Best known for her role in the cult horror movie Ginger Snaps (and its sequels), Canadian actress Katharine Isabelle took time to talk to Tribute about her role in the new horror/thriller, Torment, which was shot in the Hamilton area. A Gemini Award winner for her work in the TV miniseries The Englishman’s Boy, she has also won awards for her work in the horror film American Mary, playing the title role. It was a pleasure to talk to Katharine, who is light-hearted, humble and incredibly funny.
You are such a busy actress! Do you ever get a break from being on a set?
Yeah, I’ve had a break for like a month now, and it’s driving me insane. (laughs) What do I do? I’m not sure what normal humans do, I don’t get it! (laughs)
Do you have any hobbies?
My hobbies are in Vancouver. I have animals, I have horses and stuff but I’m in Toronto.
So you ride? English or Western?
I do both but mostly English. I trained English my whole life. Dressage, show jumping. I lived in a western town with a bunch of cowboys for awhile and learned to do that too (laughs).
Your character in Torment is so kick ass. Was she a lot of fun to play?
Yeah, it was really fun. Those movies are so much more fun to shoot than they are to watch. I don’t watch a lot of scary movies — I’m a bit of a chicken, but they’re really fun to shoot because you get to run around and kill people; bludgeon them to death with a rock in a swamp and then when you go back to normal life, you don’t want to kill people on the street at all! Because you’ve released so much rage. (laughs) It was super fun, that’s why I do them.
How long does it take to shoot a film like that?
I think it was 18 days.
Really? That’s all?
Yeah, no matter what, you never have enough time. Even if it’s a huge budget movie and you’ve got five months, it’s still never enough time.
What’s it like to watch yourself onscreen?
It used to be harder. I think growing up, as a teenager and an insecure kid, it was definitely harder. Now, it’s better. When you’re shooting, it’s such a panic, you don’t really know what’s going on, there’s screaming and action and people are freaking out. I always want to do it and then watch the movie and then go, “Oh, that’s what we were doing. Okay, yeah, let’s do it all over again. (laughs) Now that I know what we’re doing and what it’s supposed to look like and the tone of everything, now we can reshoot it.”
That’s really interesting.
It’s better now, I mean, there are still a few things that I’ll never live down but that gives my brother fodder for parties (laughs).
So horror movies are not your favorite kind of movies?
To watch, no, because I really am quite a chicken. My brother and I are best friends with the Soska twins who directed me in the horror film American Mary and they’re horror fanatics and they’re always trying to trick us into watching something and they always feel really bad after because we’re traumatized (laughs).
What are your favorite type of movies?
My favorite movie is Apocalypse Now, which some people would classify as a horror movie because there are definitely horrific elements to it. I watch animated movies. (laughs) The LEGO Movie is currently my favorite movie. All the hardcore horror fans are always really disappointed in my lack of knowledge.
Torment was really good — it was more like a thriller than a horror.
It’s pretty scary, but it’s not super gory. If I had to watch that and it was someone else’s movie, I’d be like, “Okay I’m not so traumatized.” It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat and there was enough to scare me but I could also sleep.
You started out really young, do you remember your first acting job?
I was five. It was a Paramount movie directed by Joel Schumacher called Cousins starring Isabella Rossellini and Ted Danson. It was a really pretty, fun, big budget wedding movie and it was my first thing. I come from a film family and it was all like pretty dresses, big mansions and lots of cake and I just thought that was the greatest thing ever and I thought I should totally do this for the rest of my life. Cut to being dragged through the forest [in Torment], killing Pig Lady in a swamp, um, maybe I didn’t think this through when I was five (laughs). That first movie spoiled me!
When you first started, you were billed as Katie Murray and then you changed to Katharine Isabelle.
Yeah, Katharine Isobel Murray is my full name and Katie Murray, that’s what everyone calls me. But early in my career, people would figure it out and we would get phone calls and it got a bit weird but also, it doesn’t sound as pretty as Katherine Isabelle. I changed the spelling of Isabelle because I was named after my great-grandmother. My mom went to her grave site in Europe and realized my name had been spelled wrong on my birth certificate.
What type of roles are your favorite to play?
I like strong independent female characters who are a little bit off the beaten path. Roles like American Mary or even going back to Ginger Snaps, those are things that really touch people and they touch me because you don’t get to see these female characters portrayed often enough. I just want to do cool things and well-written things and interesting people.
And you’ve gotten to do a lot of that.
Yeah, I have, I’m super lucky that people like me as that and I get jokes from my friends and family, like when are you going to be in a nice romcom or play the girl next door and I’m like “Dude, really?”
You act alongside a child in Torment— having started in the business early yourself, is it easy to relate to young actors?
I definitely get where they’re coming from and how hard it can be to be that little; to have to behave so maturely; to interact with and work professionally with adults. Peter [DaCunha] and I got along really well and he’s a very mature kid and he’s super great obviously. We tried to keep the set lighter because we were dealing with heavy subject matter and it can be traumatizing.
I’ve worked with kids before where I knew what we were doing was upsetting them. They’re kids and we’re doing some pretty scary stuff. When I was a kid my mom wouldn’t have let me do things like that. She was too worried about psychological damage, which was good because I had a lot of friends; little kid actors who were traumatized by stuff they’d done, like uncle/dad rape movies of the week. They got so stressed out about it; their eyelashes fell out, their hair, it can be traumatizing and you really need a great support system of people in the film word who aren’t just stage parents pushing you to do everything.
Peter and I would take off and not tell anybody and go down the street. They had some little ponies and we’d steal carrots and go feed the ponies. So we’d have a moment where he could be a little kid and pet some horses and I’d get a break from screaming “Cory!” in the woods.
I heard your TV series Hannibal was renewed?
Yeah, and hopefully I’ll be back. It’s my favorite show on television, I’m obsessed with it. That and House of Cards. I fell in love with [Hannibal star] Mads Mikkelsen when I saw him in a Danish movie called Green Butchers about 10 years ago and I was telling myself, “Don’t say anything—don’t be weird.” And the second I was alone with him, I was gushing all over him and telling him all about how Green Butchers is my favorite film.
How did he react?
He’s so cool. He’s Hannibal Lecter, he’s the coolest guy ever. He’s so kind and he’s so giving professionally. He was just like, “Oh yeah, that’s one of my favorite characters too.”
What about Hugh Dancy, I heard you like working with him?
Oh, he’s wonderful. Yeah, he’s so charming and so sweet. We have to do all this weird shit and we have one day that’s like orgy day and it’s hilarious; it’s so awkward. It’s like, “Okay, I’m going to dry hump you for a little bit. I met your wife yesterday and your baby, he’s cute, okay?”
She comes to the set to visit?
Yeah, she does and she brings their baby, he’s the most adorable thing, it’s like “Oh, Claire Danes, cool!”
If you couldn’t be an actor, what would you be?
A horse trainer, but I’m deathly allergic to horses, hay and sawdust. And I’ve already had like 11 concussions and fractured my spine and my shoulder and my foot so I’m a bit of a cripple (laughs). I don’t think I’d be great at it but it’s definitely what I would do. It’s my only other obsessive passion.
What else do you have coming up?
Right now I’ve been on a break from Hannibal and I’ve got a movie coming out in September called 88, which is super cool about a girl who witnesses the murder of her boyfriend and goes on a revenge kick and snaps out of it and has to piece together what happened to her. Other than that, I never know about projects until like the day before. So there’s a couple of things in the works but whether or not they pan out, or when they start, who knows? It’s a homeless Gypsy lifestyle (laughs).
You’ll always so busy though so I’m sure you probably won’t get much of a break.
Yeah, when you’re not working it’s hard to enjoy your down time because you’re stressed like, “Am I ever going to work again?” And then when you’re working, it’s like, “I’d kill for a day off!” (laughs)
Thank you so much for talking to us today!
Torment releases on DVD and VOD tomorrow, June 10, 2014. ~Alexandra Heilbron