She may have gotten her start on the BBC series “Doctor Who” in 2010 as the title character’s beloved, fan-favorite companion Amy Pond, but Karen Gillan’s evolved since then. Eight years later, she’s a bona fide action antihero.
After appearing in both “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies as the blue, bald-headed Nebula, the adopted sister of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and daughter of evil warlord Thanos (Josh Brolin), Gillan registers to fans these days as the villain with a heart. Now, she’s got a “significant role” in “Avengers: Infinity War,” the Marvel movie predicted to make over $200 million this weekend.
The ensemble film features 60-plus characters from the Marvel universe, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). As you might expect, there’s a whole lot of men in that lineup, but ― if the rumors are true ― a women-only Marvel film could be on the horizon.
In fact, the 30-year-old Gillan said she’d volunteer to direct the all-female project if the studio moves ahead with the idea.
“OK, I’ll do it,” she told HuffPost at the Tribeca Film Festival last week, where she was promoting her directorial debut, “The Party’s Just Beginning.” Gillan doesn’t see any reason why a film featuring the many formidable women of the universe couldn’t be a possibility.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I know all of the Marvel actresses talk about it and we’re all for it. I don’t know whether it will happen or not, but everybody’s really up for it.”
Outside of her action persona, Gillan is hoping her latest indie movie opens a few new doors for her in terms of writing and directing. It takes on a darker coming-of-age tale revolving around a 20-something woman who turns to sex and alcohol to ease the pain of losing her best friend to suicide. In a sit-down interview at the Roxy Hotel in New York, the actress and filmmaker spoke in-depth about “The Party’s Just Beginning,” her blossoming career and Nebula’s “Avengers” role.
You’ve had a really busy past few years.
I know! It’s been incredibly exciting. Everything seems to be happening all at once.
“The Party’s Just Beginning” is a passion project of yours, about your hometown of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, which you’ve been working on for the past six years. What struck me, though, is how in tune the film is to very current topics of discussion in your industry, whether it be depression, suicide, gender identity, connectivity…
There’s a lot of stuff in there that really wasn’t being discussed when I wrote it and now it just seems to be discussed so much more. But that just makes me happy that it’s at the forefront of people’s minds ― these conversations ― because obviously they are issues that should be talked about.
When did you discover the statistic about the alarming rate of suicide in Inverness, and how did you want to go about addressing it?
I remember reading about that eight years ago roughly, and it was something that just always stuck with me. It struck me as so strange because I grew up there and it’s so idyllic and beautiful. It was just a contradiction to me. I was like, how is this possible to have this dark statistic looming over us? And then a couple of years after that I wanted to write my own screenplay, as I felt involved in telling other people’s stories so much as an actress that I really wanted to tell one of my own. And this just felt like the most natural thing to do, because it was something I felt was so strange and it hadn’t left my mind.
What was the scariest part of this: the writing, acting or directing?
I guess it’s the combination of acting and directing at the same time. It wasn’t scary so much as frustrating, because I love visuals so much that I really wanted to be behind the monitor watching everything that was going down the lens. Being in the scenes meant I couldn’t just sit behind the monitor. That provided an interesting form of directing, because instead of coming in with notes for the actors, I could just say to them, “Be responsive to what I’m giving you.” I provoked emotions within rather than discussing it beforehand, which feels a little more organic.
Was it then odd to direct yourself, jumping in front of and then behind the camera?
As an actor, I’ve made so many self-tapes ― which is something we just do now instead of auditions if we can’t get there ― and so I’ve developed, like most actors, this skill of knowing when you got it and when you don’t. So for myself, what I did was I gave myself options. I would do multiple takes and each one would be different so I could sit in the edit and pick and choose the performance.
What was the process like finding a producer to back the project?
I didn’t know how any of this stuff worked. I wrote this script in the U.K. and then I moved to America to do this film called “Oculus,” a horror movie. I showed the script to the director [Mike Flanagan] and he was like, “I know the producer who needs to make this movie.” And I was like, “Um, amazing! Bring me to her!” And then he’s like, “Actually, she’s right here.” And then [Mali Elfman] comes into the bar, this pub in L.A., and she had already read the script and she really connected to it. So that was just amazing ― one of those life moments where it was all in sync and really working. And then she and I worked together for four years to try and get funding for it.
Once you found funding, did you start creating a vision for the film or pull any inspiration from other directors?
Well, I feel like I might have taken a lot of inspiration from one of my favorite directors, Michael Haneke. My favorites are Haneke and Stanley Kubrick, and I don’t think this film looks like a Kubrick film. I mean, I wish! [Laughs] So maybe I’ve been influenced there subconsciously, but I had a really strong idea of what I wanted it to look like visually from the beginning, so much so that I storyboarded the entire film just for myself so I could essentially watch it by looking at the pages. But then I didn’t want my director of photography [Edd Lukas] to follow that, because I didn’t want to influence him too much. I wanted him to offer his ideas and bring them to the table and he totally agreed with that approach. But it’s scary how similar some of it is to the original storyboard.
I’m so happy to see that more women are directing blockbuster movies because, frankly, more women should be. If you look at the audience numbers, it’s not as if they’re predominately male – just as many females watch those types of movies, so why can’t women make them?Karen Gillan
How did you find the time to do all this storyboarding? You mentioned “Oculus” and from there, your career really took off.
I was doing the storyboards on the set of “Jumanji.” [Laughs] And they were trying to get me out of my trailer and I’m like, “Just one more picture!”
This film compared to “Jumanji” is quite the leap.
I know. [Laughs]
You play with dark comedy in “The Party’s Just Beginning,” but what was your experience like working on “Jumanji” with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black?
I loved it. Just working with such funny guys was such a cool, fun experience, and such a good learning curve, because they’re all so brilliant at what they do with comedy in such individual ways.
I’m sure it’s an interesting transition to go from filming big budget movies like “Jumanji” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” to filming your own indie project.
Yeah, the difference was so extreme.
Did it maybe inspire you to one day be a director who’s given the chance to helm a movie of that magnitude?
First of all, I’m so happy to see that more women are directing blockbuster movies because, frankly, more women should be. If you look at the audience numbers, it’s not as if they’re predominately male ― just as many females watch those types of movies, so why can’t women make them? We’re starting to see more of that now. I would definitely love to be a part of that one day, just because I feel like I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge on how they’re made by being in the environment. Therefore, I feel like I could put that to good use one day.
That Marvel environment must be insane. Talk about the filming aspect of those movies ― how crazy is it?
I’ve had nothing but great experiences working on Marvel movies. So many people think working on big budget movies presents a lack of creativity or something, and I just don’t find that to be true at all. If anything, having a bigger budget allows you to have more time, which means you can do more takes and try more things. As an actor, you can really start to explore, whereas on indie movies it’s like, “We’re running out of time!” So sometimes you only get one or two go’s at things. So I find [Marvel movies] incredibly rewarding, creatively. And it’s just so impressive the way the whole machine works ― it’s such a well-oiled machine and the technology is mind-blowing.
What was it like shooting “Avengers: Infinity War” with so many characters? And directly after shooting “Guardians 2.”
We have been shooting those [Marvel} films for the last year. So I essentially wrapped filming “The Party’s Just Beginning” and went straight onto “Avengers” and juggled the [“Party’s”] edit with “Avengers.” But it was cool since I already know the character of Nebula so well now because I’ve played her in a couple of movies, so it’s slightly different because you don’t have the whole research part. The whole thing just felt like such an event that I can’t believe even logistically they pulled off getting 60-plus actors in major roles in one movie ― I don’t know how they did that! I kept on wondering, “The crew must be so tired, they worked for a year straight!” The actors are in and out a little bit more, but the crew is consistent. And they were all so happy. I think the way they achieved that was from keeping the shoot to 10-hour days so that they wouldn’t wear everybody down, where sometimes we could do 18- or 20-hour days if you include makeup and everything.
When you signed on for “Guardians,” did you know you’d be a part of the whole “Avengers” world?
No! I thought I was going to be in “Guardians” for an eight-day shoot. [Laughs] That’s what I signed on for! And now we’re sitting here five years later talking about the “Avengers” movie, so it’s blowing my mind so much.
Is your role big in this upcoming movie?
Nebula has a significant role and has a lot of stuff to do because her father is Thanos, who is the villain of the movies. She has some serious daddy issues with him, so she has a lot to confront. But also, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen the movie and I haven’t read the movie.
Yes, they’re keeping it very secret. We’re on the edge of our seats waiting!
The actors, too! We don’t know how any of our scenes fit into the overall context. So I guess I’ll find out at the premiere [which occurred in Los Angeles earlier this week].
Do you know how it ends?
No, because it’s hard to know. It’s hard to know what you’re shooting and where that fits into the story. We could’ve shot the end and I wouldn’t know it’s the end. And also, you only get your scenes from that day and then they’re taken away from you at the end of the day.
That’s intense! But through Marvel, you met people like Lee Pace, who stars in “The Party’s Just Beginning.”
Yes! We were already in Scotland prepping the film, we still needed a Dale [his character] and then I just thought of him, and we were like, “We’ll never be able to get him. He’s too big of an actor and so brilliant. Will he even do it?” And I just rang him, and he happened to be free. He was like, “Yeah, all right, I’ll come to Scotland for an experience!”
You have a whole list now of Marvel actors you can cast in future movies!
Yeah! That sounds great ... hopefully. [Laughs]
Will you continue directing?
Yes, I’m incredibly passionate about it. I can’t wait to make another film. It’s all I want to do right now.
I feel like you should direct the all-women Marvel movie we’re all waiting for.
OK, I’ll do it. [Laughs]
Do you think that could even happen?
Yeah, why not? Absolutely. I know all of the Marvel actresses talk about it and we’re all for it. I don’t know whether it will happen or not, but everybody’s really up for it.
Women directors, an all-women Marvel film, a female Doctor Who…
Yes! It’s so representative of everything that’s happening within the industry right now. It just makes me so happy because so many people have been skeptical as to whether a woman could play the Doctor, but it’s like, “How is that even still a question?” Of course a female could play that role, and I’m glad we get to see Jodie [Whittaker] do it.