-Interview by Nic Brown-
Jessica Harper takes her career seriously. As an actress she’s worked on stage and screen with everyone from Woody Allen to Steven Spielberg. She’s an award winning musician whose work includes many popular children’s music CDs, and to top it all off she’s a writer. For horror fans though, this versatile entertainer may be best remembered for her performance as Suzy Bannion, the young American dancer who travels to Europe to attend a ballet academy that she finds is run by witches, in Dario Argento’s chilling 1977 horror classic: Suspiria. Now, thirty years later, Harper talks about her memories of the film, what it was like working with Dario Argento, her other successful work in music and literature, and why we may one day see her name on an election ballet.
Nic - Jessica, you've worked with a number of famous directors over the years including Woody Allen, Brian De Palma, and even Steven Spielberg. However, to many horror fans it is your work in Dario Argento's Suspiria that is your most memorable role. What was it like working with Argento on the film?
Jessica - Dario was great, very inspired and inspiring, and incredibly supportive. His high energy was infectious, as was his commitment to making a movie with such a strong and pure vision.
Nic - Is it true that Dario used some interesting techniques to build the mood on the set such as playing the soundtrack that his band Goblin made for the film at a very high volume during scary scenes?
Jessica - It's funny, but I've heard that story so many times that I'm beginning to believe it, even though I have no memory of that actually happening. It may have been the case; I can't say that I know for sure, due to a faulty memory!
Nic - What do you remember as being the most challenging part of your work on Suspiria?
Jessica - The final scene, when I had to run through an exploding hallway, was a little terrifying, probably the toughest scene to shoot. Those weren't computer-generated explosions, they were real!
Nic - In addition to Suspiria, you've been in a number of other features that fall into the horror genre. Are you a fan of horror films?
Jessica - Funny you should ask: I don't really like horror films! It's better to act in them, to be the one doing the scaring, than to sit through them, to be the one being scared, which I find intolerable!
Nic - Is it different for you to make a horror movie as opposed to a regular drama or some other type of film?
Jessica - No, not really. All acting works
basically on the same principle: you have to connect to the
material, make it real, regardless of the genre.
Nic - How do you think the genre has changed since Suspiria came out?
Jessica - Since I don't like horror movies--well, I should say, I don't dislike them, I just don't want to see them--I'm not all that aware of changes in the genre because I haven't been paying attention. But I suspect that the level of gore has advanced considerably since Suspiria, which would probably look pretty tame next to, say, Saw.
Nic - You’ve said you’re not a fan of the horror genre. So what kind of films do you enjoy watching?
Jessica - I like
The Bourne Supremacy,
and Juno. I like
a sweeping, romantic epic like
Nic - You were involved with the Broadway production of Hair and a number of your film roles also showcased your talents as a singer. Can you tell us a little about that aspect of your work and some of your more recent musical projects?
Jessica - I've recorded seven CDs of music for children, and a Christmas CD ("Not A Traditional Christmas"). At the moment, I'm doing more writing than singing (so much to do, so little time!), writing children's books and a new book for adults: "The Crabby Cook Book." If anyone's interested there is a whole lot of info on all these projects at my website: www.jessicaharper.com.
Nic - Talking about your writing, is “The Crabby Cook Book” your first book that wasn’t a children’s book? Also, do you think it is more difficult to write books for children than to write for an adult audience?
Jessica - Yes it is [my first children’s book]. In a way, it is harder to write for children, I think. You have to access that part of your brain that recalls viscerally what it is to be a child, whereas your adult voice is more readily available. It is however, a lot of fun to go to the childlike place, so that kind of writing definitely has its rewards.
Nic - Can you tell us what inspired you to branch out from your acting and musical work to become a writer too?
Jessica - My children were what inspired me to get into writing children's books, and that in turn inspired me to write other stuff, like my upcoming book for grown-ups called, "The Crabby Cook Book."
Nic - Looking back at your career on both the stage and screen, what was your favorite role that you played and why?
Jessica - That is a tough question. I loved many of the roles, for various reasons. Phantom of the Paradise was great because it was my first role, and I loved the singing. Suspiria was a great experience, a fabulous movie.... In Stardust Memories I got to do a kind of acting that I loved doing...etc. etc....
You’ve worked with some of
Jessica - I had an interesting time with all of them. But one who was both extremely warm and kind, and able to elicit a good performance was Anthony Minghella. I adored him and am so sad that we lost him....
Nic - You’re an accomplished actress, writer and musician. What’s next?
Jessica - Who knows? Maybe I'll run for public office!
Nic – Well, you’ve got my vote!