The art of the onscreen murder was never staged with such graphic gusto as when Mary Harron filmed Christian Bale slicing and dicing his way through the excess of 80s Wall Street in American Psycho. Since then, the Canadian-born director has dabbled in television, filming episodes of Big Love and Six Feet Under, as well as feature The Notorious Bettie Page. Harron’s latest project is an entry in the Fear Itself anthology (currently available on DVD), a television series broken down into 13 different episodes and featuring some of the biggest names working in horror today. Harron’s Community follows a young married couple who move into a seemingly perfect neighborhood, and of course, the key word there is seemingly. We spoke to the director about the horror genre, Roman Polanski, and Tom Cruise’s lifeless eyes.
Are you going to be horror director from now on? Well, my next film is a horror movie, called The Moth Diaries. And that is more clearly in the horror genre than anything I have done before. Because American Psycho is part black comedy, part horror, but this is very much in the tradition, more classic, more gothic.
What can you tell me about that movie? It’s about a 16-year-old girl whose father committed suicide, and she goes to boarding school and starts a very tense friendship with a girl name Lucy. Then a stranger comes to the boarding school and causes trouble, this mysterious new girl. But I think all my films have had a central character who you can’t trust, who is isolated from the world around them. We are hoping to start shooting in the New Year, in the spring.
What is your biggest fear? I have a fear of everything going wrong. I like when everything is going right and looks nice … I never want anything to go wrong.
You grew up in world of theater and film. What made you chose directing instead of acting or something else? I did some acting in college, and loved it. I think I kind of discouraged myself when I started writing, but I was very interested in journalism, so I left college planning to be a writer. I really wanted to get into film, and at the same time I was getting more into some movies, and I started writing scripts. Then finally I got a job in television and in documentaries, and eventually I started to direct. So I came up first as a journalist then into television, but in England it’s not that hard for journalists to go into TV.
Was there a particular director that influenced growing up? Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch have. I don’t make films like them, but I admire them very much, and I admire their careers very much, and the way they deal with their nightmares as well. I have been thinking about Polanski a lot because I’m doing The Moth Diaries and watching Rosemary’s Baby, and I am very interested in the way he did the horror of atmosphere — psychological horror. It’s not so much what you see but what you don’t see.
How did you and Christian Bale develop his character in American Psycho? It was definitely a process. We talked a lot, but he was in L.A. and I was in New York. We didn’t actually meet in person a lot, just talked on the phone. We talked about how Martian-like Patrick Bateman was, how he was looking at the world like somebody from another planet, watching what people did and trying to work out the right way to behave. And then one day he called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.