DEVIANT INTERVIEW: Katharine Isabelle

It is rare to find an actress in horror that is so versatile and full of complexity, an actress that is able to display a wide range of emotions all very naturally. Zach from Film Deviant had the pleasure of speaking to actress Katharine Isabelle, star of Ginger Snaps  and the highly anticipated American Mary, in which she discusses working with the lovely Soska sisters, her role in two iconic feminist horror films and the buzz and fame resulting from American Mary’s success.

FILM DEVIANT: Thank you so much for doing this interview.

KATHARINE: Yeah, no problem!

FILM DEVIANT: When I first saw Ginger Snaps  I was completely blown away by your performance. When you first read the script did you ever think it would have such a powerful impact in the horror community?

KATHARINE: No, never. We didn’t know what we were making. Emily and I both thought it was really smart and different and interesting. We thought this would either be really, really good or really, really bad. We didn’t know if it would be taken the right way. A lot of people were sort of blacklisting it at the time. I think it was just after Columbine, there was like the mentality of “Oh, school violence” and we were like, no this is completely different. So there was a lot of controversy to that when we first started to make it. When it first came out no one really went and saw it, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I started to get actual feedback from normal people, people on the street, moviegoers in general, so it was interesting how long it kinda took to ramp up and still, to this day, I get kids that probably weren’t even born when we made that movie, like love it, you know? Weird. I had no idea it would have that kind of impact or live that long at all.

FILM DEVIANT: It’s actually really funny, Northwestern (the school I go to) has a horror class and they actually teach Ginger Snaps.

KATHARINE: Yeah, they do at a lot of universities, and even in women’s studies classes. It’s bizarre.

FILM DEVIANT: When you first read the script did you think about the voice it gives its female characters, which is a lot different than most horror movies you see?

KATHARINE: Well, it was different than a lot of movies in general. I’m not necessarily a horror movie fan, they scare me. (laughs) I’m a chicken. I appreciated the fact that there was this character who wasn’t necessarily, super warm and sun-shiny, the kind of girl that I could relate to who was a bit dark and a bit funny. And every girl can relate to having something happen to your body that is out of control but changes you regardless, whether you like it or not or whether you embrace it or not. And I think that was one of the first times in my generation that that had been portrayed in film, I think.

FILM DEVIANT: Is that what drew you to Ginger as a character?

KATHARINE: I mean, I was 17 at the time, I was just a young kid. I just sort of thought it was cool. I thought it was funny and I thought it was dark. Ginger, herself, even says in the movie you’re either a bitch or some tease or the good girl next door you know what I mean? And that kind of rings true for film in general; you’re the secret girl next door or you’re the bitchy friend, the sassy best friend, and I think it’s rare to find a character that you can’t put in a box. She doesn’t hold a type, it takes awhile to explain her and it’s more true to human beings in general. We’re usually quite complex characters and it’s not always so easy just to categorize somebody like that.

FILM DEVIANT: Recently, American Mary  has been taking the horror community by storm. What do you think appeals to so many people about this film, especially Mary Mason as a character?

KATHARINE: Well I think really the same thing that appealed to me and it’s quite similar to Ginger as well. Here is a character who has basically no redeeming qualities. She never smiles. She’s generally fake to most of the people she meets. There’s no reason on paper to like her, and yet you end up loving her, or at least we hope you do, right? And I think the movie itself, I’m not even necessarily sure it’s a horror movie. I don’t know how to categorize it and I think that’s something that appeals to people. It’s unique, it’s interesting, it’s different.

And in front of the Canadian independent film world, we’re not used to seeing anything that’s sexy or interesting or funny altogether, it’s hard to find now. And the character of Mary herself, you know, I think people always admire people that are really good at what they do, that take a lot of pride in what they do like Mary does in her craft, and I think everyone can relate to being fucked over by someone at some point and wanting to get even in a way. I don’t necessarily think it’s so much of a revenge movie as just an interesting character study about a kind of fucked up girl who gets a little more fucked up. You know, people have read all kinds of really deep things into it and they’re all there, it just depends on what you want to focus on. It’s something unlike people have seen, and that was important to me, it was important to the girls, and I think it’s important to your audience. It’s boring watching the same thing over and over again. To have all the depth, to have the body mod aspect of it, to have the feminist aspect of it, to have the surgery aspect of it, all of those things together. It’s compelling.

FILM DEVIANT: You mentioned the Canadian independent film scene. I read an interview with Jen and Sylvia recently, and they were talking about how difficult it is to get this type of movie made in Canada. When you were reading the script did you have any doubts about how this film would be received or if it would ever get made?

KATHARINE: I did. When I first read it, I was immediately obsessed and wanted to do everything I could to be a part of it and support it. But it was definitely worrisome as far as getting budgets together, for movies like this it’s difficult, it can be hard. There was about 9 months between when we first met and they first started the script to when we actually went to camera, and I said to myself that I didn’t want to obsess over it because I was so in love with it, I was going to be crushed if we didn’t get to make it. And fortunately we did...thank God. We had 15 days to shoot, which is unheard of. I thought for sure it was at least a 28 day movie and that would have been tight. I was terrified, I was really. I first started laughing and then I would start to quietly sob (laughs) when I heard we had 15 days, because I wanted to get this movie as much as we could, in the best possible chance to be everything we hoped it could be and more, and 15 days was just a terrifying thought. But thankfully we got it done and I wasn’t ever sure how anything like that is gonna be received. I always know that there is going to be a group of people that really dig it, but the thought of a broad range of people that could always be a bit tricky, and there is some subject matter in the film that can be a bit off putting for people. But you know my mom’s seen it, my mom’s very sensitive, a lot of people are really surprised. They market it as a horror movie, but when you go to watch it a lot of people are gonna come out fairly surprised at how genuinely heartfelt and sweet and tragic it is. And of course there are horrific elements but it’s not your typical hot chick going around revenge showing torture porn flick, there is so much more to it. I think people who go get surprised. They talk about it after and they entreat other people to go so that’s special and important and makes me very happy (laughs)

FILM DEVIANT: There’s definitely been a huge reaction to this, I mean just going on Facebook and following the American Mary  page I literally see, every day, some kind of American Mary  meme, or fan art made for it. That must be really exciting to see.

KATHARINE: Yeah, and this all happened really quickly, before the movie’s even been released which is fantastic compared to 2 years after Ginger Snaps  where people started to really get on board. So I’m really happy that it’s already started to be so well accepted. It’s been well received. The girls are only gonna get more money and more time for their next thing. They’re better and upwards and onwards now so I’m just insanely proud of them. Just watch out for those chicks. They’re coming. (laughs)

FILM DEVIANT: Were you familiar at all with the body modification community before American Mary?

KATHARINE: The girls already knew quite a bit and they were really nice to me with bringing me all of the information I needed so that I could be educated in a respectful knowledgeable manner instead of sort of wandering through the internet, you know, being freaked out by the more sort of exploitation body mod stuff. I was educated in a very respectful manner by masters of the craft and my respect from that comes from what I was taught by the people who taught me. You know, it’s amazing.

FILM DEVIANT: That’s actually one of my favorite aspects of the movie. It handles the body modification community in a very artful and elegant manner, and allows people who are unfamiliar with it to get a glimpse of how it actually is.

KATHARINE: Well I think that’s why the body mod community came on board is that when they read it, it was so respectful and it was so knowledgeable on their subculture, but it wasn’t as objectifying and sort of finger-pointing as I think the community has been made to feel in the past. A lot of people have approached these guys and wanted to, but it was always kind of in a freak show manner, I mean in our film they’re the most normal people in the whole movie. The people that society generally holds on a pedestal high above everyone else, those are the guys that are most fucked up in our film. And the people that express themselves through a lesser known art, they’re the most normal. They’re the most compassionate loving characters in the whole movie and I think that holds well for the girls. They were very adamant that there were not to be one discouraging comment about the dancers or any of the bod mod community or that crew member, that person would be fucking off set like in a blink. It was all very respectful, and I think everyone appreciated that.

FILM DEVIANT: Can you describe the “spritz” of blood that got on you in the storage locker scene?

KATHARINE: (laughs) Yeah, the spritz of blood. I’m not a big fan of being covered in cold sticky blood at 3 in the morning when you don’t have any shower facilities on set. You know your fingers glue together and it’s incredibly uncomfortable and I’m a bit claustrophobic. And we had shot the following scene where my hair is perfectly clean, I’m all cleaned up and so I said to one of our amazingly talented people from MastersFX, Jason Ward, that, after I bludgeoned the security guard (who is actually one of my best friends Sean Amsing), there should only be a little spritz and try to keep away from my hair because in the next scene I’m perfectly clean, so it needs to be something that I could maybe clean up with a Kleenex or a little napkin or something. We start doing it and Jason just has this look on his face and he empties this huge fucking canister, you know like 2 feet tall of blood and I look like I fell in a pool of blood. Fortunately you know they did that because it’s a great scene, it would not have been so awesome and so effective if it was just a little spritz of blood. But yeah, I stood up and was like..., "you totally tricked me", and they’re just laughing their asses off and I’m just covered in blood.

FILM DEVIANT: What made Jen and Sylvia so effective as directors?

KATHARINE: Not only is their script brilliant and beautiful and original and unique, but they, themselves, are all of those same things, and they’re so full of life, they’re so audacious, they’re so creative, they’re so fun, they’re so sweet. Everyone on set would do anything for them, they’d bend over backwards. And they were so grateful to just be doing this project that was their baby. They made everyone feel like that and they’re two of my best friends now. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I mean everything altogether was incredible and we still talk all the time and see each other all the time. I’m seeing them at the end of the month here and I’m super excited. Any experience with them is genius. As directors they bring such life and such passion that it infects everyone else and you can’t help but feel the same way that they do.

FILM DEVIANT: A recent survey stated that out of the top 100 highest grossing Hollywood movies of 2012, only 28.4% of the roles belonged to women. How do you think it will be possible to change the industry in order to make this percentage higher? Especially in regards to the horror genre?

KATHARINE: Well I think as society changes that will change. I think girls, women in general, are starting to stand up and demand what they want to see. We want to see ourselves reflected back, we don’t want to be marginalized and ignored and only portrayed as the pretty girl next door or the slut sassy best friend or whatever. We want to see interesting characters that have depth, that have layers to them, that actually reflect human beings in general. I think the more movies like American Mary, the better they do, will encourage other people to make films like that. And I think when you see American Mary -supporting it, talking about it - encourages other people and inspires other people.

The nature of Hollywood studios and blockbusters, they’re going to happen, they’re going to do what they do, but people are getting sick of very generic sort of paint by numbers Hollywood blockbusters and remakes and sequels. I think people are going to start seeking out independent unique films, more so than they already do, such as American Mary. And the more they do that the more they will be created. It’s up to us. We can’t change the industry until we change how we perceive it, how we react to it and how we support it.

FILM DEVIANT: Hopefully, American Mary  will help to start a new trend in horror, because Jen and Sylvia are really kicking ass in the horror community right now.

KATHARINE: Yeah they are. They’re so inspiring to so many people and the fact that their first movie was made for $2,500, you know Dead Hooker in a Trunk, and then they made American Mary. And now they have studios fighting over making their next picture. That is encouraging. That means other people can do that too. To look at them and think that could be me. I could do that. If these girls can do it, I can do it. That is a huge, hugely inspiring thing to see. Especially for women. Especially for women in film, in a genre where they tend to just be victims and tits, to see two extremely strong, gorgeous, brilliant women taking over and being in charge is absolutely inspirational.

FILM DEVIANT: You were great in Freddy Vs. Jason, Ginger Snaps, and, of course, American Mary. I also saw that you were in Goosebumps which, I personally think, is really awesome.

KATHARINE: (laughs)

FILM DEVIANT: What other types of film do enjoy acting in?

KATHARINE: I really like anything. There’s no typical genre that I go for. I like things that are interesting, that are smart, that are original and unique. As a working actor I do all kinds of stuff, whether or not I think it’s going to be brilliant is another story (laughs), but I like everything. I would get bored doing only horror movies, I would get bored doing only romantic comedies, I would get bored doing only westerns, but every one of those things is so fun. And that’s so true about what I do, is from week to week I could be doing something that is so vastly different and it makes me happy and that’s the most important. Everything I read or do is based on its own individual merit and not necessarily on a genre.

FILM DEVIANT: What is your favorite horror movie?

KATHARINE: (laughs) Because I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, my favorite horror film is probably Alien, I would have to say. Those are my kind of horror movies: Alien, The Exorcist, Jaws. That’s my kind of shit. My favorite movie of all time is Apocalypse Now...that one is definitely horrific. (laughs)

You can see Katharine in the title role of American selected theaters on May 31st!

Thanks for reading,