INTERVIEW: Katharine Isabelle, Low Budget Muse

A favourite of edgier independent Canadian cinema, Katharine Isabelle gets a major workout in 88, a thriller that hinges on her ability to portrait mental breakdown.

Katharine Isabelle in a scene of  88 .

Katharine Isabelle in a scene of 88.

By Jorge Ignacio Castillo

If there is someone who fits the profile of Canadian scream queen, it has to be Katharine Isabelle. While Katharine started working when she was eight, she first left a mark as the title character in the Ginger Snaps trilogy. Her association with the Soska Sisters led to the darkly hilarious American Mary and See No Evil 2. Isabelle also moonlights as Margot, the sister of the dastardly Mason Verger in the cult TV drama Hannibal.

Katharine returns to the multiplex as the lead in 88, a heady thriller that unfolds in two timelines: In one, Isabelle is Gwen, an amnesic woman trying to put together the pieces of her life while trying to avoid a violent gang nipping at her heels. In the other one, Katharine is Flamingo, a career criminal whose only soft spot is for her boyfriend. The kick is that Gwen and Flamingo are the same person, and her psyche has been shattered by a traumatic event the audience is only partially privy of.

88 is the latest collaboration of April Mullen (director) and Tim Dorion (scriptwriter). The duo, also responsible for GravyTrain and Dead Before Dawn, booked two veteran thesps to accompany Katharine in her ourney: Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd and perennial tough guy Michael Ironside.

Isabelle came on board 88 very late. In fact, the day before production started, she was still on the set of See No Evil 2: “I shot all night, took a red-eye, arrived to Toronto Pearson, drove to Niagara Falls and went straight to hair and make-up. It’s the way it goes.”

Katharine phones from Victoria. No matter where her job takes her, she always returns to her native British Columbia.

-       Did you approach your part in 88 as two different characters?

-       I had to, to keep them straight. I got the script a day and a half before we started shooting. April was great at keeping me on track with who was I, where were we, what just happened, and what was about to happen.

-       I imagine you had a lot of questions for the writer-director team.

-       I did, but there is not a lot of time when you’re shooting a low-budget independent Canadian feature. It was mostly last-minute panic questions.

-       How gruelling was the shooting, given that the entire movie hinges on you?

-       It was gruelling. I’m in every scene except one. It was long hours. But when you have a great crew and a great script, it’s not painful. Also, we didn’t do many takes and the pace we shot at worked in my favour. If you do the same scene again and again, it can get stale.

-       You seem to eat a lot of food in 88.

-       I did. There was a scene in particular in which I’m swallowing pancakes, milk and smoking a cigarette. I had a barf bucket next to me just in case. I’m not fond of pancakes and, if I was ever in Fear Factor and they give me a glass of cold milk, I would be out right away.



Katharine has succeeded developing a career within the Canadian film and television industry (not a small feat). While occasionally she gets parts offered directly to her, Isabelle owns up to be a working actor: “It’s still a grind. I have to bust my butt, audition and go after stuff.”

-       To what degree you plan your career?

-       Two days is the furthest I plan ahead. It’s a very carny lifestyle. I can’t plan vacations, trips, or even doctor’s appointments more than a week in advance.

-       Because of your career choices, I imagine you often have more experience than the people directing you. How do you deal with newcomers?

-       Thankfully, I’m no diva by any stretch of the imagination. I just yell at them and tell them where to put the camera and the lights. “We want to eat, don’t we? We want to go home, don’t we? Let’s get this shit done.” It’s definitely helpful to have the experience. Whether they want to listen to me is another story.

-       How do you like to be directed?

-       Pretty matter of factly: “What do you need? More happy or more sad?” I’m very technical and I like efficient, fast and pleasant directing.

-       Do you remember a particularly bad adjustment?

-       I have run across directors who say “what you just did, don’t do that.” That’s not really helpful in any kind of way.

-       I was surprised you got killed in See No Evil 2 given that the Soska sisters directed it.

-       They don’t hold back, they are thrilled to kill me any time they can.

-       Are you in this season of Hannibal?

-       I’m allowed to say that I am. I’m not allowed to say more or something Hannibal-ish will happen to me.

-       The show has a very vocal fan community.

-       The fannibals are fantastic and I love them. This last year I went to a few conventions, and run into fans dressed as Margot Verger. It’s incredibly flattering. Hannibal is such an amazing and fucked up show.

-       What is the biggest misconception about you?

-       I don’t know… I believe people think I’m cooler than I am. (Asks her brother) Oh, a lot of people think I’m distant or standoffish and I end up hugging them and inviting them for drinks.

Katharine is currently working in the Wes Craven-produced feature The Girl in the Photographs and will return to Canadian screens later this year in How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town.

88 is playing May 8th - 15th in Toronto, Vancouver, St. Catharine and Kanata.