Horror fans have been watching Katharine Isabelle on the big screen since her outstanding performance in Ginger Snaps in 2000. Since then she’s starred in a string of genre hits, including two sequels to Ginger Snaps, American Mary, See No Evil 2, and an ongoing role in the most disturbing show on network television, Hannibal. She’s certainly Canada’s scream queen, but Isabelle has been featured in a number of films and shows that are outside of the genre she may be most known for. Lawrence & Holloman showed she could pull off great comedy, something she’ll be proving once again as she stars in the upcoming How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, while non-stop action is what she delivers in her latest release, 88. I had a chance to speak with the always enthusiastic and hilarious actress about her string of never ending credits, the joy of gunfights in film, and how she has been blessed with so many strong female characters.
For an actress who has built a huge following playing characters with a bit of a nasty streak, Isabelle is immediately friendly and joking as she begins speaking. Even over the phone you can tell that Isabelle isn’t like the characters she portrays. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that she even has time to speak with me, as she is very rarely away from a film set. Some years, Isabelle stars in as many as 10 feature films, which is something that suits her perfectly. “I’m a working actress, so I always have to keep working. I just gotta work. I gotta eat, you know what I’m saying? It’s the life of a born and bred carny really,” Isabelle says with a laugh.
That non-stop work has allowed Isabelle to be featured in a variety of genres in the last few years, and her latest feature, 88, brings her into the world of action. While Isabelle was dishing out punishment with a scalpel in American Mary, 88 has her eliminating the bad guys in a hail of bullets. “Yeah, I don’t know why anyone would ever hand me a gun. I’m really too trigger happy. It’s awesome,” she offers jokingly, continuing, “There’s nothing like blasting a gun at like six in the morning to wake you up.” It may be fun, but there’s always a risk when working with firearms, something that Isabelle has become accustomed to over her years in the industry. “I’ve worked with the stunt coordinator and the gun guy before, so they knew me. I know the drill.”
I’m a working actress, so I always have to keep working. I just gotta work. I gotta eat, you know what I’m saying? It’s the life of a born and bred carny really.
The action is certainly fun to watch, but it’s the performances of Isabelle and Christopher Lloyd, who plays 88‘s villain Cyrus, that truly carry the film. Lloyd, who is always best remembered for his role in the Back to the Future franchise, is off in an entirely different direction here. Even Isabelle can’t help but praise Lloyd’s work. “Amazing. He shaves his head for the movie and he’s banging hookers and doing cocaine; that is not the Christopher Lloyd that I grew up with,” Isabelle laughs, “He’s so sweet, and he’s so good, and I love to see him as such a badass character. I thought that was really fun; such a difference.” The two characters also share a history that is horrible and a little bit touching at the same time. “It’s fucked up but it’s intriguing,” Isabelle explained. “I think that April [Mullen, director] and Tim [Doiron, writer] did an amazing job with building that relationship between the two characters, and to be able to work in real life with Mister Amazing Christopher Lloyd was definitely a highlight with me.”
Isabelle had plenty of praise not only for her co-star Christopher Lloyd, but also the work of director April Mullen (who also worked on the story) and writer Tim Doiron. “Thankfully with a script like that, the character is so well written – is so fleshed out – that I don’t have to be anxiety ridden over it. It’s the same with American Mary, having a character so well written makes my job super, super easy. I’m not going in there trying to figure out how to give this character life and depth and dimension. When you’re handed something like that, it’s an absolute gift. It’s really not difficult to jump in there.” This luck has extended to many of Isabelle’s roles which can be surprising when so many of her memorable roles are in the horror genre. “Yeah, it’s not the place you would think of looking for interesting, multi-dimensional, layered, fully fleshed out female characters but fortunately I’ve been totally blessed to have had a few of them given to me like Ginger [in Ginger Snaps], like Mary [in American Mary], like Gwen and Flamingo in 88 and I’m grateful.” explained Isabelle before she continued. “As a living, multi-dimensional, human female, it’s not all the time that I see someone like myself reflected back to me: someone who is multi-dimensional, who is strong, who is flawed, who may not have the most redeeming qualities. That’s hard to find and incredibly interesting to see. I love when I come across them.”
Having a character so well written makes my job super, super easy. I’m not going in there trying to figure out how to give this character life and depth and dimension. When you’re handed something like that, it’s an absolute gift.
Continuing with her string of strong female characters is Isabelle’s role in the television series Hannibal. “I was so completely blown away that I got anywhere near that set, that they let me anywhere around that whole thing is just completely insane to me,” Isabelle jokes. “The show is so smart, so dark, so interesting, it’s so fucked up, and again the character I play on that is a strong, flawed, amazing, interesting female character, Margot Verger, that I’ve been blessed to been given as well. She’s another notch on my favourite belt.” That role has come with some opposition from the internet, as fans have been vocally upset about the way the character has been handled in the show. The question of whether Isabelle has faced criticism like this before comes up, but she’s quick to point out that it’s a more unique experience here. “Probably not with as much fervor as Hannibal because people are so loyal to the characters and to the books. However, my loyalty lies in [creator] Bryan Fuller and his genius so, whatever he says, goes and I admire him to no end. I don’t read too much of internet upset-ness. I try to give Margot Verger as much life and respect as I can, if people love it or people hate it or people get upset, it’s not my business.”
Isabelle’s attitude and work ethic is something that guarantees we’ll continue to see her in amazing films and television series, many of them Canadian made. For now, fans can head to the theatre to watch the fantastic indie film 88 (which opens Friday, May 8, 2015 at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas), which will be more than enough to hold everybody over until Isabelle returns to small screens as Margot Verger in Hannibal.