Exclusive Interview: Katharine Isabelle Talks 'American Mary'



katharine isabelleIn the eagerly-awaited new film from the Soska Twins, American Mary, Katharine Isabelle plays Mary, a med student whose tremendous debts and unethical teachers leave her disillusioned with a career she thought she could do good with. But she puts her surgical skills to good use, performing surgeries that traditional doctors would never do, for those in the body modification community.

We spoke with the lovely Katharine about working with Jen and Sylvia Soska, and how American Mary respects those in the body mod community.

How did you get involved with American Mary?

I was sent an email saying that writer-director-identical-twin-horror-movie-chicks are interested in me for their movie. I thought it was a cute schtick but I figured they probably sucked and their movie was terrible. I was just going to read the first couple of pages to say I read it then say “no thanks.” I ended up reading the entire 180 pages on my Blackberry - twice. I was fascinated. I looked up and was like, “What the fuck did I just read?” I was immediately sucked in. It was so well-written, and the character of Mary was so unique to me. It is rare to see a character like that - especially female - that is so intriguing. I immediately said I would do anything.

I met the girls for sushi at like 6pm, and ended up up hanging with them until like 3am. We just became instant best friends. They are never allowed to do anything without me ever again!

Was it difficult working with two directors?

No. They are such a good team, they are always 100% on the same page. If you have a question, as long as you can find one of them, you know the other will be in total agreement. I have worked with co-directors before, where one will say something and the other will say something different, and it can be a little tricky. But they were always on the same page. They will sit at the monitors and someone will ask them a question and they will answer in unison, without talking about it. They inspired everyone with confidence. They are like magical unicorns - they are amazing.

Without sounding too cheesy, American Mary is very empowering. When shit doesn’t go your way, you make it go your way. Was that fun to play? Is it still difficult to find roles like that?

Yeah, it’s not all that common to find a female character in film who is that strong, that independent, doesn’t take people’s shit, who just walks around looking hot and fucking people up, but actually has a lot of depth and a lot of character. She is darkly funny and charming in a totally unconventional way. I think she smiles like once in the film. Mary is fairly fake with people because she doesn’t know how to interact with “normal” people normally. It’s hard to find characters like that, and it is scary to play them. I was in love with Mary so much because I understood her, and I wanted everyone else to. We had 15 days to shoot, and I didn’t want to fuck it up. I didn’t want to be given this opportunity, given this character, and fail because I wasn’t able to get across what I felt for her, how much I liked her, and how much I thought other people should like her - even though she has no redeeming qualities! She’s really not that nice. She doesn’t do anything where, on paper, you should like her. But at the end of the day, most people end up loving her.

Were you familiar with the body modification scene before taking on the role?

No, I wasn’t any more familiar than the average person on the street. Thankfully, the girls were very kind and brought me everything I needed. They showed it to me and explained it to me instead of letting me wander through the scary world of the internet, where I might be traumatized instead of learning the true art and the true culture of it. Sylvia said, “Whatever you do, do not go home and Google ‘subincised penis.’” I did, and I was immediately like, “Okay, from now on I am going to listen to them when they tell me not to Google something.” [Ed. Note: Of course I had to Google it too. It is most definitely not safe-for-work.]

The Church of Body Modification was awesome. They were very generous with their time and their skill and their craft, explaining everything to me. I think they were really impressed with how respectful the movie is towards body mods. A lot of times they have been marginalized and pointed at in society, and not treated as artists. I think they were happy to see that [being treated as an expression of art] in a film.

It does seem that body modification is a really touchy subject for “mainstreamers” so it hasn’t always been portrayed positively.

Yeah, I think that has happened to them a lot so they are a bit wary to allow people in. Every screening we go to there are body modders there, rooting, and glad to see their subculture reflected to them in a way that is smart and interesting and fun and respectful. 

Can you talk a little bit about working with the eclectic cast?

Tristan Risk, who plays Beatrice, is the greatest. She was originally on as the choreographer for the dance sequence. They were having a really hard time casting Beatrice. She had to work until 3am [choreographing] then came in early to audition for them, and she did a full-on burlesque striptease. She might have lit her nipple daisies on fire. She is so perfect in the role. The poor girl had to be there four hours earlier than anyone else to get her prosthetics on. She was also my coach for the fantasy sequence where I do the striptease. I’m terrible at dancing, burlesque, striptease, anything like that. So she was perfect: “Crawl like a tiger! Little Mermaid hair flip!” 

Paul Anthony, who plays Rat is one of my dear friends; one of my best friends, Sean Amsing, played the security guard. Twan Holliday, who played Lance is one of those guys that a lot of people would cross the street if they saw him coming. He’s huge, tattooed, has a lot of hair, and is just really intimidating. Onscreen and off, he is the most genuine, sweet, and adorable teddy bear of a human being. We had an amazing cast come together for it.

Was it hard to keep that dark atmosphere once the cameras started rolling? It sounds like you were all one big happy family.

We were. We only had 15 days to shoot. Everyone was there for little to no money, everyone was busting their asses to do what they could for the girls. The moment you meet them, you just fall head-over-heels in love with them and you want to do everything you can to help them. But I don’t think the movie is that dark, or depressing or upsetting. I think it is charming and hilarious! If people don’t laugh, we get upset!

Oh, I agree with you. I just think that the subject matter is something that people are so uncomfortable with.

Yeah. I remember at the beginning, in a production meeting, Sylvia stood up and, in a very commanding voice said that not a single person, whether it be the dancers or the body modders, they were generous enough to work on our film and allow us into their subculture, not a single derogatory statement was to be made or even thought about them. No matter what the person’s position was, they would be off the fucking set sooner than you could snap your fingers. There was absolute, zero-tolerance for that. If you read the script and had any kind of asshole-ish thing to say, you probably wouldn’t have done the movie. No one was disrespectful.

We were rehearsing the dance sequence stuff in an old strip club in Vancouver. Tristan strips down to a thong and nothing on top, and the poor crew guys are trying so hard not to look! “Oh yeah, look at this nail in the corner, we really have to jam it back in!” Tristan is fabulous and she wouldn’t have been offended, but everyone was trying so hard to be respectful.

Creative, entertainment-types - especially in horror - are much more relaxed about that kind of thing.

They are definitely not a repressed group of people. The girls and I... we don’t know where our offensive limits are. We don’t know what anyone could do to offend us. They treat everyone with so much respect that no one ever felt anything but completely loved and accepted.