Canadian actress Katharine Isabelle is a favourite of many a genre fan and STARBURST reader. Having been involved in the entertainment business from an early age, it was with 2000’s Ginger Snaps where she really made her mark in the world of horror. That film spawned into a trilogy, although Isabelle has also appeared in many a genre movie, such as Freddy vs. Jason, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, headlined the stunning American Mary, and has more recently had roles in Hannibal and See No Evil 2. We were lucky enough to grab some time with this delightful icon of modern-day horror to discuss her latest film, Torment, as well as her experiences in the genre, her dislike of horror films, the reaction to American Mary, how her roles have changed over the years, and a whole host more.
STARBURST: With Torment, it seems to touch on various horror subgenres, with parts coming of as like a slasher, parts like a home invasion film, the twisted sense of family, etc. How would you actually describe the film to somebody?
Katharine Isabelle: Oh god, I don’t know. I’m terrible at that. It definitely ticks thriller and terror. Movies, they are what they are. And when you’re producing that amount of fear and tension, you’re hoping that people are feeling it. I guess it falls into all of those categories, so I don’t really know how to describe it other than that.
Genre fans have seen you so much in so many roles over so many years, but this time out you play a mother figure. How was that for you?
It’s definitely a little bit different from what role genre fans are used to seeing me in. The three of us, Robin is just a great kid, so it wasn’t difficult to jump into that role at all. It was difficult to keep up, for all of us, the energy that was needed; to keep that level of terror, that level of tension up for the whole time. That’s hard for everybody. You’re drinking a lot of coke and eating a lot of sugar.
At one point you were seen as teen fodder for creepy killers in horror films, but now you’re playing the mother figure. How has that progression been for you?
I’m a working actor, so I do what comes along and what I like. I’m always drawn to darker, more interesting characters as oppose to the sweet girl next door. I always want my girls to sort of kill everyone and win at the end, regardless of whether she’s a fucked up doctor, a mother, or whatever. You want your girl to win. Playing a mom, it’s not a whole other kettle of fish or anything but it’s definitely… I like to do what I like. Whatever form that takes, it’s hard to describe or plot out. It’s not like I planned my career, it’s most about whatever comes along and I’d like to do. It’s kind of just going with the flow, wherever that takes you and whatever that evolves into. It’s still evolving, so it’s hard to say really.
As Sarah in Torment
You mention the fucked up doctor role from the brilliant American Mary. How is it for you as an actress to see people dressing up as Mary Mason from the film at conventions and cosplay events?
Oh my god, it’s so great, it’s so funny! That was like Sylv’s dream come true, to see people dressing up as Mary for Halloween. They have now, so she’s cried several times. It’s great, it’s such an honour. The character is so well-written. The Soskas are geniuses for writing that character and that movie, and the fact I was involved in it at all was amazing. I think it’s the greatest thing ever.
We spoke to the Soska sisters last year and they mentioned how they were approached several times after that movie to do films which focussed on a sexy surgeon played by Katharine Isabelle. Did you get that from your angle as well, people approaching you to do a film similar to American Mary?
I think any time that you do something that’s like Ginger Snaps or American May, people come out of the woodwork and they want you to do another one that’s similar to that. It’s a ‘what’s successful will be successful again’ type formula. Being an actor in the genre, I float around and it’s definitely good to be wary of doing the same thing over and over again. People are going to get sick of you and stop caring after a while. Within the genre that we’re talking about, definitely there’s a purposeful, mindful thought process to not just say the same things over and over again. I mean, it’s boring anyway. It’d be boring to do another American Mary. It’s been done, it was super fun, then we move on, we grow, we evolve and do different things.
You touched on the Soskas there, and including Tristen Risk in the conversation, you seem to have some good friends in the genre. How is it when you guys get together?
Oh, when we’re together it’s a complete shit-show – it’s hysterical! Get us all together in a room and there’s screaming and laughing hysterically and crying. We’re all great friends. It’s a good time.
You’re seen as a bit of a modern-day horror ‘scream queen’ by many fans. How is it to be so synonymous with the genre?
It’s interesting because that was never a purposeful intention of mine. I just want to do good work that I like. It turns out I’m attracted to the darker stuff, not necessarily the sweet girl next door – and I wouldn’t wanna be, that’d be boring. It just so happens that these interesting characters are more prevalent and popping up in genre stuff. Even playing Margot Verger in Hannibal, that’s a dark fucking show that is in the horror genre. I’m equally drawn to hilarious characters and comedy. Instead of playing women in westerns or whatever, I happened to do a few horror movies that were well received and the characters were generally loved. Horror movies and the horror genre is probably less than a quarter of my entire body of work but when a character reaches out and touches people, that’s the most important thing about what we’re all doing here. If it’s horror, it’s horror – and it’s awesome. I love the characters of Ginger and Mary and Margot that have affected people so strongly. I totally get it; I love those characters too. They are my favourites, that’s why I do them. I’ll continue to do whatever work that I like, regardless of whether it’s in the horror genre or any other genre, I just want to do some shit that I like.
As Mary Mason in American Mary
A lot of the roles that you have played, there always seems to be some sort of attitude to your character and you make them stand out, even if it’s a small role in something like Freddy vs. Jason. You seem to always grab people’s attention and make the most of your roles.
Well that’s good! Thank you. When I auditioned for Freddy vs. Jason, I was auditioning for the lead, for Monica Keenan’s character. They were like, “Yeah, that’s great but could you come back in for the slutty, bitchy best friend?” That’s the story of my life .
Your career isn’t just about horror or the creepy stuff, but were you a fan of darker films when you were growing up?
No, I don’t watch horror movies. They’re scary and I don’t watch them.
Not even your own horror films?
Oh no, I watch my own and reminisce. No, other horror movies are scary. I’m too easily affected. I’ve already been fully traumatised. I can’t walk through a parking lot at night with heels clicking. I’m like, “Damn, this is how movies that I star in start!” So I don’t really watch horror movies. Sylv is always so disappointed. She’s like, “You remember that time in Audition?” and I’m just, “Nope!” They talk about that stuff and I just have no idea what they’re talking about. I go blank and start talking about ponies and The LEGO Movie.
In fairness, the Soskas are like an encyclopaedia when it comes to horror movies…
They know so much, they’re so hardcore!
On the topic of watching your own films back, are you a harsh critic on your own performances?
I think I used to be, when I was growing up and was younger. I remember watching a 20-minute rough-cut of Ginger Snaps and thinking to myself that this was horrible. I probably locked myself away and cried or something. It’s very different how you become when you’re working and where you’re on set. If in real life someone wanted me to throw a scene in a restaurant, I’d be mortified. Out in public, I’m so shy and apologetic for existing. On set, in character, you go into another almost altered state. To watch it out there, I’ve always wanted to see if it worked out, if what I intended came through. I’m also interested in viewing what the point of the movie is. It’s such a panic – we’re losing time and light and money, it’s a shit-show. Then you come out and it’s all just, “What happened? Did I come across as I intended to?” It’s very sort of haphazard. I can watch stuff now but I wanna go back and do them all over again.
You briefly mentioned Ginger Snaps there. From what you were aware, was that always planned to be a trilogy?
No, it wasn’t until 2 years later, I was at a premiere for some other movie and a fan was like, “Can’t wait for the sequel.” I said, “Yeah, right! I dunno what you’re talking about!” It was successful and it was good, and people wanted to see more of that when it happened.
As Ginger in Ginger Snaps
In terms of looking at your career at the moment, what’s the one role that stands out as the one you’re most proud of? Would that be Mary Mason?
It’s hard. The whole experience, with the girls and everything, Mary was definitely a standout experience and character. I liked them all. I’m just equally thrilled that anybody cares about any of them. They’re all near and dear to me.
More recently fans will have seen you in See No Evil 2…
And I was proud of that, too. I was like, “Jesus! How am I going to dry-hump the dead body of WWE wrestling sensation Kane?” There’s some fucking terrible things in that and it’s totally over the top.
How was Glenn Jacobs, aka Kane, with that?
Oh, he was lovely. I apologised to him, like, 300 times that day. I was like, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” He was just, “No, you can just pretend I’m dead.” He’s a really nice guy, this southern gentleman. I was like, “I’m sorry for humping you.”
Do you feel at the moment, with the likes of Soskas, James Wan, Leigh Whannell and fellow Canadians like Lowell Dean and Jason Eisner, that there’s maybe a resurgence in the horror genre?
I guess so. Because I’m not tapped into that whole genre in general, it’s hard for me to say where it was before compared to where it is now. I think definitely in culture in general it’s becoming more mainstream. Like Hannibal, how dark and fucked up it is, that’s part of network television. It’s crazy! I watched American Horror Story, I started watching that the other day. It’s come up in popular culture and is no longer relegated to this dirty side genre. But there’s a face in the world – fear is what’s drawn humanity to do everything forever. I think it’ll always be interesting and valuable to people.
How did you get on with American Horror Story?
I watched the Coven one. I’m reluctant to watch the new one because there’s scary clowns. I really, really, really do not like scary clowns. I watched Coven and I really enjoyed that, I thought that was really good. I think I’m going to skip the scary clowns. That’s me done with that. I already had to fast forward the credits sequence. The opening credits sequence is scary.
Dry-humping the dead body of WWE Superstar Kane in See No Evil 2
Are there any projects out there that you’ve always wanted to do, be it a musical or something a bit more unusual?
I wish, if I could sing! There’s probably millions of things that I wanna do, but I don’t know until I see it in front of me, until it lands in my hands. People will ask me what’s my ideal role but I don’t know. They’ll ask if there’s a historical figure or a literary figure that I want to play, but I don’t really have that set in my mind. I just want more interesting, cool, layered people, like the ones I’ve been lucky enough to be given in the past. Half the time I’m like, “Oh, it’s shooting in that location? With these people? That’s fucking awesome!” It’s an adventure. I’m a gypsy. If there’s adventure to be had, I’m a fucking dwarf, like, “Let’s go adventuring!”
From our chat with the Soskas, they were singing your praises as literally the perfect person for them to work with. It sounded almost like a Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck relationship or a Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro dynamic. Do you have any plans to work with the sisters again any time soon?
I would in a heartbeat! Anything they are doing that they need me or call me for, I would do. Absolutely. They’re best friends of mine. I think they’re amazing and it’s been amazing watching them in their journey thus far. I’ll be the Johnny Depp to their Tim Burton any day.
And what else is coming up next for you?
There’s the third season of Hannibal. I’ve just finished a movie called How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town. I’ve got a movie called 88 coming out later this year that’s really, really cool. It’s a girl who witnesses a traumatic event. Christopher Lloyd plays the bad guy – it’s really exciting, he’s doing coke and banging hookers! Sometime this year I’ll be going to Ireland to do a cool post-apocalyptic movie called Origami.
Torment is released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 26th.
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