Mary Harron

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Mary Harron
Harron in 2019
Born (1953-01-12) January 12, 1953 (age 71)
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, producer, critic
Years active1987–present
SpouseJohn C. Walsh
ParentDon Harron

Mary Harron (born January 12, 1953) is a Canadian film director and screenwriter.[1][2][3]

She co-wrote the screenplay and directed American Psycho,[4][5][6] Charlie Says,[7]The Notorious Bettie Page[8], and I Shot Andy Warhol.

Early life[edit]

Born in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada,[9] Harron grew up with a family that was entrenched in the world of film and theatre. She is the daughter of Gloria Fisher and Don Harron, a Canadian actor, comedian, author, and director. Her parents divorced when she was six years old.[10] Harron spent her early life residing between Toronto and Los Angeles.[2] Harron's first stepmother, Virginia Leith, was discovered by Stanley Kubrick and acted in his first film, Fear and Desire and was also featured in the 1962 cult classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Leith's brief acting career partly inspired Harron's interest in making The Notorious Bettie Page. Harron's stepfather is the novelist Stephen Vizinczey best known for his internationally successful book In Praise of Older Women. Harron's second stepmother is the Canadian singer Catherine McKinnon. Harron's sister, Kelley Harron, is an actor and producer.

Harron moved to England when she was thirteen and later attended St Anne's College, Oxford University, where she received a Bachelors in English.[10][11] While in England, she dated Tony Blair, later the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Chris Huhne, another Oxford student who later became a prominent politician.[12][13][14][15][16] She then moved to New York City and was part of its 1970s punk scene.


During her adolescence, Harron was exposed to many different forms of art and film. In a 2020 interview with The New School, Harron states: "My parents took us to whatever films they wanted to see so I saw a lot of art films that would not be considered suitable for a child." She goes on to explain that her largest influences, especially as a child around the age of ten, were Alfred Hitchcock, Bergman, and Satyajit Ray. After she had moved to London in her teen years she began attending the National Film Theatre where she was exposed to other international filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks, Claude Chabrol, and Polanski. She was also exposed to noir films, namely Double Indemnity.

As an adult she was inspired by the films Blue Velvet, Drugstore Cowboy and The Piano, directed by Jane Campion. While she said that she had plenty of exposure to Hollywood films, she was enticed by these types of films because they were, in her words, the "forerunners of independent film."[17]


Early writing work[edit]

In New York, Harron helped start and write for Punk magazine as a music journalist; she was the first journalist to interview the Sex Pistols for an American publication. She grew up in the early punk scene of America. She found the culture easy for her to fit into and was constantly evolving and spreading into new demographics.[10] During the 1980s, she was a drama critic for The Observer in London for a time, as well as working as a music critic for The Guardian and the New Statesman. In the late 1980s, Harron participated and began her film career writing and directing BBC Documentaries.[10]

During the 1990s, Harron moved back to New York where she worked as a producer for PBS's Edge, a program dedicated to exploring American pop culture. It was at this time that Harron became interested in the life of Valerie Solanas, the woman who attempted to kill Andy Warhol. Harron suggested making a documentary about Solanas to her producers, who in turn encouraged her to develop the project into what would be her first feature film.[18] Harron says she owes her success with her first film to Andy who helped to sell the controversial focus on the attempted murderess, Solanas.[19]

I Shot Andy Warhol[edit]

Harron's feature film directorial debut, I Shot Andy Warhol, released in 1996, is the partially imagined story of Valerie Solanas' failed assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.[20] She explains her interest in Solanas' life:

For Solanas, there was this fierce, outsider quality to her unhappiness and frustration. That was a time in my life when I was frustrated myself in my work. I wanted to direct. I had the idea years before I got to direct myself. So I think there were elements of my own frustration and elements of what it was like growing up with an unfair attitude towards women ... and Valerie was an extreme example of that. There was also the intellectual interest of how someone can be so brilliant and her life goes so wrong, and also, that she was so forgotten and misunderstood. In both cases, I felt like Valerie had been consigned to history as this lunatic, almost nothing written about her.[21]

It won the sole acting award at that year's Sundance Film Festival for Lili Taylor's performance as Solanas.[22]

American Psycho[edit]

Harron's second film, American Psycho, released in 2000, is based on the book of the same title by Bret Easton Ellis, which is notorious for its graphic descriptions of torture and murder.[23][24] The protagonist, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), is an investment banker who goes on a killing spree. The New York Times' Stephen Holden wrote of the film:

From the opening credits, in which drops of blood are confused with red berry sauce drizzled on an exquisitely arranged plate of nouvelle cuisine, the movie establishes its insidious balance of humor and aestheticized gore.[25]

The film was mired in controversy before production began,[26][27][28] due in large part to the legacy of the book's release.[29] Harron has a liking for darker and more controversial topics, such as Valerie Solanas, but it was the satirical nature of the book that "inspired her film about perfunctory violence and obsessive consumption."[30] As Harron began production, the crew had to contend with threats of protest, as the issue of violence in the media became crystallized by the Columbine shootings. Campaigns against the film continued throughout production, the Feminist Majority Foundation condemning the film as misogynist, and the Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment (C-CAVE) convincing restaurant owners to deny Harron permission to film in their establishments.[31] When returning to work with co-writer Guinevere Turner, Harron felt they were best suited for the job of American Psycho as they needed no hesitation on feminist values, especially after Turner's successful lesbian film Go Fish.[9]

Although some criticized American Psycho for its violence against women, Harron and Turner made conscious decisions that project the female influence on this adaption. Harron's adaptation of this film changes the focus from purely Bateman's perspective to showcase the faces of the women as "the perspective in those murder scenes wasn't through Patrick Bateman but the women."[32]

In the years following its release, the film has achieved cult status;[5][33][34][35] the controversy surrounding it, to some, gave way to an appreciation of the film's satirical qualities, while many others remain critical of its violence and depiction of 1980s decadence.[32] Harron would later describe in an interview with BBC, that American Psycho is a "period thing" that glimpsed at 1980s corporate capitalism, but from a distance.[36]

The Notorious Bettie Page[edit]

The Notorious Bettie Page, released in 2005, starred Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page, the 1950s pinup model who became a sexual icon. The film shows Page as the daughter of religious and conservative parents, as well as the fetish symbol who became a target of a Senate investigation of pornography. For this film, Harron did historical character research, and interviewed several of Page's friends as well as Page's first husband. Page was legally bound to another project and so unable to be interviewed. Harron saw Page as an unwitting feminist figure who represented a movement for women's sexual liberation, with some similarities to and differences from Solanas. About the film, Harron said in 2006:

Clearly Bettie is a very inspiring figure to young women because she had a strong independent streak. She did what she wanted to do and she wasn't just doing it for men ... But I think it's a huge mistake to think of her as a conscious feminist heroine. As far as I can see, she didn't have an agenda, ever. She just followed her own path unconsciously. I don't think she thought of herself as a rebel in any way. She was kind of in her own world of dress-up.[37]

Harron later stated that the film suffered from false expectations, in that many male critics and male viewers expected and wanted the film to be "sexy", but that the film instead portrayed "what it's like to be Bettie", and Page herself did not get a "sexual charge" out of her modelling.[38]

The Moth Diaries[edit]

The Moth Diaries (2011), Harron's fourth feature film, is another adaption of an American novel, being based on Rachel Klein's 2002 novel of the same name. The film follows a group of girls living together at Brangwyn, a boarding school. A new student arrives, Ernessa (Lily Cole) and the girls begin to suspect that she is a vampire. Harron has described the film as a "gothic coming-of-age story"[39] that explores the nuanced friendships of teenage girls as they are repeatedly confronted with the prospect of adulthood. This Gothic horror feature entangles teenage experiences of sexuality, close female friendships, and drama with supernatural elements.

The film was shot in and around Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It is a Canada-Ireland co-production as Harron worked with Irish production company Samson Films' David Collins.[40]

Charlie Says[edit]

Harron directed the 2018 independent film Charlie Says, with a screenplay by Turner, which tells the real-life story of how three of Charles Manson's female followers (Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten) came to terms with the magnitude of their crimes while incarcerated in the 1970s. Matt Smith played Manson in flashbacks. The film had initially been intended for another director, but when that director was no longer available Harron took over. Harron stated that she was fascinated by the psychological aspects of how the women ended up committing murder as a result of both manipulation by Manson and feelings of solidarity with one another.[41]


Dalíland is a 2022 film directed by Harron, from a screenplay by her husband John Walsh. The film, set in the 1970s, follows the marriage between painter Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala Dalí, played by Ben Kingsley and Barbara Sukowa.[42] The film was shot in Liverpool and released at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.[43][44]

Other work[edit]

In addition to her films, Harron was also the executive producer of The Weather Underground, a documentary looking at the Weathermen (political activists and extremists of the 1970s). She has also worked in television, directing episodes of Oz, Six Feet Under, Homicide: Life on the Street, The L Word and Big Love. Working on the episode of Six Feet Under "The Rainbow of Her Reasons", Harron was brought back together with I Shot Andy Warhol actress, Lili Taylor.[19]


Harron has been at times labelled a feminist filmmaker, in part due to her film on lesbian feminist Valerie Solanas, I Shot Andy Warhol, as well as a lesbian storyline within her 2011 teenage Gothic horror film The Moth Diaries (2011).[19] She has consistently denied this label, although she considers herself a feminist. In a 2006 interview, and then again during an interview in 2012,[45] she stated:

I feel that without feminism, I wouldn't be doing this. So I feel very grateful. Without it, God knows what my life would be. I don't make feminist films in the sense that I don't make anything ideological. But I do find that women get my films better. Women and gay men. Maybe because they're less threatened by it, or they see what I'm trying to say better.[46]

She is a member of Film Fatales, a women's independent filmmaker collective.

Asked about her Canadian identity in a 2014 interview, Harron stated that she mostly felt "just not American". She stated that, to her, being Canadian meant "You don't think you're at the center of things." She also felt that, unlike American directors, she was not "a moralistic filmmaker. I'm not trying to tell people what to do, and I'm not trying to lead... I'm interested in ambiguity."[38]

Although her films deal with controversial materials, like American Psycho, she does not put emphasis on gore and violence.[30] She consistently stands for her films' meaningfulness in the face of adversity and urges those who protest her creations to be more open-minded, and the main example of this is her going on national Canadian Television and speaking against the creation of American Psycho.[47]

Personal life[edit]

Harron lives in New York with her husband, filmmaker John C. Walsh, and their two daughters.[48]



Year Title Director Writer Notes
1996 I Shot Andy Warhol Yes Yes [49]
2000 American Psycho Yes Yes [4][5][34][35][50]
2005 The Notorious Bettie Page Yes Yes [51]
2011 The Moth Diaries Yes Yes
2018 Charlie Says Yes No [7][52]
2022 Dalíland Yes No [53][54]

Executive producer



Year Title Notes
1989 The Late Show Batman special episode[55]
1991 Without Walls Episode "The Thing Is... Hotels"
1994 Winds of Change Documentary movie
1998 Homicide: Life on the Street Episode "Sins of the Father"
Oz Episode "Animal Farm"
2002 Pasadena Episode "The Bones" Unaired
2004 The L Word Episode "Liberally"
2005 Six Feet Under Episode "The Rainbow of Her Reasons"
2006 Big Love Episode "Roberta's Funeral"
Six Degrees Episode "Masquerade"
2007 The Nine Episode "You're Being Watched"
2008 Fear Itself Episode "Community"
2013 The Anna Nicole Story TV movie
2015 Constantine Episode "Quid Pro Quo"
The Following Episode "Reunion"
2017 Alias Grace Miniseries

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Title Shared With Results Ref.
1996 Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard I Shot Andy Warhol [1]
1996 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize I Shot Andy Warhol Nominated
1997 Film Independent Spirit Awards Independent Spirit Award

Best First Feature

I Shot Andy Warhol Tom Kalin (producer) and Christine Vachon (producer) Nominated[56]
2000 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Sierra Award

Best Screenplay, Adapted

American Psycho Guinevere Turner Nominated
2000 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival Best Film American Psycho Nominated
2000 Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Adapted Screenplay American Psycho Guinevere Turner Nominated
2001 Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film Awards Best Adapted Screenplay American Psycho Guinevere Turner Won
2001 London Critics Circle Film Awards Director of the Year American Psycho Nominated
2005 Provincetown International Film Festival Filmmaker on the Edge Award Won
2006 Berlin International Film Festival Best Feature Film The Notorious Bettie Page Nominated [8][57]
2011 Abu Dhabi Film Festival Best Narrative Feature The Moth Diaries Nominated
2018 Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Best Limited Series Alias Grace Noreen Halpern, Sarah Polley, D.J. Carson Won
2018 Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Best Direction, Drama Program or Limited Series Alias Grace Won
2018 Gotham Independent Film Award Breakthrough Series – Longform Alias Grace Noreen Halpern, and Sarah Polley Nominated
2018 Stockholm Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2018 Venice Film Festival Best Film Charlie Says Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Mary HARRON". Festival de Cannes (in French). Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Brian D. (March 17, 2003). "Mary Harron". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on June 9, 2019.
  3. ^ "Cutting edge". The Guardian. March 6, 2009. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  4. ^ a b "FILM REVIEW; Murderer! Fiend! (But Well Dressed) (Published 2000)". April 14, 2000. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Barber, Nicholas. "Did American Psycho predict the future?". Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  6. ^ "American Psycho - Competition (out of competition) 2000". Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  7. ^ a b "'Charlie Says' Review: Complicating Those Manson Family Values (Published 2019)". May 9, 2019. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  8. ^ a b "The Notorious Bettie Page | Die legendäre Bettie Page - Panorama 2006". Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  9. ^ a b Punter, Jennie (September 5, 2011). "The Monday Q&A: Mary Harron". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. R3. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d Johnson, Brian D. (April 10, 2000). "Canadian Cool Meets American Psycho". Maclean's.
  11. ^ Michaelmas Term 1974. Complete Alphabetical List of the Resident Members of the University of Oxford. Oxford University Press. 1974. p. 137.
  12. ^ "FACTBOX - Tony Blair's new job". Reuters. June 27, 2007. Retrieved October 29, 2018. At university, Blair played guitar and sang in a rock band called the Ugly Rumours. He also dated Canadian film director Mary Harron, who went on to make the movie 'American Psycho'.
  13. ^ Kate Bussman (March 6, 2009). "Cutting edge". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved October 29, 2018. 'Please don't ask me about Tony Blair,' she pleads with a laugh, as the subject of the man she once described as 'the only nice person I ever went out with at Oxford' is broached. 'I only ever gave one interview about it, before he became prime minister, but somehow after American Psycho came out, this one interview suddenly appeared in all the British newspapers as if I'd just given a press conference. I've learned it's best not to talk about it at all,' she says, her voice full of humour, but her demeanour firm.
  14. ^ Marie Woolf, Francis Elliott (February 19, 2006). "When Tony met Mary met Chris ..." The Independent. Retrieved October 29, 2018. But Tony Blair was not the only budding political leader Ms Harron - a flamboyant undergraduate who went on to direct American Psycho - dated as a carefree student. By remarkable coincidence, she also went out with Chris Huhne, an Oxford contemporary of Blair, who last week was tipped in the polls as the most likely contender to take over from Charles Kennedy as Liberal Democrat leader.
  15. ^ Beth Lambert (May 10, 2015). "Mary Harron: Directing The Undirectable". Oxford Student. Retrieved October 29, 2018. Incidentally, one of those men was Tony Blair, who she went out with as an undergraduate; something which once again I can't reconcile with her wild child image, but Blair must have been more into his New York Dolls than New Labour while he was at St John's.
  16. ^ Katie Rife (December 8, 2017). "Mary Harron breaks down the art of terror in an exclusive clip from Shudder's The Core". The A.V. Club. Retrieved October 29, 2018. Mary Harron didn't start her career as a film director until her 40s, after a wild and fascinating early life that included a stint as one of the first writers of Punk magazine and a brief romance with future British Prime Minister Tony Blair when the two were students at Oxford.
  17. ^ York, The New School 66 West 12th Street New; Ny 10011 (June 11, 2020). "American Psycho Director Mary Harron Discusses her New School Residence and Film Career". New School News. Retrieved December 2, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Hurd, Mary. Women Directors and Their Films. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007. Print.
  19. ^ a b c Bendix, Trish (March 24, 2014). "Mary Harron is a Feminist, Queer-friendly Director We Can Believe In". After Ellen.
  20. ^ a b Heller 2008, p. 151.
  21. ^ Kaufman, Anthony (December 3, 2009). "Decade: Mary Harron on 'American Psycho'". indieWire. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
  22. ^ The 1996 Sundance Film Festival|
  23. ^ "American Psycho: the story behind the film". The Guardian. March 24, 2000. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  24. ^ Miska, Brad (December 28, 2009). "The Perfect Billboard Erected for 'American Psycho'". Bloody Disgusting!. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  25. ^ Holden, Stephen (April 14, 2000). "Film Review; Murderer! Fiend! (But Well Dressed)". The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
  26. ^ "The further trials and tribulations of American Psycho". The Guardian. April 14, 2000. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  27. ^ Lane, Anthony (April 9, 2000). "To the Limit". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  28. ^ "'AMERICAN PSYCHO'; Blame for Violence? (Published 2000)". April 23, 2000. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  29. ^ Marcus, Lydia. "The Pent Up and the Pinup." Lesbian News. April 2006: p. 43. Print.
  30. ^ a b Childerhose, Buffy (2000). "There's Something about Mary [Filmmaker Mary Harron has a Penchant for Controversial Material: American Psycho.]". Chatelaine. Vol. 73, no. 5. p. 40.
  31. ^ Harron, Mary. "The Risky Territory of 'American Psycho'". The New York Times April 9, 2000, late ed.: section 2. Print.
  32. ^ a b Bussmann, Kate. "Cutting Edge". The Guardian. March 5, 2009. p. 16. Print.
  33. ^ "In Hindsight, an 'American Psycho' Looks a Lot Like Us (Published 2016)". March 24, 2016. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  34. ^ a b Tobias, Scott (April 14, 2020). "American Psycho at 20: a vicious satire that remains as sharp as ever". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  35. ^ a b Corliss, Richard (April 17, 2000). "Cinema: A Yuppie's Killer Instinct". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  36. ^ Barber, Nicholas (March 21, 2016). "Did American Psycho predict the future?". BBC Culture.
  37. ^ "Bad Girls Go Everywhere: A Q&A with Mary Harron, director of The Notorious Bettie Page". Nerve. April 14, 2006. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
  38. ^ a b Gross, Anisse (March 1, 2014). "An Interview with Mary Harron". Believer Magazine.
  39. ^ King, Randall. "The Notorious Mary Harron." Winnipeg Free Press. March 1, 2012. Print.
  40. ^ "Director Mary Harron Currently Behind the Camera for the Big Screen Adaptation of THE MOTH DIARIES". Canada NewsWire. September 9, 2010.
  41. ^ White, Abbey (May 13, 2019). "'Charlie Says' Director Mary Harron Talks Depicting the "Tiny Choices" of the Manson Women". Hollywood Reporter.
  42. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (May 4, 2021). "'Dalíland': First Look At Ben Kingsley As Salvador Dalí In Mary Harron Drama; Ezra Miller, Barbara Sukowa & Andreja Pejić Among Co-Stars". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  43. ^ Liverpool Film Office. "'Dalíland' was filmed largely in Liverpool, doubling as New York". Twitter. Archived from the original on May 4, 2021.
  44. ^ Kay, Jeremy (August 9, 2022). "TIFF unveils world premiere of 'Daliland' as closing night selection". Screen Daily. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  45. ^ FULL INTERVIEW: Mary Harron, retrieved December 2, 2021
  46. ^ Hornaday, Ann (April 16, 2006). "Women of Independent Miens: Nicole Holofcener and Mary Harron Prove a Woman's Place Is in the Director's Chair". Washington Post, N01.
  47. ^ "BLOOD SYMBOL". Sight and Sound. London. 9 (7): 8. July 1999. ProQuest 1305512395.
  48. ^ Hankin, Kelly (April 2007). "And Introducing… The Female Director: Documentaries about Women Filmmakers as Feminist Activism". NWSA Journal. 19 (1): 59–88. CiteSeerX JSTOR 4317231. S2CID 144360794. Gale A161981504 Project MUSE 212922 ProQuest 233235683.
  49. ^ "I Shot Andy Warholy". Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  50. ^ "FILM; The Risky Territory Of 'American Psycho' (Published 2000)". April 9, 2000. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  51. ^ "The Notorious Bettie Page | Film | The Guardian". July 21, 2008. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  52. ^ "Charlie Says". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  53. ^ "'Dalíland' Review: Landscape With Vipers". June 8, 2023. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  54. ^ Brody, Richard (June 8, 2023). ""Dalíland," Reviewed: A Glorious Carnival, at Least for an Hour or So". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved August 14, 2023.
  55. ^ The Late Show Batman Special BFI Listing
  56. ^ 12th annual Spirit Awards ceremony - FULL SHOW | 1997 | Film Independent on YouTube
  57. ^ "Berlinale 2006 | THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE" (PDF).


External links[edit]