EMILY PERKINS: Part 3 of 5
Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
June 29, 2004
In 2000's critically acclaimed cult hit Ginger Snaps, Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle play the Fitzgerald sisters, Brigitte and Ginger, who find themselves dealing with a physical and metaphorical transformation after Ginger is bitten by a werewolf. In the 2004 follow-up Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, Emily reprises her role as the stalwart Brigitte alongside actress Tatiana Maslany, who plays a curious, enigmatic girl simply called Ghost.
In part three of our exclusive five-part interview with Emily Perkins, Emily takes us behind the scenes and offers her thoughts on these two films.
RadioFree.com: Your character in 1990's It was about 12 years old, and your character in 2000's Ginger Snaps was about 15 years old. Is it nice being able to play only 3 years older a decade later?
Emily: [laughs] Uh, yeah? It was really nice. Obviously, if I didn't look younger than I am, I wouldn't have that opportunity. But it was really nice because I had had some distance between me and adolescence at that point, so I think that allowed me to add a layer to the performance.
You mentioned elsewhere that you don't particularly enjoy hearing your voice or seeing yourself on camera. In a behind the scenes clip for Ginger Snaps, director John Fawcett is filming you and co-star Katharine Isabelle sitting around the set, and you seem humorously averse to being filmed. Did you know ahead of time that that segment was being recorded for the DVD extras?
I don't know, I think we were just fooling around. I'm a lot more comfortable in front of the camera when I have a character to hide behind. But when it's actually just me hanging out--God, it's embarrassing! [laughs]
[smiles] Well, it wasn't that embarrassing...
Also in the behind the scenes, your hair is very short. Why did you cut it before Ginger Snaps? Was it for another role?
No, it wasn't. Actually, I had already been to the first audition for Ginger Snaps, but I hadn't heard anything and it had been like a month, and I had always kind of wanted to shave my head. I guess it was a starting over point. And I had nothing on the horizon except university, so I just thought, "Well, now's the perfect time to do it." So I shaved my head, and then a couple weeks later they called and said, "Yeah, you're shortlisted for Ginger Snaps and the director's in town, he wants to see you." And I was like, "Oh, I have to tell you something, I shaved my head." And my agent was like, "Oh, no!" [laughs]
But obviously they were able to look past that, and you ended up getting the part.
They used the wig, yeah. But I think it caused a little bit of a delay in me being cast because they weren't too sure.
Would you not have had the wig if...
If I had kept my hair long, I wouldn't have had the wig.
But the wig actually works for that role, don't you think?
Yeah, it adds to the character, for sure.
You have mentioned that your first impression of Ginger Snaps was that it seemed like a porno movie for adolescent boys. What scenes in the audition process made you think that?
One of the scenes was the scene where Brigitte was straddling Ginger and she's piercing her belly button, and just sort of the way it was written, to me, taken out of context, was very sexual. And there definitely is that subtext to it, but out of context it doesn't make a lot of sense for a feminist kind of sensibility. And the other one was the scene where Brigitte actually gets all dolled up with Ginger. In the original script, Brigitte sort of goes along with the transformation of Ginger instead of fighting it the way she does, and they walk into the high school, and they're wearing skimpy outfits, and all the boys are whistling at the both of them. So those two together just seemed kind of, "Hmmm..."
If you had discovered that your first impression was correct and Ginger Snaps turned out to be a totally exploitative teen hormone flick, would you have turned it down?
Yeah, I would have.
Have you turned down roles elsewhere for similar reasons?
I don't tend to have the opportunity to be part of stuff like that. They tend to look for the typical babe, and I don't really fit that role, so I don't get that.
You've made that comment in past interviews. Don't you think you're being a little down on yourself?
Uh, no. [laughs] I don't think so.
[surprised] You don't think so?
Well, I've read a lot of comments about how ugly I am, and stuff, and I shouldn't be allowed to be on screen.
[falters; left cerebral hemisphere apparently chokes] Well...Who? Wha--like critics?
There have been film critics that have hinted at that, but they're not, obviously, so blatant, because I guess they don't want people to think they're that mean.
But good things are said about the movie for the most part--the negative attacks must just be nonsense from idiots.
Definitely most things have been very positive about the movie. But usually when I go for auditions, it'll say, "not necessarily attractive" or "does not have to be attractive" or stuff like that, you know what I mean? It's not that I think I'm ugly, it's just that actors and actresses tend to have a certain standard for the way they look. And it doesn't appeal to everybody--some people say they all look the same, and they kind of do. But it's a very narrow view of what is attractive.
[recomposed] Several filmed scenes were cut from Ginger Snaps, including one in which Brigitte directly threatens the school principal. That scene seemed to unnecessarily hammer away the message that she was coming out of Ginger's shadow, something that is already told by the rest of the story in a more subtle way. While filming that scene, did you think it didn't fit Brigitte?
I thought that scene did fit the character, but I know what you mean. Because you do see that transformation in Brigitte's character just by focusing on the relationship between Brigitte and Ginger. Like Brigitte's starting to just tell off Ginger at that point anyway, so you don't really need to see her doing it in a public kind of way with the principal.
Were there always plans to make a sequel to Ginger Snaps, or was that something that came up later?
Well, I remember an idea just being tossed around when we did the original that the people hoped it would do well, and they had hoped there might be a sequel at some point.
Did they always envision bringing back Brigitte and Ginger, or were they thinking of doing a similar story with different characters?
I think that they wanted to use the same actors all along. But the writers did change, so I guess any ideas that the original writer might have had for a sequel were not used.
In Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, you do a great job of portraying the same character, but in a different light.
We recognize the character of Brigitte, and yet at the same time, it's obvious she has grown--she is stronger, more independent, and more self-reliant. Although it's never mentioned, how old would you say Brigitte is in the sequel?
I think it's a couple of years later. I think she's maybe 17 or something like that.
Audiences also hear no mention of her parents from the original, and her last name is similarly omitted. Was this all part of conscious effort to strip her of identity?
Yeah, I think they were just trying to make this character as lonely as possible in every way. She's really becoming the outsider in the most complete way possible. She's totally marginalized and cut off from her identity, and I think that sort of prepares her for going through this--the ultimate identity transformation, just being removed from society and removed from socially prescribed notions of identity, like having your last name even! [laughs]
One thing that is carried over from the first film to the second is a family picture of Brigitte and Ginger. Was that an artist's rendition, or was it a merging of two photos of you and Katharine Isabelle when you were younger?
Yeah, they merged two photos.
You're the returning star in the Ginger Snaps 2 sequel and the Ginger Snaps 3 prequel, and you obviously have a creative streak of your own. Did you get creative input into the story of these films?
On the sequel, a little bit, but on the prequel, no, not really.
So what kind of behind-the-camera influence did you have on Unleashed?
Well, I was always kind of opposed to a big sex scene that was cut out of the sequel. [laughs] So I made that pretty clear. It was shot in Edmonton, and when I first went there a few weeks before, the script was in a fairly early stage. A lot of it was written in the last two weeks before production, which was kind of scary, but it was good for me because I was there and I got to have some say--just a lot of little things with the plot. I went through the script with the director and the producers and the writer, and I was like, "Well, I don't understand, this doesn't make sense for Brigitte to be going here at this point, or to be trusting Ghost with that at that point. Why is she? Ghost has to say something here. Why doesn't Brigitte try and get Ghost to leave at this point? I don't think she'd want to have Ghost around because..." and they said, "Okay, we better make her say that." [laughs]
That's very cool that they let you have input like that.
Yeah, it was. It was really neat for me.
And it's even cooler that they listened to you...
The Ginger Snaps films have some very atmospheric music at times. What are your own tastes in music?
Uh, hmmm...I like world music. And, ummm...I like pretty much everything. I guess everybody says that. [laughs] I really like Cat Power--this woman named Chan Marshall. On her last album, she just happened to have this song called "Werewolf." They tried to get it for the soundtrack of Unleashed, but it was too expensive. [laughs] But this was just a coincidence that they heard this song, because I was playing it in my trailer because I've liked Cat Power for a long time.
In the behind the scenes footage for Ginger Snaps 2, you talk about suffering for your art...
[laughs] Oh, yeah.
Then you show some bruises on your legs. You can't leave us hanging, what was the story behind that?
Were you falling down a lot?
It was because right before that, we had been filming the part where I was crawling through the tunnel. And also, there might have been a bit where we're in the crematorium. But, anyway, those pants had these buttons on them--those brown pants had these big snap things. And so when I was crawling through there, they were like gouging into me! [laughs] I don't know, it's just when you're filming actiony stuff and you're like running around, or whenever you have to kneel down and stuff like that, it just happens. Pretty much everything I've ever done that had any action element, my legs were just covered in bruises, I don't know why. [laughs] It just happens.
[laughing] I just wanted to make sure they weren't beating up on you to keep Brigitte anti-social--like director William Friedkin slapping around actors and priests on the set of The Exorcist to get the right emotion out of them.
[laughs] Nope, I'd never put up with that.
Just slap 'em back!
Yeah, that's what I'd do, for sure. [laughs]
A fair number of fans have expressed unhappiness with the ending of Ginger Snaps 2. What are your thoughts on the way the story wrapped up?
It went through some mutations at the end. That was re-written quite a few times. But I liked the twist with Ghost--I really like that character. So I sort of liked that, but it is pretty depressing. [laughs] I guess that's probably why some fans don't like it. Metaphorically, it made sense to me, and that's sort of how I had reconciled it in my own head. That really is the sort of fate of women when we have to adopt the sexual feminine persona that society tells you you have to.
Do you think it was an appropriate fate for Brigitte?
You mean like morally, like some sort of judgement? No. I think ideally, Brigitte would find some sort of communal way of living with other werewolves. Like she would go find this community of werewolves to live in and they would function in some kind of heroic capacity. Like they would use their superhuman strength to like [laughing] enact feminist revenge on rapists or something...I don't know! She would do something really cool like that.
[laughs] Law enforcing werewolves? That's not one you see very often...
Yeah, I don't know, I'm just like guessing. But I think that if you're asking what Brigitte deserves, she would deserve something better. I see her as very heroic. She battled the werewolf virus till the end, and she never let it control her.
What other actions do you think demonstrate Brigitte's emergence as the hero?
She doesn't want other people to die. I think she makes that pretty clear. She wants to protect Ghost, and even when Alice comes in at the end, she wants Alice to get out of there so that nobody else gets hurt. And I think that's the reason why she doesn't just kill herself, and she actually decides to fight the werewolf, because she wants to protect people the best she can. She'd like to kill the wolf so it doesn't kill anyone else.
The story already has plenty of conflict with Brigitte battling her own infection of the werewolf virus. Why add an external conflict of another werewolf stalking her?
I think it's just because these are monster movies, and it's just for better horror, I guess. And metaphorically, it makes sense, too. If you think of the werewolf as being a metaphor for a social construction of female sexuality, then that is something that's imposed externally, but also something that comes from the inside--it's a biological development. It's where those two things meet on the surface that the dynamic, interesting part happens. It's this sexual tension between the two, the outside and the inside. I think it's more interesting that way.
One of the most poignant moments is between Brigitte and Ghost, when Brigitte expresses that what she really wants is "more time." Was that scene shot several times, or did you nail it perfectly on the first take?
As I recall, we were in a bit of a rush that day. [laughing] But there was time pressure, man! We were like, "Let's get this done! Let's go!" We were even considering block shooting a lot of those sad scenes, which I'm really glad we didn't. If you're block shooting, that would mean we would shoot my angle of a bunch of different scenes, and then we'd shoot Ghost's angle of a bunch of different scenes, which just makes it hard for the actors because then you're not just focused on one moment in the plot, you're focusing on three different moments in the plot, which sort of splits your energy. [laughs] So we didn't have to do it too many times. I think I probably did it twice.
There's a real sadness conveyed as Brigitte comes to a sort of realization that it's over.
Poor Brigitte! [laughs]
Visually, one of the more striking scenes has you wolfing out on a bed as Katharine Isabelle slowly emerges out of a darkened corner of the room. Any thoughts on that shot?
I don't know, because I haven't actually seen the movie.
[surprised] You've never seen the entire, finished movie?
Nope. And I never saw that shot on the monitor. Not that you can tell on the monitor anyway. So I don't know.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot for you?
It was the shot right after the beginning when Jeremy gets attacked by the werewolf and I sort of stagger out. And I'm staggering along and I fall in the snow. It was minus 40, plus they had a wind machine, and it was really cold. [laughs] It was like so cold!
More suffering for your art?
[laughs] I hate to complain, but that was probably the hardest thing, physically.
Was there something that you had always wanted to do as an actress that you got to do in this movie?
Yeah, wearing the makeup. I loved that. A lot of actors hate it, but I totally, completely enjoyed that. I loved going in the makeup chair in the morning. The guys who did the prosthetics were just awesome. They were like this comedy duo. So I enjoyed that, but just also looking at myself in the mirror and feeling this aspect of me that was inside was actually being exposed to the world. That's a really neat feeling, because you always sort of harbor these suspicions that maybe you're a monster inside--that you're alien, you know? Everyone has that part of them, I guess, and to have that and to go through this total transformation is just sort of the ultimate experience as an actress for me.
Any problems with all the prosthetics?
Well, it's definitely debilitating. [laughs] Like you have to have someone help you eat. And when I had the yellow eyes, it was two layers of contact lenses, so your vision's very limited. And as an actor, you already feel very infantilized, so it just increased that feeling.
Do you ever do any DVD audio commentary for your films?
No. I totally wanted to do one for Unleashed, but no, they didn't ask. [laughs] They were considering it, but I guess in the end they decided it would be the distributors that would make that decision.
The Canadian version of the first Ginger Snaps has commentary from director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton, but nothing from the cast. Would you have wanted to do a commentary track for that film as well?
Yeah, it would have been fun.
Do you think you would have been able to offer a lot of insight?
Well, I would have been able to say things probably in a little bit different way just because I have a different educational background, and just because it is different when you're performing a character as opposed to writing it. Being in front of the camera as opposed to being behind it, you have a little bit different perspective on the production.
This concludes part three of our interview with Emily Perkins. In part four, Emily gives us a glimpse of the upcoming Ginger Snaps 3 prequel, and discusses her relationship with her character Brigitte.