by James McVeigh

After the wonderfully excessive nod to grindhouse that was Dead Hooker in a Trunk marked the arrival of the Soska sisters, Jen and Sylvia (aka The Twisted Twins), it was clear that whatever these gals put their minds to next would certainly be interesting, to say the least. With American Mary, a provocative blend of Cronenbergian body-horror, feminine vengeance and biting satire, the twins have wowed festival-goers the world over, and rightly so. To mark the launch of the BD/DVD, the twins, along with Mary herself (the superb Katharine Isabelle) took the film on a mini-tour of the UK’s finest indie picturehouses, and with our very own Showroom playing host to Celluloid Screams, there could be no more fitting a venue in which to catch up with the girls. So we did exactly that.

Firstly, although we have to say it, we do mean it. Love the film – really gets under the skin. 

All Thank you.

It’s no secret that Eli Roth became aware of you guys following Dead Hooker, so he asked to see more of your work, but apparently you didn’t have anything so you wrote the script in two weeks! Is that right? 

Soskas Yes we did.

Jen Soska Initially we lied to him and said that we had a series of scripts and they were all half-assed ideas. Initially we had been researching body modification just because it was something really fascinating to us and at that time we had no intention of turning it into a film.

Sylvia Soska Yeah, but we gave him a list of everything that we thought we could make up really fast and he picked the one about the medical student and as we moved into production and had different hurdles of getting the film made – making the film, then the post for the film and everything – he was always accessible, I could just ask him a question and he wasn’t like “Oh, girl in Vancouver who’s not getting your day, boo hoo” he would be very kind and very generous and you don’t see that too much – people sharing their secrets and talking with you.

That’s nice, and it doesn’t seem like public face of the Eli Roth many know and loathe, from what I can gather… I mean, you guys know him but…

Both The media, right? – I know what they say about him.

Sylvia Y’know in Hostel he had a gay killer cause he said that gay characters are written and end up being such a stereotype and everyone’s like “Eli, you’re a homophobe” and then in Hostel II he had a bunch of women instead of men and the one girl at the end is so powerful how she buys her way out – and they’re like “Oh Eli, you hate women” so he can’t fucking win no matter what he does. But I think that’s the way with a lot of filmmakers – you really can’t win – if someone’s gonna be upset with you, then they’re just gonna be upset with you.

Jen I don’t wanna ruin his image or anything but he’s a really nice guy. He’s always been very kind. And, uh, most people around identical twins are really a certain way … Never Once, in all the time he worked with us, was he anything but nice.

I’ve got a friend who’ll be disappointed to hear such nice words being spoken about the guy.

Jen Oh no! If it makes it any better he’s also drop dead gorgeous in real life if that helps.

That’ll cheer him up.

So Katie, how did you get involved?

Katharine – I was emailed the script and I thought “Oh wow, first time directors, identical twin sister team – this is probably gonna be really good.” Sarcastically. But I ended up reading the whole 190-page script on my Blackberry twice in bed. I thought I’d just scan a couple of pages and say I read it and say “no thank you”, but it struck me, and it sat with me for a while. I sent it to my Dad who’s been in film for like, forty years, and he backed me up and went “yeah, this is really good, you’re not totally insane for liking this, this is amazing.” I thought that they’ll probably never get it made, y’know, the struggle that independent filmmakers have these days, so I said well we’ll see. And we met, for sushi for an hour but ended up staying up all night hanging out, cause we all fell madly in love and I was determined to do anything I could to help them and support them and do what I could to get it made. And do my best not to fuck it up. Nine months later we got on set!

Watching it, it really is a powerhouse performance…

KI Thank you

And as good as the likes of Ginger Snaps was, this is a totally different ball game, even though it’s a similar character path in terms of a transformation. Is there something about that kind of role that attracts you?

KI Well that kind of role in film in general isn’t presented that often to an actor. And those are the kinds of roles you hope to get, as a working actor you do whatever, you do this, you do that, you make the best you can of whatever’s on paper, but when you read something like this you are overwhelmed with desperation to actually be able to be involved. That character is so multi-dimensional, so interesting, it’s so quirky and it’s so dark, it’s so sweet, so tragic. Especially as a young girl growing up you don’t get to see those characters reflected back to you in film all that often and to have a female character that’s that strong and smart, and who’s not sweet, and smiley and shiny and fun. Because we’re not like that, I mean, we have brief moments of being like that, but we’re not like that. I don’t know anybody that’s like that, and I know people who are deeply flawed and multi-dimensional and very complex and fascinating people and I think that’s what drew me to the character. She’s a realistic human being. To not have all these super-redeeming qualities, especially in a female character that does fucked up shit, and that doesn’t have a sweet happy ending for her. It’s original, it’s different, it’s fascinating to actually find.

We’ve always had strong female protagonists such as Ripley in Alien, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween…

SS: The final girls…

But films like Teeth and more recently Excision seem to take fairly vulnerable characters to extremes, and American Mary certainly does that, but almost takes it one step further. In the way that those characters push the boundaries, your film almost takes that very genre to an extreme.

SS: I would say that Mary Mason is the evolution of the final girl. With Jamie Lee Curtis, she was this very innocent, very pure character who, despite the odds, was somehow able to save the day. Then when we saw Alien when we very young, I think the script was originally written that the roles could be played by either males or females. When they cast Sigourney Weaver that changed everything because all of a sudden you didn’t have this pure, innocent, terrified girl – I mean, of course she was terrified with an alien running around – but she was a lot stronger, she was able to kick ass.

There’s also a lot of Pinhead that actually went into Mary Mason. Clive Barker said that the thing about Pinhead was that he never gave him any redeemable qualities but still people loved him. There’s something just so loveable about him and Mary never does anything really redeemable she’s just…

JS: She’s driven with a selfish ambition, everything she does is selfish, but she is a human being. She’s not like those ‘evil’ characters that are just one-sided all the way through, you can see how she gets into that and there are so many male characters where you explore their capacity for evil, but women kind of shy away from writing those characters. They’re like, “Oh women don’t have the capacity for evil, they just cry and they want boyfriends, and they wanna go shopping…” which I’m sure Mary would if she had money, but it would be nice to have more characters like that. I really liked Eihi Shiina’s role as Asami in Audition – and I thought if you took someone who’s that fucking scary and had The Final Girl, you just blended them into the same character where she’s almost her own worst enemy despite the world around her, wouldn’t that be exciting to do?

And also really disarming at the same time.

JS: Yeah, cos you’re not used to seeing it.

On the notion of the female in horror – it constantly surprised me the way that Mary was changing, from promising med student to potential stripper to underground doctor to victim to vengeful psychopath, to obsessed/obsessive body-mod artist. As a viewer I kept second-guessing myself as the film constantly confounded expectations.

JS: We don’t like predictable horror movies – we watch everything from mainstream to obscure to European, Asian like all around the world. We wanted to make a movie that you’re constantly guessing at, and what she does with Dr Grant (oops SPOILER ALERT) is how, say some women have a really sexy black dress, and whenever she’s feeling like she wants to feel better about herself she goes to her storage locker and sees her ‘sexy black dress’.

SS: Also, one of the inspirations for this film was American Psycho, and you have Patrick Bateman with his running monologue through the entire thing and I think men are a bit more forthcoming with how they’re feeling. They’re honest and if they have a problem with someone they might go and punch them in the face, but women, they keep a lot of stuff inside and there’s a point in the film where we take away so much of Mary’s external dialogue and you see it all in her eyes. That capacity of emotion Katie has with the most subtle of gestures is just phenomenal.

KI: I like how that comes back to me, being wonderful.

Well, you are American Mary, after all.

SS: Well Ginger (of Ginger Snaps) had a big effect on Jen and me. She was a character that didn’t exist in horror for a while, and Katie became my favourite actress and as a selfish fangirl I wanted to write for, and though it seems cruel to say this, this was all the things I wanted to see Katharine do.

That’s beautiful. Katie, how did you find it, taking direction from a pair of twins?

KI: It’s one of the best experiences of my career. Not only was the character and the script something that I loved so much and that was incredibly important to me personally, but they are so encouraging and supportive. When you go and do a low-budget independent film where the director’s written it, it’s always scary because they’re too close to the character and you’re always fucking it up and doing something wrong in their opinion. These guys were so generous with the character of Mary – who’s basically Sylv – and were just being supportive, encouraging and giving me all the confidence I needed to grow more confident as we went along, to do what I needed to do. The worst thing, especially actors, we’re all fucking insecure douchebags, right? We need constant petting and to hear things like “you’re great, you’re wonderful, yeah, you’re pretty” otherwise you start to second-guess everything. And especially if the director’s written it, you feel like you’re killing parts of their soul if they’re not super-enthusiastic about what you’re doing, and these guys were, whether or not they actually felt that, they faked it well enough that I was like “Oh, this is great, they really like me, I’m not fucking it up” – and they still seem to be toeing that line, so…

JS: And everything else we just cut around!

KI: Yeah, and the atmosphere on set was just electric. Like everybody, the whole crew, most of them were working for barely anything, or volunteering, everyone that comes across these girls loves them so much that they just try so hard to do anything they can for them. So the whole energy on set was fun, if you can believe it or not, regardless of the subject matter of the scene of the day.

And with that, we ran out of time. Do yourself a favour and watch this. You’ll thank us. 

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).

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