Today: February 20, 2024

The American Mary Interview

With the release of American Mary, out on DVD/Blu-ray NOW, Cinema Editor David Watson talks body modification, feminism and freaky twin superpowers with the Twisted Twins, Jen & Sylvia Soska, and their American Mary leading lady Katharine Isabelle.

With the
release of American Mary, out on DVD/Blu-ray NOW, Cinema Editor David Watson
talks body modification, feminism and freaky twin superpowers with the Twisted
Twins, Jen & Sylvia Soska, and their American Mary leading lady Katharine
Isabelle.

“Horror fans are the most loyal. Insane but loyal,” says Jen
Soska
almost wistfully. “I
guess I’m a horror fan myself so definitely insane and loyal. The fans first time, when we went to
FrightFest, it was the first screening open to the public and they just gave us
such a warm response. I’d like to
live here, they like me here more than over in Vancouver.

“In Vancouver they don’t really care for us. They’re all about independent this and
unique that but even Cronenberg had to leave before they were like: “Oh, but we
love you!” No, you don’t. You made his life miserable when he was
starting out.”

Just like their films, Canadian identical twins Jen & Sylvia Soska, are smart, funny
and very sexy. Exploding onto the
horror scene in 2009 with the cult, no-budget, exploitation film Dead Hooker In A Trunk, the girls have
seduced audiences around the world with their nerdy charm, infectious
enthusiasm and screw you attitude.

Raucous and profane, you don’t so much interview them as
surrender and hang on for dear life as they laugh and swear and finish each
other’s sentences, their American Mary
star Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) almost the third sister
that never was.

While Isabelle has dressed casually in jeans for the
interview, the twins have dressed to kill (Jen’s in figure-hugging black,
Sylvia’s in slinky red; the only way to tell them apart at a quick glance),
look more like they’re heading out for a night in a Goth club rather than
turning heads and doing press in the swanky London hotel where they’re
promoting their new film, American Mary,
a dark, erotic tale of body modification and revenge that’s a quantum leap in
quality and style from the lo-fi delights of Dead Hooker In A Trunk.

“We’ve actually had people say they hate Mary and they think
Dead Hooker was a superior film.
It’s like Jeez…” says Jen.

“What can I do for you people?” breaks in twin sister and
filmmaking partner Sylvia.

“Some people there’s nothing you can do for them,” finishes
Jen, laughing.

Says Sylvia: “We knew we had certain limitations with Dead
Hooker In A Trunk since we were just making it for basically no money and
running around with a camera and grindhouse filmmaking really leant to our budgetary
restraints at that time.

“But Jennifer and I really love European and Asian cinema
and we thought wouldn’t it be cool to take a film and make it with all of those
influences painted across it. And
it was just nice to have a subject like body modification which people already
have a reaction of what they think it’s going to look like and what the tone’s
going to be and just do it in the most beautiful, artful way possible.”

“Europe and Asia, I always forget that we’re in Europe when
I’m running my mouth about Europe,” says Jen, “but I find the most interesting
horror films are coming out of those areas, not really North America because
North America just does a lot of remakes, a lot of like Quarantine off of Rec. It was almost shot for shot the same
movie but it was soulless, just garbage in comparison.”

“Yeah, they gave away the biggest scare on the poster,” says
Sylvia.

“There’s so much more soul and so much more interesting
things being done internationally,” says Jen, “because they don’t define horror
movies as, you know, slashers or blood and tits and, ok, that constitutes a horror movie. They can have a great film with horrific elements.”

Says Sylvia: “I think a lot of filmmakers fall into that
hole where they’re like: “I’m making a HORROR
film!” So it’s like scary music (mimics scary music) and you’re like, ok,
it’s a horror movie, instead of just having horrific elements which I feel
always works a lot better.”

Horror’s always been a male-oriented genre catering mostly
for male fantasies where women tend to be virgins or sluts and are punished for
their sexuality. It’s a genre
dominated by male directors and, with the possible exception of Jennifer Lynch, it’s hard to think of a
successful female director working in horror. Could the Sisters be the start of a feminist backlash?

“I’d be honoured to lead a feminist backlash,” says
Jen. “There are a few females who
dabble in horror but there aren’t any female Wes Cravens or Eli Roths
that you can say are purely horror directors.”

“Well, Kathryn
Bigelow
did Near Dark and she
was the first female to win an Oscar which was a huge thing for us,” says
Sylvia. “Mary Harron directed American
Psycho
and she’s Canadian and she was just such a big inspiration to me
when I was thinking about getting into this.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Alice Guy-Blanche? She
is the first director of fiction cinema.
The very first director who made fiction was a woman!

“The Gaumont company
gave her one of the early cameras, which they found useless, and they gave it
to their secretary, who they found equally useless, and she was like: “Well,
maybe I’ll just make up a funny story for my friends.” She went on to make over 700 different
films and her company, the Solax
company, on the East Coast was the only company to rival Hollywood.

“I felt, when I learned about that there have been women in
this industry for a really long time it’s just nobody really notices them. I guess it’s easy to notice identical
twins that are as wacky and crazy as Jen and me and hopefully when they’re
looking at our little sideshowness we can be like: “And this chick did this and
this did this and hey, you don’t have to be in front of the screen! You can tell your own stories!”

Says Jen: “I think some people have the misconception that
we’re putting on a schtick as well and Katie (Katharine Isabelle) more than
anyone can attest to if we’re going out, we look like this, we act like this,
we talk about our stupid nerdy things constantly.”

“I showed up at the editing suite one day to surprise them,”
says American Mary star and
partner-in-crime, Katharine Isabelle, “and they’d been locked in an editing
studio, in a dark room where no-one was going see them or hear them and they
weren’t going to have to put on a show and they were exactly like…they had
their little socks up to here and their little high heels…They’ve never
changed one bit regardless of where they were or who they were in front
of.

“They’re like this all the time.”

“Unfortunately,” finishes Sylvia, giggling.

Katharine agrees, wearily: “Unfortunately.”

Together, the Soskas are a formidable filmmaking duo. Sylvia is the older sister by 19
minutes but, looking at them, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. As they finish each other’s thoughts
and sentences, it’s hard not to wonder if they possess any freaky twin
superpowers.

“I was joking about telepathy before but, yeah, I can read
her mind,” says Jen. “I can have a
full conversation with her. During
interviews, I know when she wants me to shut up so she can speak.”

“Mostly all the time she wants to speak,” interjects
Katharine.

“Mostly all the time.
But we read each other so well because we know each other so very well,”
says Jen. “If we’re separated, and
it’s on very rare occasions that we’re not together, if something happens to
her or something happens to me we can sense it, we’ll have to call each other.”

“Because we were born at the same time, we’ve always existed
together,” says Sylvia. “We’re
kind of born collaborators. Which
made me only form halfway into a whole human being. We complement each other so there’s always different
strengths and that’s kind of nice when you have that split into two different
people when there’s so many jobs especially in, like, directing and overseeing
the project.”

“And they both know what the ultimate goal was so if one’s
busy doing something the other one can actually lend a hand,” says
Katharine. ”It’s helpful having
two exactly the same directors who can be in two different places at the same
time but be working towards a mutual goal.”

“Guess which one tried to eat the other one in the womb?”
asks Katharine.

Definitely Sylvia.
But in vitro cannibalism aside, American
Mary
is very much concerned with the body, with notions of beauty, of
identity, of sexuality and society’s attitudes towards these concepts.

“I think being a girl there’s always an emphasis, either
you’re f*ckable or you’re not f*ckable.
And it’s the first thing that people say,” says Sylvia, “even when
you’re there as a working woman and one woman leaves the room, all the men have
a comment…”

“Or all the women have a f*cking comment too…” says Jen.

“There’s such an emphasis,” says Sylvia. “And I thought what does a girl like me
and someone from the body mod community have in common?

“Well, we’re all judged on our appearances. What if we had everybody with their
weird appearances and their stereotypical “This is what these people are,” and
then we expanded on that. Like,
even Antonio Cupo who plays Billy
Barker, he’s just like this gross, sleazy guy but we tried to give more
dimensions to this person.

“There’s no such thing as two-dimensional people. Everybody is a human being with weird
qualities and different flaws. I
really liked being able to write Mary and wanted to make her a flawed female
character because usually woman are so perfect and sweet and it just makes me
sick. I need someone who’s f*cked
up that I can relate to. Me. Kinda.”

“Women are also discouraged to embrace their dark sides and
their own sexuality,” says Jen. “A
man can be attractive and intelligent and successful and be a man.

“But if a woman is attractive as well as all those other
things, all people talk about is their appearances. It’s insane.

“Unfortunately, some feminists say that Sylv and I should
dress down if we want to be taken seriously. If we want to be real directors. I find that’s absolutely insulting. I dress like this for me, I don’t give
a shit what anyone else thinks and I do take a lot of shit for it.”

Sylvia agrees: “Even in the film, Mary dresses pretty
conservatively until that horrible changing over point where she realises this
is how everyone’s been seeing her anyway and it’s almost like she takes her
sexuality back.

“In the scene where she clomps around in the strip club,
auditioning – “You may want to walk a little sexier Mary.” – after that one
scene happens she doesn’t do anything but have these beautiful, really strong,
sexy moves and it’s like, you lose a lot of the real person that she is because
she puts on this front instead of what she thinks everyone perceives her as and
I thought that was really interesting.

“And Katie, we take away all of her dialogue and her
expressions, she gets colder and colder, so it’s like: “Ok, I need you to do this,
this and this but only with your eyes and maybe move your mouth a little bit.”

It’s a fantastic performance and the film takes Isabelle’s
Mary on a very dark journey, one that she was eager to map.

Says Katharine: “Mary was…To be given the opportunity to
play a character that is so original…original in the way that I know these
people, I see these people, I am this person, Sylv is this person…and we don’t
see that reflected back at ourselves in cinema or on television, in society in
general, we don’t see that human being portrayed in a fully multi-dimensional
character the way that Mary is.

“And I was ecstatic when I first got the material and I
thought: “Yeah, right, we’ll never get this made? But if we did, this would be f*cking fantastic.” The only thing that terrified me was to
let it down, to not be fully in control of myself as the character. And we only had 15 days. We didn’t have any prep, any rehearsals,
any time for anything.

“But fortunately I’d had the script for eight or nine months. And to actually express how a lot of
girls, a lot of women, a lot of young ladies, barf, I hate that word, feel
about seeing something they can relate to. I mean, all women are either a slut, a tease or the good
girl next door. They’re not ever
these interesting characters. I
love Mary; she has no redeemable qualities and she’s still very likable. Hopefully.

“And I think, if I
was a young, barf-lady, I would like to see a character like that; that is
strong, that is attractive, that is funny, that is smart but doesn’t take shit
and doesn’t have to conform and be sweet or pleasant or redeemable in any kind
of way. And that was what I found
attractive and irresistible about the character.

“And these two (indicates
Jen & Sylvia
) embody that fully.
They’re completely likable.
Basically have no redeeming qualities. And are totally judged on their appearance instead of who
they actually are which is quite shocking. When you actually get to know them, they’re not at all what
you would judge them as walking down the street. (To Sylvia) And that’s the moral of the f*cking
story, isn’t it dear?

Isabelle is no stranger to the dark side, having become a
horror icon after starring as the lycanthropic Ginger in Ginger Snaps.

“I don’t seek out horror movies, I don’t like horror movies,
they scare me, I don’t watch them,” says Katharine, “I’ve done a shit-ton of
films, I’ve been working for 25 years.
Horror fans are so rabid and enthusiastic that you do one or two decent
ones and you get a name for it.

“There are no rabid, enthusiastic, Canadian, independent
family dramas fans. There are no rabid, enthusiastic, Canadian, independent
family drama conventions, you know, where people are just obsessed over your
film about alcoholism and suicide in a small town. It’s just the way it is.

“If you do one or two decent horror movies, you’re a horror
icon. I’ve done three horror
movies my entire life. I have 91
credits on IMDB. I tend towards
the darker side, I’ve never played the good, sweet girl next door for some
reason. I guess they can see right
through me. But I never seek out
to do horror movies.

“People are like: “Oh, oh, there’s this horror movie…” I don’t want to be a scream queen. I hate that word. I don’t necessarily like horror movies. I don’t watch them. I don’t care. Every movie that comes my way, regardless of the genre, is
judged purely on its own independent merit.

“And this film, I don’t think this is a horror movie, I
really don’t. There’s no
suspense…there’s no slashing. I
kill two people. You don’t even
see it on camera. Nothing to me is
horrific. I think it’s a very
sweet, tragic character study, that’s funny, that’s humorous. I don’t think it’s a horror movie at
all. You know, horror icon, this,
that and the other thing…that’s fine.
They’re just good movies that happen to be a little dark and have more
blood than the rest of them.”

With American Mary
winning critical acclaim and a devoted cult audience, what’s next for the Soska
Sisters?

Says Sylvia: “Jennifer and I had a film called Bob that was almost green-lit before
American Mary but I was too insane to let that happen and we’re back to work on
it.

“The tagline is: “There’s a monster in all of us and
sometimes it gets out.” I love
monsters, original monsters…prosthetics…and that hasn’t happened for a really
long time.”

“There’s been so many f*cking zombie movies!” says Jen. “Zombie movies. Vampires that sparkle. CGI werewolves. When we were growing up in the ‘80s
there was, like, Pumpkinhead and Gremlins and Critters and Alien and Predator and all these cool
monsters. And then all of a
sudden, nothing new was being made.
You have to look at Asian cinema to see some original monsters but
nothing that really comes over here.

“So we wanted to give that a kick in the ass and make some
original horror. On the outside,
it’s an awesome monster movie but we’re tricking people into a very deep…”

“We’re tricking them into thinking again,” says Sylvia.

“And this one is much more controversial,” says Jen. “People say American Mary is
controversial…”

“Oh, just wait!
That’s nothing…” says Katharine.

“Oh sweetie, just wait until Bob!” laughs Jen. “Bob is gonna be the one that we’ll be
like…”

“Defending!” finishes Katharine Isabelle, laughing.

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).


David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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