The Hollywood News interview
by Carig Hunter
In terms of horror, 2012 was a woeful year, particularly within the mainstream, with only the likes of CABIN IN THE WOODS and SINISTER being genuinely effective in releasing the fear (and fun) from the genre. However, with festivals such as London’s FrightFest and Manchester’s GrimmFest giving fans the chance to view many impressive upcoming efforts, one that stood out from most was Jen and Sylvia Soska’s AMERICAN MARY, the follow-up to their exploitation effort, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK.
The film sees GINGER SNAPS actress, Katharine Isabelle, give a memorable performance as Mary Mason, a young medical student pushed to the limit when keeping up with the demands of her dream profession. She chooses a path involving some unique individuals, and things take a turn for the worse when a horrific altercation spirals into tormented territory.
THN had the opportunity to put some questions to the talented Twisted Twins (who also appear in the movie in cameo roles), as well as lead Isabelle, about their startling and distinctive, genre-bending film, that is surely destined for cult status, but deserves so much more! It was also a doubly exciting interview for us and the talented trio, because they spoke to us while on a highway, where nearby police were involved in a hot pursuit!
AMERICAN MARY has a very unique plot, could you tell us where the idea came from?
SYLVIA: I was looking on the internet one day and I found this April Fools prank, which I didn’t realise at the time was about identical twin brothers, who actually swapped limbs, leaving one with three arms – a donation limb from his brother – and the other with an elongated finger. Because they’re genetically identical, the limbs didn’t reject. They wanted to have this closeness to one another and that scared the shit out of me. Every time myself and Jennifer get scared by something, we become obsessed with the subject matter, so we went everywhere online. We went on the message boards and we pretended we were interested in having different procedures, so we learnt so much about it, it became something less scary, and we were actually rather fascinated by it. Years later, when we were working on an idea for our second film, the idea of body modification came up and I thought we finally have a use for all this information.
Many see body modification as something of an underground trend. How much did you feel you needed to research?
SYLVIA: We did lots of research but I had doctors, surgeons, nurses and flesh artists, who are actually people who do those procedures, look over the script. To make it as accurate as possible we had Russ Foxx as our flesh artist consultant go through the script. There is no CGI in the film but there is a mix between practical effects and people from the real mod community, because this is one of the first films that explores such themes, and I wanted to have a very honest representation of these people. You could make this gory and over the top, cut off a limb and have all this blood spray out, but because the story is so fantastical, we wanted it to adhere to real medical information.
A lot of the characters appear very sweet and likeable giving the film a touch of humour. Was that purposeful to balance the latter darker shift in tone?
SYLVIA: Yes! When you think about body modification, everybody thinks it’s so ugly and underground. We wanted to make it not just about the people in those communities, but also about how women who are fashion conscience are perceived, and how mainstream doctors are perceived. I wanted to have a movie that focuses on something that I find
– and being a Canadian, we always have it coming over the border – American culture is obsessed with. We wanted to really delve into that and make as beautiful a movie as possible. Have you seen the movie?
THN: Yes, and it’s excellent.
JEN: I would like to say that it features the most beautiful clitorectomy that’s ever been done! (Laughs)
Was Katharine always your first choice for Mary?
SYLVIA: Yes. Jennifer and I actually wrote the script for Katharine. We were big fans ever since high school, and used to get mocked, being called the Fitzgerald sisters, although when we finally got to see the film [GINGER SNAPS], we thought, well, that’s not too bad. I kept watching her career, and I thought this is an incredibly talented actress who can do everything; she’s hilarious, she can do dramatic pieces, she can do crazy, amazingly well. When you get to know her, you understand why she does it so effortlessly well. It really was a treat and a real fan-girl moment. I mean, I remember some of the sequences, and being only a few steps away from her, watching her and thinking, I wrote that and now my favourite actress is killing right now, right in front of me. This is really cool!
How much of a challenge was it for you Katharine, as your character ventures into some dark places?
KATHARINE: Yeah, of course. I mean the subject matter is fairly dark but I think the energy and the enthusiasm that the girls obviously have helped, as you can tell just by talking to them for five or ten minutes (laughs). They’re so effervescent and bubbly and just on fire the whole time. Just the whole crew really, nobody was really being paid or anything, most people were volunteering and everyone really wanted to be there, trying their hardest to do the very best they could, and get the best product for the girls. Just being around the girls makes everyone really positive and enthused and that was the same with me. We shot it in 15 days and I had the script for about nine months before we went to production, and so I just let it absorb and sink in, then once you meet the twins you realise very quickly that Mary is based on the soul’s deep, dark hidden personality. I thought this at the time as I was getting to know them. The script was already written, and I didn’t want be freaking myself out by finding reasons why my character was doing all these things, it all just felt natural and organic. The level of energy was always really positive, and you know there’s the ‘occasional’ rape scene where everyone goes a bit quiet, but generally it was really frenetic and fast-paced, so we didn’t really have time to shout about anything or get chewed up.
You seemed to have a good rapport with your co-star Antonio Cupo. How was it working alongside him?
KATHARINE: Antonio is great as Billy. He’s a bit more ‘method’, I guess you would call it, than I am. I was so ‘tragic’ as we were all stressed with timing, so I was a bit quick, a bit short with him. He’s a real actor and he’d like to talk about the character and talk about the relationship together and I’d just be really short with him. I guess you could say we had a Mary and Billy relationship. He would ask me questions, want to talk about things and I’d just be like, ‘beat it’ (laughs)! That worked out perfectly for us both in terms of the roles we play.
Going back to the girls, You’re obviously huge horror and gore fans, but where does that passion and inspiration come from?
JEN: Growing up in the eighties there really was a lot of amazing practical effects and then as we got older it seemed to lean a little bit more towards CGI, but more than anything we really loved the old school horror. We grew up reading Stephen King novels and watching those amazing films with Rob Bottin effects like THE THING, and Dick Smith with THE EXORCIST, and I think particularly with North American films, the horror genre has kind of lost its way a bit. It’s kind of directed like porn, if there’s a money shot and there’s gore and blood and tits, they think the horror fans are not really educated and think they are going to be satisfied with that. That’s just not the way we see see it because horror fans are very clever, and you really see that in the UK, especially with the FrightFest audience. Things we were hearing as we were coming over were ‘are you nervous to be playing in front of the FrightFest audience’, who are very well known for knowing their shit, but that made us really happy because if you watch AMERICAN MARY there are homages to all the stuff we like in horror. A lot of it is inspired by Dario Argento, there are undertones of AMERICAN PSYCHO, there is a DEAD RINGERS reference, there’s an IRREVERSIBLE reference, so if you’re a horror fan, it’s all in there. We just love horror. Even now we’re going to the Watershed, and we’ll be meeting Laurence Harvey from THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2, and that has us insanely excited!
How do you handle directing as a duo?
SYLVIA: (Laughs) We’re sisters and Hungarian, so there is a fieriness between the two of us, but it’s very important to be on the same page, especially when you have two directors who look exactly the same. You don’t want to hear one thing from one and one thing from the other, but I think we’re usually on the same page. Once in a while you’ll go over to us and we’ll say different things and then we’ll quietly excuse ourselves and go into a corner to whisper it out and come back unified with: ‘this is what we are doing’. Jen is a lot more caring than I am. She learns about people, she talks to them. She makes sure production can work, she puts out any fires. She’s a big prosthetics nerd and great with details. I get obsessed with the overall theme and things like that; up until about three months after we shot the movie, I was still calling Katie ‘Mary’, and she warned me at one point I was going to have to acknowledge her by her christian name. We’re very lucky in the way that we were born together, and I get really sad when I hear of identical twins not getting on, because I was born a collaborator, I was born with my best friend and my business partner. There are so many stories about directors and writers spending their entire lives looking for someone to work with, and even if I have a shit idea, we will still write together. Some scripts she was not keen on, we’ve written together, and they’ve ended up better because of her.
JEN: Syl is a very creative artist. If she seems a little insensitive at times it’s because she cares about the art and not that pesky human emotion that gets in the way. One of the funnest things we do on set is that Syl tells an actor something about three times and that’s as much as she’ll do, before she comes over and says ‘What a fucking idiot, they just won’t get it’! Then I go over and say ‘Okay, so we got that but just to be different can we try it like this’. We play good cop, bad cop on set, but we’re really the same cop, and although we might get to where we are going in different ways, we’re always heading to the same place.
Have you found a different reaction to the film between US and UK audiences?
JEN: I would say so. I think as Canadians we have more similar interests to the UK than the States. A lot of the humour in the film is very dry and there is a lot of commentary. Sometimes I find I get some very, very interesting questions or statements about the film from US audiences that the UK would never ask. For example, they would watch the film and ask ‘where did the green dress come from’? and I’d say, well there was a fashion designer, or ‘why don’t Billy and Mary run off together ‘? (laughs) It’s different and people perceive it differently. I think every audience has been enjoying it, but a lot of the subtext has been picked up on a lot faster by the UK audiences.
SYLVIA: UK audiences are usually very clever. Nothing escapes them. We watched FAWLTY TOWERS and THE PRINCESS BRIDE over and over when we were younger, and we also like Stephen King stories which always have a dark, dry sense of humour. I think a little more so than in North America, I call them the ‘laugh-track’ generation, where they are told when to react, and how they are supposed to react, but in the UK they’re very, very clever. There is nothing that slips past them, which is good, as we like to put a lot of subtlety in our film. I think a good film should be interpreted.
Could you tell us what you have planned for the future?
JEN: Well, AMERICAN MARY got rejected so many times, so we started working pre-production on a film called BOB and now that AMERICAN MARY is done, we’re going back to that. It’s an original take on the forgotten monster sub-genre. The tag-line is ‘There’s a monster inside all of us, and sometimes it gets out’.
THN would like to thank Jen, Sylvia and Katharine for their time and wish them every success with their marvellous film.