American Mary – Spotlight Interview

We can’t deny the fact that we have a horrifically bloody soft spot for filmmaking duo Jen and Sylvia Soska (of Dead Hooker In A Trunk fame), so when the opportunity arose to catch up with the ladies to discuss the release of their new shocker "American Mary" (on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures) alongside lead Katherine Isabelle our very own Marc Lissenburg had his jacket on and was out the door before we could finish asking him…over to Marc to tell the tale…

 American Mary – Marc in horror heaven!

Living in North Yorkshire for the last decade or so, I have to confess it’s a personal travesty that, up until now, I have never had the pleasure of visiting the Hyde Park Picture House in West Yorkshire. The independent venue has been dubbed "the cosiest cinema in Leeds" and whose solitary screen is complimented with a quaint upper level balcony and a vintage confectionary stall just beyond its traditional box office. Tuesday the 15th of January however, Hyde Park played host to a stop on the AMERICAN MARY TOUR ahead of the Blu-Ray and DVD release of the movie.

AMERICAN MARY, in case you are unaware, is the second movie written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, otherwise known as the Twisted Twins. The uber-siblings recruited fellow Canadian Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Fitzgerald from GINGER SNAPS and the ill-fated Gibb from FREDDIE Vs JASON) to play Mary.

As tour host Alan Jones explained, the movie received phenomenally positive feedback after its UK premiere at 2012’s FRIGHTFEST. So when UNIVERSAL PICTURES suggested a nationwide circuit promoting the movie with the Soska sisters and Mary Mason herself, Katherine Isabelle, in tow, he bit the illustrious film studios proverbial hand off! The same could be said for me when I was offered the chance to interview the dynamic trio.

Snug the venue may well by but ‘cosy’ is hardly a term that could be used to describe the Soska’s. Katherine Isabelle has in actual fact been quoted as referring to them as "fiery balls of energy"; while the twins returned complement by describing their leading lady as "intoxicatingly talented". This was either going to be a blast, or the longest interview of my life...

The first to enter was Katherine Isabelle. Effortlessly gorgeous in appearance, equipped with a self-proclaimed instinctual "BULLSHIT RADAR" and a career beyond Horror movies that has seen her share the silver screen with some bloke called Alan Pacheeno or something. Thankfully she simply offered her hand and warmly announced "Hi I’m Katherine!"

Next to enter was the equally welcoming Jen Soska. "Hi, wow this is, erm, intimate." Jen was politely referring to the rather small office that had been very kindly loaned by Wendy Cook, the manager of Hyde Park. While Jen was right, (the office was tiny barely being able to accommodate 3 chairs for the guests) the cramped conditions were more than made up for by providing some much appreciated privacy to conduct our chat, away from the building throng of excited punters in the cinema foyer. (Thanks again Wendy, you are in my all-time ‘Cool Book’!) Seconds later we were joined by Sylvia Soska whereby warm hugs and informal exchanges thankfully broke the ice. Rather tepidly I enquired to how the tour had been so far...

JEN: "Yeah we LOVE the dry sense of humour here. When Beatress says "Don’t be a cunt" in the movie, if the audience doesn’t laugh we KNOW we’re in for a hard time. But the UK has been great!"

Phew! Not a bad start. Deep breath. Check my voice recorder was functioning correctly and fingers crossed I didn’t ruin the homely arrangement by doing something silly – like farting! Ok its showtime...

Marc: Well before we start I just have to say that I recently had the word "NERD-GASM" added to my vocabulary after watching a documentary when a star struck Hellraiser fan met Doug Bradley for the first time... So with that in mind I am very mindful not to E-GEEK-ULATE as I stand before you!

(Big Laughs all-round... more relief on my part!)

JEN: Hey, "E-geek-ulate" I like that! I might have to rip that off and use it then people will think I’m clever!

SYLVIA: When I met Clive Barker, I could barely contain myself. I babbled some stuff and then walked away and burst into tears!

Marc: Well I’ll try not to cry! But seriously, that was actually a really long winded way of saying THANK YOU all so very much for talking to us on such a busy schedule.

ALL 3: Our pleasure, no problem at all

 American Mary

Marc: I heard that AMERICAN MARY came about after a conversation with Eli Roth whereby you had a mere two weeks to write the script he believed already existed! But what intrigued me was you suggested very early on in the script writing process you had Katherine Isabelle in mind?

SYLVIA: It was even before that. I saw GINGER SNAPS at high school because we were both dubbed the "Fitzgerald Sisters". We didn’t know what that was so we saw the movie and we were both like ‘Oh My God’ that’s our FAVOURITE movie right now

JEN: GINGER SNAPS is really relevant for girls like us... but we so loved Katie.

SYLVIA: There are not too many actresses that nail everything they do. I mean I have watched EVERYTHING Katie has been in and love her work so much. But I kept wanting to see the next step up for her. She is so talented so with AMERICAN MARY I just wanted to see Katie do all those intense things. In a way it sounds almost cruel but I just think she is such an intoxicatingly talented actress. So Jen and I pretty much wrote the script for Katie. When we met her I was so fucking nervous! I didn’t even wanna sit near her. I was in the bathroom trying not to throw up!

JEN: Yeah you should have seen her!

SYLVIA: It was like a real ‘fan girl’ moment... Any way she comes in, complete rock star.. reading the script on the drive down there..

KATHERINE: I never read my script on the drive down!

SYLVIA: Yeah but it was on your Blackberry..

KATHERINE: Yeah but not on my way down. I read it in bed remember…

JEN: That paints quite a picture doesn’t it??

(***It sure did! But once the playful quibble had passed, Katherine would go on to explain...***)

KATHERINE: Yeah well I was in bed and this script was emailed to me, with a note saying ‘it’s a horror movie written by two newcomers who are identical twins’ So I was like ‘oh ok... this is gonna be good…’ (*Obvious sarcasm shaping her tone*). So I said ok whatever, I will read the first couple of pages so at least I can say I read it before turning it down. Anyway, 190 pages later... I had read the whole thing. I read it twice actually and I was like ‘What the fuck just happened to me?’ I was blown away. But needing a second opinion I consulted my dad who has worked in movies his whole career and he concurred! He said yeah it’s a great script so I was like ‘phew ok I’m glad someone else agrees!

SYLVIA: Yeah I had really high expectations of her and well, she honestly surpassed them. She was the nicest, coolest person ever...

 American Mary

JEN: As a director one of the stupidest things you can do is write for an actor, fall in love with them before you even know their schedule and stuff. I am a good judge of character but how can you tell that from little snippets you see of interviews on the internet. She could be the biggest See You Next Tuesday in the world! She comes across as so capable and cheerful but there is SO much depth to her. Oh my God, nobody else could compare when we were writing AMERICAN MARY.

SYLVIA: I mean she only got 3 takes to do ANYTHING on AMERICAN MARY and it was 15 days shooting she was phenomenal and I am so excited. I mean even people who hate the movie love Katie’s performance.

JEN: Anytime she gets these awards at festivals for anything I am so fucking proud. But better not have me around if she doesn’t win because I’m like "that was the best fucking performance of all fucking time!" It’s like a Kanye West and Taylor Swift moment (Laughs).

Marc: Ok so Katherine. You are all signed up and you guys are shooting. How much collaboration was there? Did you have much input into perhaps developing the character?

KATHERINE: You know what? It wasn’t necessary. The script was so well written, the character was so well fleshed out because… wink wink... Mary Mason is actually based on Sylv! For those of you who didn’t know.

JEN: Yeah for those of you who were late for class...!

KATHERINE: It didn’t need any improvisation, it really didn’t. I have been on many many many shows where there is absolutely nothing on paper and I am trying to pull something out of it trying to make it better but with these guys it was all there we didn’t need to do that shit. Fucking genius’s... (BIG LAUGHS FROM SYLV)

(***At this point I had a slightly worrying moment that my line of questioning was a little dull for Jen as she reached for some paper clips from the desk. Possibly noticing my concern she dispelled my fears and stoked my interest in equal amounts.... ***)

JEN: Sorry.. I broke the zipper of one of my fetish boots but I think I can fix it with this. Always an independent filmmaker darling... Never pass off the opportunity to be resourceful, even with paper clips in someone’s office..

Marc: Oh help yourself! OK so AMERICAN MARY is your second movie following DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. But anyone expecting a similar ‘looking’ movie in as much as style goes is going to be in for quite a surprise aren’t they?

SYLVIA: With DHIAT we didn’t have ANY money or resources so we knew it was going to be a really rough kind of film. So yeah it was a love letter of sorts to Grindhouse film I think… AMERICAN MARY was a lot more of a nod towards European and Asian cinema. We love Takashi Miike but he kind of distances his work from the Horror genre. I have heard him say his movies are competently made films with horrific elements and it’s that ethos we kind of carried into AMERICAN MARY. Also I feel that when some people think ‘body modification’ they think ‘ugly’, and I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be one of the most beautiful films you ever saw when dealing with the subject matter

JEN: DHIAT was like a St Bernard just slobbering all over you! It was something to announce that we existed and I think it did in a really big way. AMERICAN MARY is like a beautifully groomed prize winning poodle!

KATHERINE: (To Jen) Only you can make that kind of analogy... Describe the films in terms of dogs...

Marc: Ok well the movie has been granted an ‘18’ certificate from the BBFC. For UK horror fans this can be a bitter sweet scenario. What I mean it’s great that the movie is aimed at adults but we also worry whether or not their overzealous scissors were at work! So with regards to censorship, have there been any problems with various classification boards?

 American Mary

SYLVIA: I am soooo lucky nothing has been removed! When we picked ‘Medical Horror’ we found out that ‘Medical Horror’ is actually judged a little more liberally then if we just went for the traditional ‘slasher’ type killing and stuff. I read stuff about the BBFC and nobody knows what their guidelines are. Do they just make it up as they go along?

Marc: Yeah kind of. They have a new directive this year where they are claiming to clamp down on sexual violence apparently.

JEN: Like they never used to?!

SYLVIA: I did a bit of research and along the way listened to many directors arguing their point but all along Medical Horror got away with a lot more. So I was like even though what happens to Grant was pretty nasty and even torturous, we wanted it to be medically sound. Keep saying its ‘medicine’ and its ‘procedure’ and its ‘practice’. And I think on top of that, people are scared of UNIVERSAL! We have had some really REALLY good backing from them. It’s always good to have a company that stands behind your films and is spirited and passionate about fighting your corner. I mean when they backed us on some issues they explain it so eloquently and intelligently that I think even the BBFC would be like.. "Oh ok that’s plausible. It’s relevant to the story I guess that HAS to be in there"

JEN: To be fair I don’t think there is anything overly gratuitous in there. I think it’s a lot like the original PSYCHO and the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in as much as such a severe tone and atmosphere of the movie kind of tricks people into thinking they witnessed more. It got to the extent that I have had people come up to me and describe "oh when this happens" or "when that happens" and I am like… WHAT? We don’t actually show it. But the other response we have had is people telling us it’s the suspense that is the worst part of it and I think that’s why the BBFC gave us a little bit of a speaking to. We were effectively given a very unforgiving talking to.

Marc: Kind of akin to parents chastising a teenager and them saying "Yeah real sorry but guess what, I am going to do it anyway.."

SS: (laughs) yeah I guess! But seriously I think the horror in AMERICAN MARY is the real life horror elements like certain characters. You know it’s kind of saying the Body Modification community are given a hard time yet there are these really clean cut guys out there that are totally vile. So yeah we felt the characters depicted the real horror, NOT gratuitous depictions of gore or anything.

JEN: I think there is a distinct difference between real life violence and staged violence definitely. I mean that one scene in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST ruined the whole thing for me. MEN BEHIND THE SUN was another one. The scene with the rats, they actually killed two cats in that scene. After working with Masters FX, I learned we can do ANYTHING with prosthetics without the need to actually hurt animals or people. Yeah so basically don’t actually hurt animals but beyond that, fuck it, anything goes!!!

Marc: I want to ask about the special effects which are a truly interesting facet of AMERICAN MARY. Masters FX headed by the illustrious Todd Masters was on board and looking at their portfolio it is easy to see why they were recruited. But what is interesting is just how balanced that collaboration was. Did they have much creative input or did they simply follow your instructions?

SYLVIA: We collaborated but if you know us, our scripts are a lot more pages then they should be! We write down the details for EVERYTHING, including the minute little things…

American Mary

JEN: I think when I first met Katie for her makeup I just went through everything. OK this is the ‘Party Scene’; This is ‘Med School’ scene; This is ‘Stripper Mary’ scene you know. We had it ALL put together. So Masters FX, well they speak very articulately. Todd would come back and forth with what we were doing, he would hear us talking and would sketch something up and show it to us. I mean you couldn’t ask for a better company for ‘Body Horror’. They were the top of our list but we never expected to get them. We try to get who we want but we were like, if we could get absolutely ANYONE it would be Masters FX.

One of the more different films we talked about when discussing the special effects was DICK TRACY. But the downside of that song is you KNOW everything is prosthetics. But here we wanted to blend reality with fantasy. We didn’t want a person to ever know whether they were looking at something that was real or not real. Talking of which, we also gave an address at the beginning of the shoot about tolerance. Along the lines we had NO TIME for anyone who is beating off about someone who has a modification. I was like, I don’t care what position you hold; If I hear ANYONE talking about someone with a modification in a degrading manner your fired..

SYLVIA: Yeah when we took some shit for the subject matter from various people, I was like, ‘Do you know what the most common form of modification is?’ And the overwhelmingly common responses were answers like ‘Tongue splitting’. And I was like NO! It’s circumcision, just so you’re aware. It was weird. They would argue ‘No but that is for religious reasons’ like body modification is ok to these people if it’s done for religious reasons... Just bizarre!

Marc: So sticking with the prosthetics and distinct omission of CG from the movie. It’s great for us fans, it’s satisfying that you two film makers have stayed true to the Magic Act as described by Savini and friends. But for you Katherine... you were in the firing line!! Were there any memorable experiences, good or bad?

KATHERINE: I was actually lucky I didn’t have to sit through 4 to 6 hours of prosthetic make up application I mean I have obviously done all that before and, well, I didn’t like it! I got off pretty easily really. There is only one scene where I am covered in blood as long as they gave me warm blood, shower facilities and a rag I was like I’ll be fine. But no I didn’t have to get my hands too dirty on that.

JEN: I think David (David Lovgren who plays Dr. Grant) had to give the biggest leap of faith because his wardrobe was made of prosthetics. But beyond physically I mean emotionally was the biggest challenge for him.

Marc: I have watched DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK a couple of times..

JEN and SYLVIA: Aaah thank you.. (Collectively clapping silently as they do!)

But second time round what REALLY stood out was this lovely shot. It was the campfire scene when, in the reflection of Geek’s glasses, were the fires flames. Considering it was such a rough looking movie, that scene for me was simply memorizing and also gave the viewer a breather from the blood soaked bedlam. With that in mind, are there any subtle scenes in AMERICAN MARY that you are particularly proud of that perhaps may not stand out first time round for the viewer?

SYL: My favourite scene is the bar scene at the end of the film because without saying anything you are saying everything and it’s so intrinsically important between those two characters. (Billy and Mary) Throughout the movie they did some very crazy shit but they are just two damaged people trying to figure out what exactly is going on and that’s the kind of ‘goodbye’ scene and for me it was like OH GOD I was so proud of it. I love it. It’s just beautiful to watch.

JEN: I guess for me the scene where Mary does her lipstick then comes out into the apartment is my favourite. A non spoiler-ee answer is because women are usually so shrill and loud but when she has her power in THAT scene she is so softly spoken but so strong a lot like Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. She never even raises her voice and yet the other characters are bending backwards tying to listen to her. There are not a lot of actresses who have that kind of strength so for me I loved that scene.

And that my friends was that. Where does time go when you are having fun? There was barely time for the girls to personalize a few of my DVD covers and take a photo of two before I bequeathed them with a small gift each. By sheer fluke, Mozart chocolate is Jens "favourite European chocolate" and as such the miniature chocolate spherical bottles of Mozart chocolate liqueurs were gracefully accepted. More hugs were exchanged and I wished them the best of luck with the rest of the tour.

If the trio are reading this, I would just like to thank them all again for engaging so enthusiastically, especially given the cramped conditions and rest assured my Blu Ray of AMERICAN MARY has now been dispatched…

American Mary will be released on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures (UK) on 21st January 2013 and will open at UK cinemas on 11th January 2013 (Frightfest).

Special thanks to Jen and Sylvia Soska, Katherine Isabelle, Universal Pictures and Fetch Publicity.

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