Exclusive Interview: Katharine Isabelle talks American Mary

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 it’s 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. It’s 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 you’ll see below, our talk ranges from her introduction into the very graphic world of body modification, to owning her character’s 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 doesn’t really do anything to earn that. She never smiles, she’s never pleasant to anybody, she’s always sort of fake and sarcastic. It’s rare in film to see a woman who is not one of the five main stereotypes, that doesn’t fit into any category. It’s 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 doesn’t start off as a wallflower or anything like that-

Isabelle: No, she isn’t all that sweet and innocent to begin with. She’s 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, they’re 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, “holy shit, I just accidentally googled something terrible and now I’m traumatized!”

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 - he’s the guy in the movie who we cal “Penis Guy” 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 weren’t portraying them as a freakshow, we were being respectful. They were amazing, they were fascinating. I’m not into gore that much, but I didn’t think of this as “gory.” I don’t even think of this as a horror movie.

Well you’ve 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 don’t think of it as a horror movie, it has some horrific elements and it can be categorized and marketed as a horror movie, but there’s no suspense, there isn’t much gore and like one person dies. I think it’s a very sweet character study that has horrific elements, but it’s a bit sad and tragic. And it’s fuckin’ funny. People ask me what kind of movie it is all the time, and I have no idea. It’s stand-alone, and that’s part of the genius of the twins, they’re fantastic.

I wanted to ask about them, what’s the environment like when you’re working with them?

Isabelle: It’s fucking electric. We shot it in 15 days and no one was getting paid anything. And everyone was busting their ass for them, they’ll walk through set and everyone just follows them around like puppy dogs, they’re 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: There’s definitely a different aspect between male and female directors, whether or not it’s a horror movie. On this film, Mary is so dear to Silvia and Jen, I don’t know if it could have been done with a male director and felt so genuine and caring. I don’t know if you would have seen Mary for who she is as much. It might have felt a bit more exploitative.

She’s 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 she’s fuckin’ 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 you’ve seen? Can you picture Mary’s 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 it’s 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!

Extra Tidbit: AMERICAN MARY becomes available on VOD May 16th and opens theatrically on May 31st.

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