Katharine Isabelle will be recognizable to most modern horror movie fans. The actress made a very big impression as a teenager going through some very awkward growing pains in GINGER SNAPS (as well as its subsequent sequels) and has been seen in memorable roles in INSOMNIA (opposite Al Pacino), FREDDY VS. JASON and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: DARK DAYS. But itís not a stretch to say her career (which began when she was an adolescent) has been leading up to AMERICAN MARY, directed by The Soska Twins (DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK).
AMERICAN MARY (on VOD May 16th) is the story of an unusual (to be kind) young medical student whose life unexpectedly veers into the world of body modification. She also gets mixed up with some shady characters who, not unlike her, have no qualms about getting their hands bloody. Itís a very strange movie, and Mary is a very strange character, but it fits Isabelle like a slinky leather glove.
Ms. Isabelle was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with me recently; as youíll see below, our talk ranges from her introduction into the very graphic world of body modification, to owning her characterís sexuality, to the possibility that Mary will become the new cool Halloween costume. Dive in!
Q: Just watched the movie last night and it disturbed me a little bit, so thanks.
Isabelle: Oh great, perfect!
Mary is quite a difficult character to just sum up, but what about her attracted you to the role?
Isabelle: How unique she was, as far as a woman on screen goes. She is so likable, but she doesnít really do anything to earn that. She never smiles, sheís never pleasant to anybody, sheís always sort of fake and sarcastic. Itís rare in film to see a woman who is not one of the five main stereotypes, that doesnít fit into any category. Itís so rare to find that character on paper, and to have the opportunity to play Mary was such a blessing. I just tried not to fuck it up.
Like you said, she doesnít start off as a wallflower or anything like that-
Isabelle: No, she isnít all that sweet and innocent to begin with. Sheís already a bit off.
Right, and she remains true to that throughout... Now were you knowledgeable in regards to this odd world of body modification?
Isabelle: No, not at all. And the twins - the Soska sisters - exposed me to what I needed to know, explained to me the desired outcomes of certain procedures without me having to wade into this scary internet world by myself. We treat the body modification community so respectfully in this, theyíre the most normal people in the whole film, which is quite the opposite of what society generally thinks of them. I was really grateful to be thought everything I needed to know in a very grounded, scientific manner so that I came out of it understanding and respectful instead of, ďholy shit, I just accidentally googled something terrible and now Iím traumatized!Ē
In the movie we see a few characters who have had these interesting procedures, were you able to meet and talk to people who actually live in this world?
Isabelle: Absolutely, we had Russ Foxx - heís the guy in the movie who we cal ďPenis GuyĒ in the movie, the one with horns implanted in his head - he was our guru. We also had the Church of Body Modification who were really kind and generous with their knowledge. Obviously when they read the script they understood that we werenít portraying them as a freakshow, we were being respectful. They were amazing, they were fascinating. Iím not into gore that much, but I didnít think of this as ďgory.Ē I donít even think of this as a horror movie.
Well youíve been in plenty of horror movies before, so what would you say makes this one sit on a different level than those others?
Isabelle: I donít think of it as a horror movie, it has some horrific elements and it can be categorized and marketed as a horror movie, but thereís no suspense, there isnít much gore and like one person dies. I think itís a very sweet character study that has horrific elements, but itís a bit sad and tragic. And itís fuckiní funny. People ask me what kind of movie it is all the time, and I have no idea. Itís stand-alone, and thatís part of the genius of the twins, theyíre fantastic.
I wanted to ask about them, whatís the environment like when youíre working with them?
Isabelle: Itís fucking electric. We shot it in 15 days and no one was getting paid anything. And everyone was busting their ass for them, theyíll walk through set and everyone just follows them around like puppy dogs, theyíre so magnetic. The whole crew would do anything they could to make them happy. Everyone believed in the movie and wanted to do their very best.
Does it bring a different perspective to a movie like this to have female directors?
Isabelle: Thereís definitely a different aspect between male and female directors, whether or not itís a horror movie. On this film, Mary is so dear to Silvia and Jen, I donít know if it could have been done with a male director and felt so genuine and caring. I donít know if you would have seen Mary for who she is as much. It might have felt a bit more exploitative.
Sheís also not afraid to show some skin, there are some sexy moments in the film...
Isabelle: Absolutely. With Mary, she knows certain people are going to objectify her and put her in a certain light, so sheís fuckiní taking control of that. If people are going to do that to you anyway, you might as well have power over it.
I know you attend horror conventions sometimes, has anyone dressed up as Mary, that youíve seen? Can you picture Maryís outfit becoming a Halloween costume?
Isabelle: Absolutely! We had a girl in the UK during Frightfest that went as Mary for Halloween. I think the iconic outfit is the apron and the gloves and the mask. The girls love it, they want so badly for that image of Mary to become something people dress up as during Halloween, theme parties, whatever. I think itís awesome, I would love to meet fans who show up like that.
Are you talking to the twins about doing another project together?
Isabelle: Basically, anything they do for the rest of their lives, they're not allowed to do without me. Regardless of whether I'm starring in it or just show up and just hang out on set, we're best friends. We're inseparable for the rest of our lives. I'm the third twin!
Congrats on the movie, can't wait to see what's up next.
Isabelle: Thanks so much!