Katharine Isabelle on Torment, the Soskas and Hannibal

We talk to Torment star Katharine Isabelle about being a horror icon and loving Ginger Snaps

Katharine Isabelle in Torment
Katharine Isabelle in Torment

As the star of Ginger Snaps, American Mary, and Hannibal, it’s fair to say that Katharine Isabelle is something of a cult icon. With Torment, she’s breaking type to play a the step-mother who’s struggling to build a relationship with her husband’s son. Things get a lot more difficult when their house in the woods comes under attack from masked home invaders…

We spoke to Isabelle about playing different characters, how she feels about the “Scream Queen” label, staring at Mads Mikkelsen, working with the Soska Sisters on American Mary and See No Evil 2, and why she’s not sick of being asked about Ginger Snaps.

Torment feels like a different kind of role for you. How did it come about?

Yeah, I mean it’s like anything else. I’m a working actor and stuff comes up and I talked to the director, Jordan, and I really liked him, and I thought it would be fun. She’s a mom and she’s put in a situation that’s beyond what any of us would like to be put in and does her best to maintain her family! [laughs] And life! Peter [DaCunha] who plays the kid, he’s so great, we had a lot of fun together. It was definitely different but it wasn’t anything you have to, like, prepare for.

Did you have some time to rehearse as a family unit?

It’s not like we had a lot of time, it’s not like we were afforded the luxury of doing that, all three of us were pretty cool and we bonded in a great way. We’re also out in Cameronton, Ontario in a creepy old house so we’re all kind of wanting to stick together anyway! When you’re shooting in a creepy house, you’re doing these long creepy dolly shots and the whole thing led to an atmosphere of tension. Yeah, but we didn’t have time beforehand to go through anything.

Is it tough to play a character who’s pretty much in peril for the whole film?

It can be exhausting, just the level of energy, but we didn’t have a lot of time or money so you’re kind of moving at a pace. I definitely drank a lot of Coca-Cola. I definitely get jacked up on sugar when I have to be at that constant energy level.

One of the masked home invaders in Torment
One of the masked home invaders in Torment

So with limited time and money, how was director Jordan Barker on set? 

He’s great; he’s a good friend of mine. He maintains his cool and it’s hard to do when you’re out in swamps and we’re running out of night-time and the daylight is literally coming up and you’d do anything to get half an hour more of night. He’s great, he definitely inspires a feeling of camaraderie with the crew and everyone kind of pulls together and gets shit done.

You’ve got a pretty good standing in the horror genre at the moment, is that a label you’re happy with?

It’s great, I mean any title anyone has as far as “you’re great in horror” that’s always very welcome. I’m glad as a working actor who just wants to work, I’m glad to be in any standing with anybody. You know what I mean? I’m just happy to here doing what I’m doing, and I’m happy that people still want to watch it.

Are you a horror fan outside of work?

No, I’m not. I don’t watch horror movies, they scare me. People are always terribly disappointed when I say that but I like shooting them. They’re really fun. If it’s a movie that I haven’t been involved with, I will get scared watching it, it will affect me! [laughs] I can’t say that I watch too many of them, but shooting them is a blast.

Katharine Isabelle Hannibal
Katharine Isabelle as the tormented Margot Verger in Hannibal

You’re also in Hannibal, which has a pretty passionate fan community!

Yeah, Hannibal’s amazing. The whole show is, it’s one of the best shows on television. It’s probably fairly underrated, especially in North America, but all the actors in it are so great. Like Mads Mikkelsen, I basically just follow him around and stare at the back of his head all day! [laughs] And I was incredibly blessed, I was so excited to be part of that universe and Bryan Fuller is such a creative genius, and my character Margot is so interesting. She’s getting more interesting in season three as we go along here. And yeah, they have an amazing fan base, the Fannibals!

I think no matter what you do in life you want to feel like people care or you’re doing something that’s appreciated, you know? And I definitely appreciated Hannibal and other people do as well and being a part of that is just…fucking sweet.

Did you know the books or the characters before you got the part of Margot Verger?

When I got the job, they sort of gave me the book Hannibal and then they gave me the entire first season and then it was like two days before we started shooting. So it was like “Argh!” I kind of just binge-watched the first season and then I skimmed through the book. I actually called Sylvia Soska who is a big fan of the books and TV show and because I didn’t have time to read that much I got her to fill me in on Margot. As far as the way she is in the books and everything, she definitely informed my character that way.

Can you tell us anything about Season 3?

I can’t say anything! I also don’t know much; I only got the episodes that I’m in. So like I don’t know how it starts off after what happened in the second season, I’m pretty in the dark. I like it that way because I watch it.

Katharine Isabelle making some modifications in American Mary
Katharine Isabelle making some modifications in American Mary

We talked to the Soskas recently and they mentioned that after Ginger Snaps, it seemed like a lot of people wanted you to keep playing Ginger. Do you have to fight typecasting?

Yeah, I mean that’s always a danger when you do a role that’s quite loved like Ginger people just wanted me to do that again and again. It’s fine, Ginger’s an awesome character! But no, I think I have been lucky enough to get cool different and interesting characters and you know, I can make something different of, what it is on the page and what it ends up being on the day are usually fairly different. I mean, I hope that people think I have a bigger range than just one character and that’s what’s fun about what we do, what I do is I get to be different people all the time, and I will always love Ginger and so many people will, and the same with Mary. I just like to add other equally as loved, interesting characters to my list of personality disorders!

It was great to see you playing a comedic character in See No Evil 2.

Yeah, it was really fun. On paper Tamara wasn’t as silly or as funny, she was kind of more sexy and that sort of thing. And I thought the way to do this is it’s going to have to be hilarious, she’s going to have to be the over the top drunk silly, because how else do you dry hump the body of WWE wrestler Kane in a morgue? It has to be completely over the top and hilarious. So I’m glad that people saw it was as funny as we did when we were shooting it! [laughs] Because that’s always the danger, you’re like “We’re hilarious!” and then someone watches it and is like “You’re fucking stupid.” It definitely can wear on you just being terrified and screaming all the time  [laughs] and I want to be well rounded. I love comedy and when you go from a silly sex comedy to Hannibal the next day, it definitely makes for an interesting life.

That was your second film with the Soska sisters; are you keen to keep working with them?

Oh yeah, for sure, they’re best friends of mine, I’ll do whatever, basically, they’ll tell me to do. They’ve done so well building up their career and yeah, any time they call me I’ll be there.

They’ve got Painkiller Jane coming up, would you be up for that?

I would do anything they said. They’re early in production now and there’s a lot of other money behind them so whether the money people are going to want old Canadian me at the end of the day [laughs] I have no idea.

Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle making a pact in Ginger Snaps
Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle making a pact in Ginger Snaps

Finally, we’re huge fans of Ginger Snaps. Are you surprised at how well it’s held up and how it’s still so important to a lot of people?

I can’t say I’m surprised because I had the same reaction when I read it, I was like “Holy fuck, this is super cool, this character is amazing, this is an amazing story.” Fortunately after everything is said and done and it’s all shot and it’s in the can, it’s still amazing. It came out and it wasn’t until two years later that people had even seen it or cared.

I think it’s a testament to the movie, how well written the characters were. There’s 14 year old kids who weren’t even alive when we shot that movie that love it. Because it’s all practical effects, it doesn’t age horribly, it still looks good, it’s still smart, it’s still funny, it’s still totally an accurate commentary on growing up. I think people will watch that and resonate with that for many years to come still.  I’m very proud of that.

Torment is available on DVD from 26 January. You can pre-order it for £11 at Amazon.co.uk. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.