'American Psycho' director Mary Harron talks 'Anna Nicole'
One of my favorite films is "American Psycho". How do you feel like you’ve grown or changed as a filmmaker between then and now?
Well, it’s hard to say. Really, it’s just whatever story you’re telling pulls you forward. I’m sure I’ve learned things technically, and I was working more blind then, but I had a good group of collaborators. But what was funny about American Psycho is that it wasn’t that successful at the time. It’s only in the last five years that it’s become this big cult thing, because there’s so many Internet parodies, and Kanye West has done like two videos based on it, and there’s a musical in London based on it. It’s a crazy thing that, for some reason, its success was delayed.
Do you feel a sense of validation that culture has sort of come around to appreciate it?
Oh, I feel it’s a validation. But I think it’s unusual to combine elements of horror and violence with black comedy and with this social satire – that was a kind of odd combination for people. They weren’t necessarily used to watching a movie with that kind of tone. I always laugh about the first premiere at Sundance, when people didn’t know what to think – they didn’t know if they were supposed to laugh. And, you know, me and my husband were laughing away at our favorite scenes, and people just didn’t know what to think. And now people know how to take it. And I mean, I would love to do another black comedy, but a good social satire like that doesn’t come along every day.
Now that you’re discussing it, it seems like this film and "American Psycho" share in common protagonists who don’t sort of understand how to deal with their own success. Do you think about, or even see in retrospect recurrent themes in your films that are important to you?
Yes. I think I’m always interested in the temptations and perils of success or fame or money. That’s always interesting to me. And then I think everybody in these films are kind of traumatized in one way or another (laughs), but in very different ways. I mean, Anna is kind of a lovable person even when she is being a bad mom – that was kind of different. And that was true with Bettie Page as well – there was kind of a sweet quality to them as well, a kind of innocent quality, even though they were involved in the sex industry. And I think Patrick Bateman is kind of overwhelmed because he’s very paranoid and kind of status-conscious and everything. So I think what I like is characters who are complicated.
After making a movie for television like "Anna Nicole", what opportunities does it present you, and what challenges do you face in trying maybe to go back to film?
There is much more [back and forth], and I think it’s interesting with Lifetime because they’re getting film directors in there. Allison Anders did June Carter, and we talked for this. Because it’s never easy to get an independent film made, and I think Allison and I both had the same feeling of like, this is great – this is giving us a chance to make this film, about a woman we’re interested in. And so I think you always have to take opportunities where they’re offered, when you get a chance to make a movie. I mean, who would have thought that Netflix was going to be doing TV series? So I think you sort of grab what you can. I mean, I do have a film project that I’m working on, and I’m not abandoning it, but I think I have had a lot of trouble and delay in getting films made that had a woman as a central character – it always is difficult. So when this one came along, I was like, I don’t even have to go out and try to get shit, get financing – here it is! And after I read the script and the more I looked into Anna’s life, it was like, oh, my God, this is such a great American story, a great end-of-the-century, crazy story about celebrity in the age of reality TV and what that is. It was interesting to get to make a film about that.
You mention Allison Anders. Lexi Alexander wrote a blog post a few months ago about her frustration with finding work. Is there a sense of solidarity among female filmmakers? And do you feel like you have trouble finding opportunities because of the focus of your stories, or because you’re a female filmmaker trying to tell them?
Yes, obviously "American Psycho" had a male protagonist and the project I’m developing now has a male protagonist, and I don’t want to be restricted to that either. And also I want to say I can do action as well; I don’t want to say, no, I just do emotional stuff. But there is a lot of solidarity, actually. I’m part of a female film group, a group of female directors in New York who meet every month, called Film Fatales. So yes, I think there’s a lot – and we need the solidarity, really.
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