.

“I was really geeked to show where I was from to the rest of the world, because I think the only other time we’ve ever seen it was in this film called ‘Loch Ness’ starring Ted Danson,” she explained. “I loved that film, but it’s very different from mine. In my film, I wanted to take a postcard of the place and incorporate that, because it is incredibly beautiful and picturesque, but also, the other other side of it, what it’s really like for some people who live there. It’s a very dark subject matter that the film tackles, but I think that my sense of pride towards the place still shines through even in the darkest parts of this film.”

The darkness here comes not only from Alistair’s suicide and its aftermath, but also the circumstances that led him to jump over a bridge that fateful night. Already he is an outsider as an LGBTQ person in a remote area, and any confidence he has in himself is squashed by his lover, closeted missionary Ben (Jamie Quinn). In one of the more affecting scenes, Liusaidh witnesses the latter berate and shame her friend. Gillan proves her worth here as a dramatic actress in these moments that cause Liusaidh much pain and regret in the present day. The fact that she supported Alistair after he revealed a part of himself to her does little to lessen her grief and survivor’s guilt.  

“It’s a real mixture,” replied Gillan when asked how much of the film is fiction versus autobiographical. “I take inspiration from my personal life and also people around me… The storyline of a girl dealing with the suicide of her best friend is fictional. It’s not something that I’ve personally dealt with, but it’s a story that I really felt compelled to tell, because the more I started reading into the statistics of the Highlands of Scotland, the more I felt that this was an issue that needed to be talked about.”

The statistics Gillan refers to is the high suicide rates in Inverness — A person takes his or her life there every 10 days. The juxtaposition of Christmas evokes another Scottish film, “Morvern Callar,” the haunting and darkly humorous 2002 Lynne Ramsay drama that also deals with a suicide. Just like Ramsay, Gillan manages to balance the light with the dark. The more comical scenes involve Liusaidh’s thankless job at a supermarket deli and her visits with her best gal pal, stressed-out stepmom Donna (Rachel Jackson), and Gillan let’s her natural quirkiness shine through.

The theme of loss here is not just explored through Liusaidh, but also through two kindred spirits she encounters, the first one being a recently widowed elderly man who calls her house by mistake, as her family’s landline is one number off from a local helpline. The other is Dale (Lee Pace), a middle-aged divorced father with whom she initially has no-strings sex.

As both Dale and the elderly man are at different points of their lives than Gillan and Liusaidh, as our other characters such as Donna and her parents, Gillan explained how she worked closely with the other actors to incorporate these different point-of-views into the final script.

“I wanted all of their inputs, and I used it, and it was such a collaborative process. I embraced all of their thoughts. Actors like Lee Pace, for instance, he brought so much to the table and made the writing so much better. I was grateful for that.”

All of this leads to a cathartic moment for Liusaidh, one that is subtle and beautifully done, not too overwrought. Gillan spoke about what she hopes the audience takes away from her film, particularly other women.

“It doesn’t matter so much to me what I intended with the film, so much as actually what exists between each audience member and the film. And also, I hope that maybe it can be an example for other young women who do what to get into directing or filmmaking in any form. I hope that I can be an example for them and encourage them to go for it.”

The Party’s Just Beginning” opens Dec. 7 in select theaters, and is available on VOD Dec. 11.