Emily Perkins’ Snaps Appeal
It has become a cliché that the people who work behind the scenes on horror films never look as “scary” as you’d imagine when you encounter them in person. But it’s rare when an actress who has become a familiar face in a genre-film franchise proves unrecognizable upon first meeting. Such is the case with Emily Perkins, who has won legions of fans for her portrayal of Brigitte Fitzgerald, the morose and sullen young woman who dealt with the lycanthropic transformation of her sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) in 2000’s GINGER SNAPS and her own affliction in GINGER SNAPS 2: UNLEASHED earlier this year. The Fitzgerald sisters are recast as 19th-century orphans in the latest entry, GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING, and while accompanying the movie’s big-screen premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia film festival, Perkins couldn’t appear less like her onscreen alter ego. She’s charming and lovely, with an easy laugh and an infectious enthusiasm for the franchise that has made her a cult item.
GINGER SNAPS BACK (out this week on video from Lions Gate) is set at a remote Northern trading post in the early 1800s, where Ginger and Brigitte are taken in. The all-male workers largely regard them with scorn, suspicion or lust, even as they also have to deal with werewolves stalking the surrounding woods. The prequel-of-sorts was lensed back to back with UNLEASHED, with principal photography beginning only two weeks after the first sequel wrapped. Yet Perkins says that taking Brigitte to a very different place so quickly didn’t pose many problems.
“I had already been thinking about it while I was shooting UNLEASHED,” she says. “I knew it was going to be a period piece, and I was thinking about the wardrobe, whether we should have accents, the dialogue and that sort of thing. It had been on my mind for a while, so that made the transition easier. And then getting into the costumes, and being on the location [a trading-post replica in the wilds of Edmonton, Canada], really helped me get into character. It was pretty much all there, and I just had to be open to letting it come through.”
One article of period clothing posed certain problems, however. “Yeah, the corset,” she laughs. “Oh my God! Normally, I like to think I’m a really cooperative person, but it was like, ‘Oh man, the corset’s killing me, do I have to wear it today?’ I was complaining, because when you’re doing action stuff, and you’re running around in that, it’s just hard to breathe. But the wardrobe people did a really great job and were always saying, ‘OK, Emily, we can loosen it, no problem,’ and making me comfortable. I was just being kind of a brat,” she laughs again.
Nonetheless, Perkins reports that it wasn’t as hard as it could have been keeping up her stamina throughout the dual shoot. “It would have been really difficult if I didn’t love the character so much, if I didn’t really have a lot of passion for the films,” she says. “My heart is really in these movies, and I love them. I enjoy the stories, because I’m a feminist and I love that angle that the movies contain. That’s what I used to keep my energy up, and also, the directors were really great. Just like John Fawcett was on the first film, [BACK’s] Grant Harvey and [UNLEASHED’s] Brett Sullivan were really enthusiastic about the movies, so I could feed off their energy.”
Another advantage was the fact that both Harvey and Sullivan had worked on the first GINGER SNAPS—the former as 2nd-unit director and the latter as editor. “I would have been very skeptical and hesitant about the sequels if the directors hadn’t been involved [with the franchise] from the beginning,” Perkins says. “GINGER SNAPS has such a distinct tone, and it would be difficult to capture for somebody who wasn’t involved with the first one. It’s pretty unique for this kind of movie.”
The previous two entries in this series were as up-to-the-minute as horror films get, in both their thematic concerns and their depictions of modern young people and the problems they face. GINGER SNAPS BACK takes its young leads back to an entirely different era, requiring a balance between staying true to the setting and keeping the Fitzgerald sisters the same characters that fans had come to love.
“It was interesting,” Perkins recalls, “because I always tended to make the dialogue more articulated and old-fashioned, staying true to the period. And Katie tended to make hers a little more on the modern side, and wanting to put in ‘like’ and ‘sucks’ and things that didn’t necessarily fit. We had to find a sort of happy medium between them, to achieve a balance so we didn’t sound like we were from two different time periods. We kind of met at the center.”
With Isabelle appearing only sporadically in UNLEASHED as a revenant of the deceased Ginger, Perkins says “it was really nice to be back together again” throughout the new movie. Yet she also raves about Tatiana Maslany, her young co-star in the second film. “I hadn’t ever worked with her before, but as soon as I met her I thought she was fabulous,” Perkins recalls. “She’s a very sweet person and a great actress; that was a very tough character to handle, and she made the most of it. She pulled it off admirably. She was new to the whole horror thing, but she took it all in stride and got really into it, watching the special effects and makeup and everything.”
Maslany’s Ghost is a young girl whose own obsession with horror comics—and Brigitte’s burgeoning lycanthropy—leads to seriously disturbing developments in the last act of UNLEASHED, including a conclusion that’s as downbeat as any seen in recent genre fare. “The ending actually went through a few different mutations,” Perkins reveals, “and there was some concern about it maybe being too bleak. But really, what other resolution could we have had? It would be hard to think of another way that her situation could be resolved. It would have been a much weaker film if they hadn’t made that choice.”
As far as her own characterization in UNLEASHED was concerned, Perkins says that she made the focus of her performance “Brigitte’s independence, and the fact that she’s not in her sister’s shadow anymore. She’s a really lonely figure in UNLEASHED, and I wanted to make her a complex character. She’s a monster, and I wanted her to be sort of strong and cruel and cold, but to still have a vulnerable side, so that you’d be drawn in and forced to identify with the monster. That’s the best way to create good psychological horror.”
Even before the transformation truly takes hold, the Brigitte of UNLEASHED—and the original film, for that matter—is a disturbed young woman prone to suicidal thoughts. Yet as upbeat as she is in real life, Perkins says that wasn’t a difficult place to get to when the cameras were rolling. “I’ve definitely gone through times in my life where I’ve felt that way, as most people have,” she admits. “Especially in adolescence, which was a really difficult time for me. So it was a matter of remembering that, and it was actually kind of a good, cathartic thing, because if you revisit that, and have a chance to express it, you can put some distance between yourself and it, to get some perspective on it and manifest the ‘monster’ in an external way.”
The actress also dealt with youthful terrors come to life as part of the ensemble in IT, the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s best seller. Playing the young Beverly Marsh, Perkins says, “I remember being the only girl, and having all these gross boys around me making gross comments all the time.” One of them was Seth Green, who would later win his own genre following in projects like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and IDLE HANDS. “He was called ‘Seth Green the Entertainment Machine,’ because he was always ‘on,’ he was always making jokes. I had just turned 13 when Idid that, and even back then I loved all the blood and everything. Before that, I had done a film where [her character had been] shot, a TV movie called SMALL SACRIFICES. That was the first movie I did, and I had blood all over me and in my mouth. For some reason, that seemed to be the kind of role I was getting.”
That includes her current recurring character of Sue, a sex-trade worker and informant on DA VINCI’S INQUEST, a long-running Canadian TV series that’s a sort of precursor to the U.S. hit CSI. And while, like any actress, she welcomes variety in her work, Perkins has no aversions toward continuing to visit the dark side. “I definitely wouldn’t say no to doing more horror movies,” she says. “It’s so much fun, it’s fascinating, and to be able to make people scared…it’s such a cathartic experience for people. I don’t think it’s a low-grade form of film at all, and it has so much potential to be subversive.”
By Michael Gingold