So here’s the truth – Mary Harron is the director behind one of my all time favourite films, American Psycho. I’ll go even further and say she took one of my least favourite Bret Easton Ellis books (I’m a fan) and made a cinematic experience that I will always view as significantly stronger than its source material.
Along with that brilliant work of fiction, Harron has made a film career in exploring real world icons like Andy Warhol, Bettie Page and now legendary supermodel, Anna Nicole Smith. Admittedly, Anna Nicole, with her buxom body and enticing smile, was always one of my high school/university crushes, even as her tabloid-style life came to a sudden and tragic end following the death of her beloved son. She’s just the perfect character study for Mary Harron to take on.
Check out the trailer for Anna Nicole, out now on DVD, starring Agnes Bruckner, Martin Landau, Virginia Madsen, Adam Goldberg and Cary Elwes, and then read our exclusive email interview with Mary Harron.
Mary Harron: I was always quite fascinated by her. First by the Guess photos that made her famous, and then with her crazy and sad life story. She seemed like the Marilyn Monroe of the tabloids and reality TV. I was also very affected by the story of her son Danny and their relationship.
Andy Burns: So many of your films have dealt with real world cultural icons – is that by design or simply coincidence? Why the appeal of dealing in our recent history?
Mary Harron: I started in documentary so that partly explains my interest in real life stories. I’m certainly interested in celebrity and how it affects people, and in the contrast between their public and private selves. I’m also fascinated by how people are affected by the age they live in. Anna Nicole’s life would have been different if she had lived before reality TV!
Andy Burns: Obviously, whoever was going to be cast as Anna Nicole was going to have a lot of eyes and pressure on them. What made Agnes Bruckner the right person for the role?
Mary Harron: First of all of course whoever we cast had to be able to bring it off physically. If you’re going to play a famous beauty you have to be believable in that role. But of course I was also looking for the inner Anna. Most important, Agnes brought a vulnerability to the role, and a maternal tenderness to the scenes with Danny. It was very important, that unexpected, sweeter side to Anna Nicole.
Andy Burns: You got to work with the legendary Martin Landau on this film – what was that experience like for you as a director?
Mary Harron: It was a thrill to work with Martin Landau and I think he must be the most professional actor I ever worked with. He was always so gracious and after every take he would ask if I had everything I needed from his performance. He was always willing to do more, even thought the schedule was exhausting. And of course he tells great stories, about everyone from James Dean to Alfred Hitchcock to working with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra.
Andy Burns: What did you learn about Anna Nicole working on this film that you’ll always carry with you?
Mary Harron: For all her craziness and her bad behavior – the drinking and drugs, the crazy exhibitionism, everything she put Danny through – she really does come across as a likeable and sweet, strangely innocent person. She had a rough childhood and she never really got the better of it. However, she did get herself from waitressing at Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken to being a world famous model, so you have to give her credit for fulfilling her dreams. The real tragedy of her life was the death of Danny. That is what makes her story so haunting. The person she most loved she helped destroy, and that destroyed her. That’s what I take away from her story.
Thanks to Mary Harron for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and to Annie Hennessey for making it happen. Anna Nicole is available now on DVD.