CS Interview: Jessica Harper of the Original Suspiria and Remake
Amazon Studios provided ComingSoon.net with the opportunity to chat 1:1 with actress Jessica Harper, who starred as Suzy Bannion in Dario Argento’s original 1977 Suspiria, and also plays a small but critical role in the current remake Suspiria. Check out the interview below!
In the film, a darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
The cast includes Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Doctor Strange), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, How To Be Single), Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness, Everest) and Jessica Harper of the original Suspiria.
Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino steps behind the camera for the remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic which features a script by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash, The Terror).
Suspiria is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.
ComingSoon.net: The original film was a role that defined you in a lot of people’s minds, and has been a big part of your career. What was the experience like of watching this new one and have it be so different from the original?
Jessica Harper: First of all, I love the movie. I think it’s fantastic, but I also found interestingly that it informed my understanding of the original movie, in a way. I think that when I was in that movie 40 years ago, certain aspects of it eluded me until I saw this new version, where Luca added new layers to the story and expanded it in a way that made me understand things about the original that I hadn’t really picked up on before, so that was interesting. I loved all the choices that Luca made, the ways in which he really expanded on the setting and the way his color palette was so radically different from Dario’s, it gave the movie a whole new feel.
CS: One thing I talked to Luca about was the fact that he brought you back for a very small but crucial role. The character that you’re playing is kind of a spirit of the past, and of course you were in the original. Is it fair to read into that a little bit of a meta commentary?
Harper: Yes, I guess you could say that. It is kind of a meta commentary. Obviously, the role I play is so different from the original role I played, but I think just having me show up does give the new movie sort of a little extra magic, not that it needs it necessarily. I think yes, it’s both meta and also just kind of magical.
CS: You speak German for the whole part, right?
CS: Did you know the language beforehand, or was that something that you had to learn for the part?
Harper: I didn’t know a word of German, although I lied to Luca when he asked me. When he first called me and he said, “So Jessica…” He asked me if I wanted to do a cameo, and of course I said—I cut him off in mid-sentence, basically, and said, “Yes, whatever you want me to do, I’m happy to do it,” because I was such a big fan of his. I couldn’t imagine saying no. Then he said, “Can you do the part in German?” And I said, “Oh yeah, that’s absolutely not a problem.” The truth of the matter was I had never spoken a word of German, except to say “gesundheit” now and then. So I called the Berlitz School of Languages and I went over there and said, “I need to speak German. Help.” I sat down with a professor and had the teacher speak my role himself and record it into my iPhone so that I could walk around for weeks listening to it. And that is what I learned. I certainly didn’t learn much of the language. I only learned what was in the script, and that was challenging enough, but it was really fun to do that.
CS: Did you get to talk to Dakota, either before or after the fact?
Harper: You mean before or after the fact of shooting? Well, I didn’t speak to her before. Of course, I saw her there on set when I got there originally. I felt a special bond with her, of course, because she’s Suzy number two, and I also felt kind of maternal towards her, as if I were the old Suzy, she were the new and I was passing on the Suzy mantle to her. I feel warmly about her for that reason, but also because I think she delivered a really lovely performance.
CS: The horror community and probably the film community at large really revere that original movie. What has been the most interesting or touching sort of fan interaction or tribute that you’ve had regarding that film over the years?
Harper: Well, of course social media has grown -or even been invented- since that movie came out, but in recent years in particular I get some serious fans reaching out to me on Facebook and so on. One thing that they’ve done, which I find really interesting and kind of lovely, is created works of art around the imagery from “Suspiria,” particularly that image of me holding a knife, preparing to kill Helena Markos. For example, there was a poster that somebody posted just recently on Facebook, which is gorgeous. It’s a beautiful poster that they just sort of invented around this image. That kind of devotion to this movie I find really, really sweet.
CS: One of your other movies that I’m really enamored with that not a lot of people talk about it anymore is “Pennies From Heaven,” which is such a beautiful, beautiful movie.
Harper: I’m so glad to hear you say that. I love that movie, and as you say, it’s really much overlooked, I feel.
CS: My feeling has always been that it was really a movie that should’ve come out in the mid-to-late 70’s, when audiences were more prepared to see a downer movie that took some risks. Unfortunately it came out at the dawn of the Reagan era and people were not in the mood for that kind of a bummer movie, and certainly not Steve and Bernadette in that kind of a movie.
Harper: Right, yeah. I think that’s right. I think it was also at a point in Steve Martin’s career where people really expected high comedy from him, and that might’ve been something of a jolt, when that wasn’t what the movie was. So I think you’re right. Or it could’ve been later, as well, I think, but yeah, it might’ve just been a wrong moment in history for that. But I agree with you, I think it’s a beautiful movie.
CS: You just started a podcast about your family?
Harper: Yes. It hasn’t launched yet. It’s a 10-episode memoir, and it’s called “Winnetka,” which is the name of my hometown. And it tells the story of my childhood growing up in the 50’s and the 60’s in Winnetka in Illinois, and with my five siblings. That features the voices of my siblings and my mother, all of us telling our story, which included a rather difficult father and a turbulent decade in the 60’s, which affected us all. Also a family history of racism that ultimately is revealed in a long held family secret at the end of the podcast. So I hope people will listen. I’m going to start featuring sample stories and excerpts from the podcast during November 5, so people can subscribe in advance of the episodes.
CS: Because we have Halloween coming up, could you talk about some of your favorite horror films or thrillers?
Harper: The first movie that I consider a horror movie which scared me to death was ‘The Wizard of Oz” when I was five. Those monkeys! I had nightmares about them for decades. So that scared me to death. And then, many years later, I saw a movie called “The Haunting” with Julie Harris and Russ Tamblyn. I thought that was a gorgeous horror movie. To be honest, I didn’t go to a lot of horror movies because I didn’t really want to be scared. I didn’t want to pay to be scared, let me put it that way, but I’ve come back to them now and I really appreciate the genre, and especially the new forms that it’s taking, it seems, in modern times. It’s becoming very, very interesting. Also, I would say that what I also consider a horror movie for our time is this movie I saw called “Detroit,” and I don’t know if you saw that movie. To me that is obviously a true story, but a horror story about things that actually happened in real life in Michigan. So horror can take all forms, I feel.
CS: You had a small but critical role in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” which is a fantastic film. Is there a story of how that came about? That was made around the time when you sort of started to shy away from doing movie roles.
Harper: I think I was on his radar because I’d met him when I shot “Phantom of the Paradise” years before that, but we’d never worked together, and I think he reached out to me because he thought I would be suitable for that role. And so, that’s kind of all that happened. I didn’t read for him or whatever. He offered me the role, which I was thrilled about because of course, who wouldn’t want to work with Spielberg? I played the mother of Samantha Morton. I think he thought I looked like I could conceivably be her mother, so that was part of it, too.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)