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Mary Harron’s long Hollywood career as a director, from I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho to The Notorious Bettie Page and Netflix’s upcoming series Alias Grace, has inspired women filmmakers following her lead.
But Harron doesn’t expect men to be especially sensitive, either as actors in her movies or offscreen. “Men should be as unsensitive as they want,” she said Wednesday while in conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I’d rather know what they think, or what their imaginations are all about. I’m kind of libertarian that way. I want to hear what everyone thinks.”
She called her breakout movie, 2000’s American Psycho, a “satire on American masculinity,” as it revealed the absurdity of Bret Easton Ellis’ fictional character Patrick Bateman. She recalled battling with the film’s producers over whom to cast in the lead role, with everyone against Christian Bale during early auditions.
“The American actors who came in were much more earnest, and some thought Bateman was cool, while Christian was the one who thought he was absurd, as I did,” Harron remembered, as she preferred a “ridiculous” serial killer to one that was cool.
The Canadian-born director, who now lives in New York City, is at TIFF to promote Alias Grace, Netflix’s Margaret Atwood drama starring Sarah Gadon. Published in 1996, Atwood’s novel, adapted for TV by Sarah Polley, follows Grace Marks, a true-life poor, young Irish immigrant and domestic servant in upper Canada who, along with stable hand James McDermott, was convicted of the brutal murders of their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, in 1843.
McDermott was hanged, while Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment and was eventually exonerated after 30 years in jail. Harron’s small-screen treatment of Alias Grace is bound to elicit comparisons with Hulu’s breakout series The Handmaid’s Tale, which was also adapted from an Atwood novel.
“Alias Grace is about where we were, and where we’ve come from, and Handmaid’s Tale is about where we could be headed, and where we are now,” Harron insisted, with an echo in the Trump era. She also sees Alias Grace as a “wake-up call,” in the sense that Canada in the 19th century is revealed to be a brutal, savage world for recent European immigrants like Marks. “My father’s family was on those boats, because they made the Atlantic passage, and it was extremely class-ridden. The prisons were absolutely brutal,” Harron explained.
The six-episode series, after screening episodes this week at TIFF, is set to launch Nov. 3 on Netflix.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sunday.
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