Interview: Jessica Harper Talks ‘Suspiria’ & ‘Winnetka!’

Jessica Harper

(Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, actress Jessica Harper talks about the blockbuster Suspiria remake and her upcoming podcast, Winnetka. Find out how the world of audio and horror managed to coincide artistically with the Stardust Memories actress.

As we mentioned in our review, darkness has been building at the center of a world-renowned dance company. Its artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), a young American new to the troupe named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), and a grieving psychotherapist (Lutz Ebersdorf) become entangled in a bloody nightmare.

With Suspiria, starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, in theaters now, Jessica Harper opens up about returning to the same-titled horror movie, but in a very different role. Harper also reveals how she dived back into her family history in her upcoming podcast, Winnetka.  

Jessica Harper headshot 2015, courtesy of JessicaHarper.com

Villain Media: Tell me about your upcoming project, Winnetka. It sounds very interesting because it’s a mashup between a podcast and memoir.

Jessica Harper: Yeah! I would love to talk about it! I created this podcast. It’s a 10 episode memoir about my childhood. It’s called Winnetka because it’s my hometown in Illinois, where I grew up. It takes place over the course of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It tells the story of my family, growing up with a difficult father. The turbulent ‘60s impacted us greatly. There’s a revelation about a family secret in our history.

VM: Because Winnetka goes back to your past, tell me about being part of the Suspiria remake. As most horror fans know, in the original, you played the lead role, Suzy Bannion.

JH: Oh yes! As you pointed out, there’s a lot of circling back to the beginning! [Laughs] That’s indeed what it feels like doing this movie; in the best possible way. Life is coming full circle. On the other hand, it’s informed by 40 years of experience. It looks very different but it’s a great feeling.

VM: How did Winnetka change you as an artist?

JH: Well with the podcast, Winnetka, going through the process of creating it, changed me in that, it was a medium that I had never dealt with before. I was always interested in sound. I listened to audiobooks a lot. I listened to a lot of podcasts. I loved the idea of creating something. I was writing a story in that audio format and thinking all these possibilities that sound has to offer.

For example, this is a memoir created using the actual voices of the characters, who are in the podcast. This is my family, who I recorded extensively. And there is also a great deal of original music in the podcast. Putting all those elements together was a steep learning curve. I learned the most tremendous amount of effective ways to use sounds. That expanded my abilities as an artist.

Jessica Harper, Winnetka
Winnetka, Courtesy of JessicaHarper.com

VM: When does Winnetka launch?

JH: It launches in February. People can subscribe November 5th, 2018. I’m starting to play sample stories and teasers in the meanwhile. People can get acquainted with the material and have access February 4th.

VM: How did the Suspiria remake, where you now play the role of Anke, change you as an artist?

JH: Coming back to Suspiria was interesting. I was playing a different role in the new version of the movie. First of all, it was very challenging. I had to speak German, which I had never done before! [Laughs] That was challenging artistically. I had to speak a foreign language and inform it with the emotional content necessary for the scene.  

If a movie is a good one, if the writing is good and your fellow actors are wonderful, the director is good, it’s always a learning experience. You always feel you have done something you never did before. I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity.

VM: Okay, I have to tell you this! Shock Treatment is my favorite movie of yours!

JH: Oh really! [Laughs]

VM: Yeah! What was more of a challenge? Doing the podcast or hitting your marks in the song and dance numbers like, “Looking For Trade?”

JH: [Laughs] Doing the podcast was much harder! The podcast was very challenging. But I loved the process. Hitting my marks was not such a big problem! [Laughs]

VM: What are you working on now?

JH: I’m still working on the podcast. I’m building a website for it. And building social media around it. That’s what I’m really busy with right now.

Suspiria is out in theaters now.

[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]

By Jorge Solis

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