Gavin Schmitt Interviews Katharine Isabelle
Although not a horror fan herself, Katharine Isabelle has been dubbed a “scream queen” and has appeared in some of the genre’s more notable work of the 21st century, particularly the “Ginger Snaps” (affiliate link) trilogy and “American Mary”, as well as “Freddy vs. Jason”. She has been called a “feminist icon” for her portrayal of strong, leading women who are not victims, but powerful, assertive characters in their own right.
On September 4, 2014, Katharine was kind enough to chat briefly about her career, with a special focus on the television show “Hannibal”, (affiliate link) where she portrays Margot, another strong female who won’t let serial killers or FBI agents define who she is.
GS: Regarding “American Mary”, you’ve said that Mary “has no redeeming qualities.” Could you elaborate on that?
KI: She’s not particularly friendly, she doesn’t smile, and she’s not what society expects of young, attractive girls. She’s already, at the beginning of the movie, strange and dark and hates everybody. She only has personal relationships with people if they are to her own advantage, other than Nana. And when Nana dies, she loses her only connection to a real human. She’s an interesting character because you still like her even though she never smiles. She smiles only once, during the scene with Lance and the milkshake. Other than that, the choices she makes and the attitude she has are not particularly appealing qualities. And yet, again, you still like her, which suggests she’s a multi-dimensional character. She’s the female equivalent of Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho”; you still like him even though he’s a fucking psychotic serial killer. He has no redeeming qualities, but you still like him. It’s a testament to the writing.
GS: Without giving away plot points, let’s just say there will never be a sequel. Was there ever any discussion of an alternate ending for “American Mary”?
KI: No. I think there was a request from producers to have an alternate ending, but there was just no way. People kept asking them about a sequel, and Sylv [Soska] said if it were to happen, it wouldn’t be an exact sequel but a film that is set at the same time from the point of view of Dr. Black, which I thought was interesting. But no, they were quite happy with how it ended.
GS: I heard you were a fan of Mads Mikkelsen before it was cool…
KI: Yeah. Yeah! I stumbled across… and I don’t recall where I found it… the movie “The Green Butchers”, a Danish film, about ten years ago. It’s this dark, charming, sweet, beautiful movie that also involved cannibalism. I was a huge fan of his, but never thought much of it besides loving him in “The Green Butchers”. Then he did “Casino Royale”… and when I got the job for “Hannibal” (affiliate link) I binge-watched the first season in my hotel room the night before walking on set. I walked into Hannibal Lecter’s office and Mads Mikkelsen was there. I was like, “Oh my God!” I was acting like a total fangirl. I said to myself, “Shut up! Don’t say anything! You’re a professional.” And then, because I’m a total dork, the moment I walked up to him, I said “Svend in ‘The Green Butchers’ is my favorite character ever!” I could hear myself in my head saying to shut up. But he’s so great, he’s just the nicest guy. We were recently at a convention and having a couple beers in the back parking lot, and he’s like the coolest guy ever. I think I have more of a psycho fangirl crush on him now than I did before.
GS: In the novel, Margot is portrayed as a masculine, steroid-addicted lesbian. The masculine angle is definitely played down. What cues from the novel have you taken?
KI: Interestingly, it was Sylv [Soska] who informed me about the character, because she had read all the books and I hadn’t. I didn’t have much time between getting hired and being on set to read the four books. I think Bryan Fuller, the creator, chose to remove certain aspects because in the book there’s a lot of sexual abuse that Margot has to put up with from her brother, and he thought the novel was suggesting that the abuse turned her gay rather than a genetic predisposition. Taking that out of the equation, she’s definitely still a lesbian, and I’m glad I didn’t have to do steroids or be a professional bodybuilder to get the part. What decisions were made regarding that, I don’t know, as it wasn’t my decision. I think it works.
GS: It definitely works. The show is its own creation, regardless of how characters are portrayed in the novel.
KI: Yeah, exactly. There will hopefully be more stuff for Margot that help develop her world more.
GS: I know you ride horses in real life, and it turns out that Margot is also a horse rider. Was this written into the part for you, or just a coincidence?
KI: It was a total coincidence. Production called me, and they said they had to get me horse riding lessons. I said no, it’s cool, I’ve been doing it forever, I have horses. So my assistant called them up to cancel that. The next day they called back and said they were still going to sign me up. And I said, “Well, yeah, because all actors lie and say they can ride horses. All actors are full of shit.” But the problem isn’t the riding, it’s that I’m actually super-allergic to horses and sawdust. A barn is the worst place you could put me. I have to wear like a black pollution mask or I’ll die. So if the horse is groomed for me, I’m totally fine. But we were filming in the barn, and it was freezing, like 25 below. So they had these huge, heat-blowing tubes. So I was like, “Guys, remember that conversation we had on how not to kill me?” These tubes were blowing everything, all this sawdust, right in my face. But I got through it before my face swelled shut. So that’s the irony. I’m a fantastic rider, I know what I’m doing, except that I’m deathly allergic to them and everything they live in and eat. The looks on their faces is so frickin’ cute.
GS: Would it be fair to say that Margot is crucial to the story at this point, sort of the connecting factor between Will and Mason?
KI: Yeah. Especially in the last couple episodes I was in. Hannibal and Will sort of team up to take revenge on Mason for fucking me up. I sort of felt special. “Aww, these guys like Margot. They’re helping her.” Obviously, they are going to manipulate her to their own devious ends, but still. I don’t know if there would have been such a connection between Mason, Hannibal and Will had Margot not been involved. I was happy to be special. When Hannibal takes revenge on someone for you, that’s pretty cool.
GS: From the moment Margot enters the show, Dr. Lecter is very encouraging of her desire to murder her brother. What is his motivation?
KI: I think at first it’s a form of entertainment for him, a sort of voyeurism. Maybe he’s going to follow me around and see if I kill him well enough. He seems to be fascinated with other people’s murderous tendencies, so I think he was just going to spin me around like a top and see what happened. but it got a little bit more involved than that.
GS: With how the show left off, Margot definitely had the upper hand, so should we expect Margot to be much more powerful in season 3?
KI: I hope so. I don’t know. I don’t get to see anything except for the scripts that I’m actually in, and i don’t think Margot will show up for the first couple episodes. But yeah, she definitely has the upper hand and I’m interested to see what she does with that. I think there’s also going to be a time jump from when we last saw Margot and mason and when they appear again, so I’m interested to see how the change of having power has affected her as a power. But I’m always the last to know because I get my script about three days before shooting. I’m in suspense as much as anyone else.
GS: A very tightly controlled environment…
KI: It’s not that. Bryan [Fuller] is just such a creative genius, so with that comes a lot of last minute changes and bursts of ideas. It’s always down to the wire for the script because he doesn’t know until the end what it will be. It’s very last minute all around.
GS: There was talk of a Soska film called “Bob”, which seems to have vanished. Do you know what the status is?
KI: I don’t know what the status of “Bob” is. I love “Bob”, at least from what was in the script. That’s one of their originals. What “Mary” afforded them to do was to get them into “studio land”, but to get back to making their own stuff they now have to prove themselves as viable, bankable directors on a bigger scale. I think they’re doing that. Once they’ve proved themselves enough to the Hollywood machine, they’ll be able to get their original scripts funded and made. I’m excited for that to happen. “Mary” was so brilliant, totally original, and so is “Bob”. But yeah, I don’t know where it’s at.
GS: One Soska film that is coming out is “See No Evil 2”, and with stars like you and Danielle Harris involved, is it going to outdo the first one?
KI: I didn’t see the first one. I don’t watch horror movies. They’re scary. I never saw it, I have no idea. The second one, (affiliate link)I haven’t watched all of it. But the Soskas are amazing, they’re fantastic forces of nature. And they can take something that maybe wasn’t so thrilling in the past and give it new life. And it’s basically a new movie, because you don’t have to see the first one to know what’s going on in the second one. I think people will be pleasantly surprised, very happy with what they’ve done.
GS: I find it amusing that any time you do interviews you have to mention you don’t watch horror films.
KI: It’s not that I’m stressing it, it’s just that people ask me and then when I tell them they’re always disappointed.
GS: I’m not disappointed, I just think it’s funny that someone who doesn’t watch horror films keeps ending up in them.
KI: I don’t really… out of like 106 credits on IMDb, I’ve done maybe four horror movies. Five? It’s just that horror movie fans and enthusiasts are far more passionate than fans of Canadian independent family dramas or rom-coms. Are there conventions where people dress up for anything other than comic books or horror movies? It’s intriguing to people. Fear is one of the most basic instincts, emotions. And I’m seen as being darker by casting directors. i come in for the girl next store and they ask me to come back for the “bitchy best friend”. I don’t know the last time I was cast as something innocent — people keep seeing something darker, edgier in me. And I’m drawn to things that are dark and cool, like “American Mary”. Like “Hannibal”. (affiliate link) I’m drawn to that, and for some reason I’m more believable in those roles than as the genuine smiling girl. (laughs) I don’t know, I’m happy. (laughs) I rarely play the horror chick who dies. I play the horror chick who gets to kill everyone and win. And, you know, winning is always fun! So I’ve lucked out as a female in the genre to get such strong, smart female characters and I’ll never be upset with that.
GS: Well, you may go on to be remembered for your horror credits, but at least you play the part well.
KI: Thanks, Gavin.