by David Sheff
A candid conversation with the star of Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, Prizzi’s Honorand The Jewel of the Nile about life, love and lust.
“On a soap opera, my mother was dying and I flashed badly on my own father dying. I held it in until the taping and let go. I was sobbing. I thought it was the most real thing I’d ever done. But when I saw it, it was absurd.”
“I thought Body Heat was good adult sex, and why not? But the scene people remember most has no nudity in it. It’s the break-in scene, when he’s pacing on the porch, then breaks the glass door and comes in and grabs her.”
“You want to have friendships on the set, but you’re the girl, the star, and can’t go to the bar and have drinks with the guys. You could make trouble. One nymphomaniac in this position could turn a crew upside down.”
It is sweltering. It’s a wet and musty heat, the kind that stirs people, incites them. Ned Racine turns to leave Matty Walker’s home, but he makes the mistake of looking back to see her again. Her husband’s not home. She’s wet with sweat. He’s hotter than the night.
He paces like a mad, caged leopard. She, too, is panting, wanting him, her tight skirt nearly melting away, until he can’t stand it anymore. The leopard strikes: Racine grabs the nearest object, a wrought-iron porch chair, and hurls it through the glass door. The door crashes open. And he goes to her….
That scene, which both men and women often cite as one of the hottest in movie history, is, of course, from Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat. Racine, the loser of a lawyer who is smitten by Matty, is William Hurt. And Matty, who ensnares him with sexuality more effective than a drug, who has, as Racine says, a body she shouldn’t be allowed to go out in, is Kathleen Turner. In one stroke–in a sizzling film debut as a demoniacally seductive femme fatale–she was hailed as the Lauren Bacall of her generation.
In roles that followed, Turner continued to prove that the early rumblings were not Hollywood hype, even though at the time, Body Heat was not an enormous money-maker. Savvy career decisions and some lucky breaks won her roles that showed her versatility. Her next–a funny send-up of Matty–was in the Steve Martin-Carl Reiner comedy The Man with Two Brains, as the conniving tease who, even after marrying the lustful Martin, will go only as far as to suck his fingers.
Michael Douglas’ Romancing the Stone became her first all-out hit. In one of 1984′s most popular movies and then a top-selling video cassette, Turner played Joan Wilder, an apparently frumpy New York romance novelist who sets off on an adventure that transforms her into a woman more glamorous than any in her books.
Any doubts about her flexibility as an actress or her popular appeal disappeared as Romancing went on to earn more than $100,000,000 and became, as one reviewer noted, “probably the last role she will ever have to fight for.”
In Breed Apart, a film that has not been released, Turner played an Appalachian farm woman two years before rural America became a Hollywood trend. And then, in her most controversial career move, she agreed to star in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion, which contained explicit–to some, shocking–sexual scenes. In it, she played a career woman by day who put on a platinum wig and stiletto heels by night to become a hooker known as China Blue. She was criticized for accepting a role some described as degrading, yet most reviews were positive. “It’s a dangerous performance,” wrote Richard Schickel. “But she never falls off the high wire.” In less capable hands, the explicitness might have stalled her career. The film was a commercial flop in the U.S., though it was a big hit in Europe, released as China Blue. Today, as a video cassette, Crimes of Passion has become a cult favorite.
While Turner was completing Crimes of Passion, she was asked to play opposite Jack Nicholson in John Huston’s black comedy based on Richard Condon’s novel Prizzi’s Honor. In a throwback to the sexy, tough females of her first two films, Turner played Irene Walker, a professional killer who falls in love with another professional killer, played by Nicholson. It gives Nicholson’s character a chance to ask, “Do I ice her? Do I marry her?”
Turner then returned as Joan Wilder in the sequel to Romancing the Stone. The Jewel of the Nile, also produced by and co-starring Michael Douglas, was another hit ($58,000,000 so far), though the reviews were less generous to all concerned. After grueling location work in Morocco and the south of France, with barely a week off, she left for Northern California to work with director Francis Coppola on Peggy Sue Got Married, due out next fall.
New offers are pouring in. One Hollywood executive said, “Everyone–stars and directors–wants to work with Turner. There are bigger box-office names, but not for long.” Critic Andrew Sarris summed up, “One might say that a star is born when one begins mentally casting her for everything in sight. And so it is with Kathleen Turner at this moment in film history.”
Acting was not the obvious career for Turner, the daughter of a U.S. diplomat who was stationed in many foreign countries. When her father died in London, the Turner family returned to Missouri, where Kathleen enrolled in Southwest Missouri State College in Springfield. She soon found a home in a theater group. She moved to the University of Maryland to continue her training in acting and, after graduating, to New York to seek fame and fortune. Although hers was not an overnight-success story–she worked as a waitress during one lean time–Turner landed an off-off-Broadway role and then a spot on a soap opera within a year. Eighteen months later, her agent called in a favor and got her an interview for Body Heat.
Turner, who in 1984 married real-estate developer Jay Weiss, lives in Manhattan. She grants few interviews and, as a result of this and her exceptional performances, has built a kind of mystique around herself. Schickel has called her “perhaps the movie’s first authentically mysterious presence since Garbo was hiding in plain sight.”
It was clearly time for Playboy to catch up with Turner, so we sent Contributing Editor David Sheff to get to know her on the sets of both The Jewel of the Nile, in Nice, and Peggy Sue Got Married, in Northern California. His report:
“I had met her earlier in the sweltering south of France, and then again, in the cool autumn of California’s wine country. But this would be our first time alone. ‘Midnight,’ she had suggested. Was that too late? That’s when she would be finished with the day’s filming. ‘I’ll be there,’ I said, and she gave me her room number. At midnight, I tapped on the hotel-suite door.
“First, her eyes. The intense, deep look. Without her on-camera make-up, she appeared different–less sure of herself, though still quite lovely. She offered me a drink. I sat down on the couch and she did, too, curling up luxuriously. She was dressed in a bulky pale sweater, a dark knee-length skirt and blue socks. Her cat, Magee, snuggled up next to her, and she stroked his mane.
“After our first drink, the couch seemed to have gotten smaller. With a none-too-steady hand, I reached over to her. She was trembling, too, and her neck was soft, and I pulled her closer. And. . . .
“And, no, that’s not what happened.
“Truth is, she settled onto the couch, stroking Magee; I sat in a nearby armchair, and I turned the tape recorder on. It says something about the power of her performances that I was surprised to find that, away from the set, Turner is something other than steamy and smoldering. She is forthright, funny and thoughtful.
“Nonetheless, watching her before the camera was enlightening. In Peggy Sue Gets Married, she was doing a simple walking scene. The plot involves a 40-year-old woman given a chance to be 18 again and return to her high school prom with her adult experience intact. We all watched as Turner, made up to look older, transformed herself into someone whose very walk seemed older, sadder; and even Coppola, watching the close-up on a small monitor balanced on his lap, was impressed. He shook his head and spoke aloud to himself: ‘Phew … this is great stuff.’
“But as soon as the camera stopped rolling, Turner became the morale officer on the set. She made her way through the large crew, passed around her morning pats on the back, threw off a dozen ‘How ya doing?’s and gave a warm hug to a fellow actor who had had a bad few days. She admits she’s a flirt and, in fact, is not unaware of the effect she has. In her wake are glazed eyes and lots of goofy smiles. Yes, she’d pose for another photo with an extra–’not for me but for my husband.’
“One night, she got off early and asked if I minded putting the next interview session off a bit. We headed to a Santa Rosa bar. As we entered, the bar hushed and the buzz that began was obviously about her, which she enjoyed, since she is often unrecognized. Finally, someone said, ‘You look just like Kathleen Turner.’ Soon there was no question that the woman at the bar, sipping a margarita, was, indeed, Turner. By the end of the evening, others at the bar had gathered around and Turner was cheerfully telling about the first time she took her husband, Jay, home for the grandparents to meet. ‘My grandfather challenged me to a bourbon-drinking contest. He said he could drink me under the table,’ she says. ‘I even caught him cheating–filling up my glass when I wasn’t looking–but I outlasted him.’
“As we left the bar and she signed a few more autographs and posed for another photograph, I asked her if the growing attention bothered her. She offered a rare glimpse into her vulnerability: ‘I dream, sometimes,’ she said, a little melancholic. ‘I’m in bed and I look up and I can’t move, because the faces are everywhere and the cameras are everywhere and there’s nothing I can do about it.’ Then, as she was getting into her car, someone called out, ‘Miss Turner. If I could just get your picture, it would mean so much to me.’ She shook off the moment’s dejection, let that slow, beguiling smile steal over her face and turned to him. ‘For you,’ she said, ‘anything.’”
Playboy: You’ve gotten great press as an actress, but no one seems to know whom to compare you to. We’ve heard Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Veronica Lake, Faye Dunaway. What do you think?
Turner: I really have trouble thinking that way. I don’t want to be like anyone. I was terribly bothered at the beginning. After Body Heat, there were all these Bacall comparisons. I kept wondering what she would feel like. My god! “Have you heard about the young you?” How rude!
Playboy: Still, not bad company.
Turner: I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery, and so the comparisons are a tribute to them, but it still seems very callous to me. Writers want a hook, but I don’t agree. I always have an image of myself in a script or in a play, and that’s always been much more real to me than anyone else in that role, than a Hepburn or a Bacall or someone like that. Not to say there aren’t pieces of them that delight me and spark me, that trigger attitudes or actions, but nothing that I want to be like.
These are different times. Most of those actresses were expected to create an image or to maintain the one created for them. That was as important or as much of a responsibility as their work. We don’t have that kind of pressure now. Not to say that there isn’t a lot of pressure to seem to be what the public has found most appealing about you, but there’s much more respect now for acting as a profession, as a job and not some gift that was given to you. My film roles have been so different that I don’t think I have an image as defined as those actresses’.
Playboy: What kind of image do you think you have?
Turner: From my husband and others, I’ve learned that it’s this sort of sexy woman; sexy and, I think–I hope–intelligent and rather strong. The sex is more emphasized than I would have thought. Prizzi’s Honor reinforced the image of me as a manipulative woman, though I must say there are moments in Prizzi when my character is just this newly-wed–she’s got her job, but she’s baking casseroles–that I like. I don’t feel that sexual impact as much, but my husband and friends tell me it’s out there. The truth is, I don’t really want to know too much.
Playboy: Is the sexual image really that much of a surprise to you? Body Heat and a lesser-known movie you did, Crimes of Passion, had more intense sex than many major films in recent memory.
Turner: It’s true. Body Heat is very powerful, much more powerful now than when it came out, due to cable. Crimes has become more popular in video cassette than when it was released in theaters. Certainly, the sex scenes in Body Heat are very adult, as opposed to euphemistic. Looking back, it was one of the most direct feature films done in the United States in a long time.
I just thought it was good adult sex, and why not? But the scene that people remember most has no nudity or sex in it. It’s the break-in scene, when he’s pacing on the porch and breaks in the window in the door and comes in and grabs her. People remember that better than some of the more explicit scenes, which I love.
Playboy: We also remember the character of Matty Walker, one of the most wonderfully evil characters ever.
Turner: Yeah. The classic bitch. And, worse, she got away with it! She wasn’t punished! She had such a strong impact that people had a hard time remembering that I was not Matty Walker. For a long time, men had a kind of chip on the shoulder, like, “You aren’t going to put anything over on me, honey.” That kind of thing. I mean, who asked? I think that the fact that they really did believe Matty is the reason they cast doubt on me. [Laughs, raises her right hand] I’ve never done anything in my life like that. I swear it.
Playboy: What about Matty’s sex scenes, though? She put so much passion into her scenes with Ned Racine [William Hurt], the man she later betrayed, that it was hard at the end of the movie to believe she’d been faking it. Was it all an act? Did she love him?
Turner: Yes, yes, yes! I think she was in love. The sex was great. It was a bonus. I don’t think she had ever had the freedom of a beautiful young lover like that. She loved it.
Playboy: Then how could she betray him?
Turner: Love and sex ain’t necessarily the most important thing. That’s what Matty believed.
Playboy: What about what Kathleen Turner believes? Can you fake that intensity of sex? Is it possible to make that kind of love on the set and not get turned on?
Turner: Part of it is very mechanical. Larry [Kasdan, Body Heat's writer-director] and Bill and I would block out the moves in advance and know what we were going to do in front of the camera, so we would be comfortable with it. And the three of us became close through the work. But you have to get over this hump–at some point, you have to kiss the other person and hug the other person. It was easier to get over that when we were alone than with the crew standing there. So we just walked through the scenes, not performing the actions, not acting them out, but exploring them. Then, when the tension got real heavy, we’d have races up and down the lawn–stuff like that. We’d jump into the water, just to get comfortable with each other.
The closeness of the set quickly extended beyond Bill, Larry and me. You would catch the crew grinning at one another, because they knew something very good was happening. That’s a lovely feeling. But it was very, very hot stuff, and there were times when it got very tense. After we finished the break-in scene in the house, I ran upstairs to my dressing room and I was shaking and shaking and crying and I just sort of broke down. I did that after almost every one of the heavy scenes.
Turner: It’s just too open. The truth is, you can act sexuality to a certain extent, but if you are actually being touched, actually touching someone, there is a gray area there, because your body is responding, even though your mind is saying, “OK, now the camera is there; I have to kiss at three quarters. . . .” So you’re thinking that stuff, but you are also having physical reactions, because nobody can be petted, touched and kissed without feeling something. I think that was the effect on everybody. I’m sure that anybody watching got caught up in it to some extent, but I never felt it was prurient. It was just powerful stuff.
Playboy: So what do you do? You can’t take cold showers every ten minutes.
Turner: Actually, “Cut!” is a very good cold shower.
Playboy: Then you have to get turned on enough without getting too turned on?
Turner: I’m not really sure you can get too turned on. I think there’s an automatic safety valve that is simply your responsibility technically as an actor. If you get too turned on, you start rolling around and you’re out of shot. [Laughs] And there are people all around, watching you. . . . And, as I said, with all the sex in Body Heat, the most powerful scene was done fully clothed.
Playboy: The scene when the young niece visits them and happens to see Matty going down on Ned is also a powerful moment.
Turner: Yeah. That was a kind of neat one. But you don’t see anything in that, either. You hear a zipper. All I have to do is go down onto my knees; that’s it. I’m out of shot.
Playboy: What you’re saying, what other actors haven’t admitted to, is that there does have to be a spark between the two of you on a set; it’s not all mechanical.
Turner: It’s both, I think. You want to have a spark, to have some feeling of attraction and attractiveness. It’s very hard to play with someone who is supposed to be madly in love with you and have a feeling that he thinks you are not attractive. It really hits at a very insecure part. I think that when you work with other actors, you deliberately open yourself up. You assume an immediate intimacy and relationship that, of course, is not true, but you want it to be true in the context of working together. You may see that actor in a bar after work and not have any desire to talk to him at all. But on the set that day, if you’re doing a love scene, you tend to hang out together all day; you talk together and make sure you are OK. You assume an intimacy you don’t have, and that works better with some actors than with others.
Playboy: Is it dangerous to your real life to put yourself in that position all the time? You, for instance, are a married woman.
Turner: It is dangerous if you don’t make the rules clear–I mean, if you don’t say, “I find you very attractive, I think you are very special, I am madly in love with my husband and I know you are madly in love with your girlfriend; isn’t that great? So let’s flirt and remember it’s just flirting.”
Playboy: Rules or no rules, is it always possible to remember that the intimacies and attractions are part of the job?
Turner: I used to have this thing that I’d sort of fall in love for ten days, but I knew that I would do that, so I’d say, “Don’t do anything. Don’t do anything. Don’t go have dinner with him. Don’t do anything during these ten days, because something could happen.” Then, sure enough, after the end of ten days, I’d turn around and think, Yeah, he’s a great guy, but the craziness is gone. Now I don’t really feel like that, because I have Jay and I’m not looking for anybody. Part of that was that I was looking for somebody, so every time I met someone I was very attracted to, I had that “What if?” I don’t have the “What if?” anymore. People get mucked up very easily this way. I tend to flirt. I enjoy flirting. It cheers the guys up, cheers me up; I like it a lot, but I’m more careful now to say, “Aren’t I a terrible flirt–ha-ha.” I make sure they know that’s what it is, ’cause I don’t want to hurt anybody.
Playboy: And it’s always in control?
Turner: Pretty much, yeah. I mean, I may go kick down some walls when I’m alone, but I keep it in control when I’m not. Hey: Can I interject a note here? I don’t want this whole thing to be about sex.
Playboy: It won’t be. But you have to admit, when it comes to the movies you’ve been in and the amount of sex in each, the topic comes pretty naturally.
Turner: And compared with a lot of my contemporaries, I suppose. There was The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Jack [Nicholson] and Jessica [Lange], but I didn’t like the sexuality in that. You watched these two people do things to each other. It was so brutal. There are very few films like those. But I have done eight films now.
Playboy: So we’ll keep the topic in context. If there’s no attraction between you and an actor, can you still do the work?
Turner: It hasn’t happened to me except once in a play, and I just got through that. It was a limited run–a week and it was over. I don’t know what I’d do. I’ve talked to actresses who have really done long, intense performances with people they truly could not get along with, and I don’t know how they do it. They fantasize. You put someone else there.
Playboy: Your ten-day rule always work?
Turner: Knock on wood. Anyway, I really don’t want to be involved with an actor. First of all, I think it would have to screw up the work. And then at the end of the film, when you say goodbye–gosh, what would you do, unless you had made some kind of commitment during the shooting? But don’t, don’t ever make any decisions during the film that affect your life, because you are in this completely unreal world; and when you are on location, you don’t even have the stability of going to a place you know or seeing friends from your outside life. It’s a manufactured world, and any decisions you make probably will not work in the real world.
Playboy: Did you learn that the hard way?
Turner: Yes and no. I’ve talked about the wonderful closeness I had with Larry and Bill in Body Heat. I felt as if we had exactly the same vision of the piece. One day, I had to go downtown to my agent’s office. I walked in and he turned to me and said, “I hear you are having an affair with Bill and with Larry at the same time.” I felt just like somebody had kicked me in the stomach. I was so hurt. I felt as if somebody was tearing us down, and why? I said, “How could you say that?” and he said, “I just think you should know what people are saying.” I thought, Jesus Christ, this is what people are saying? And it ruined something for me. It really hurt, because every time the three of us went off to talk and to rehearse, I’d be thinking, Who’s seeing this? You know–what are they thinking? It was rotten. I’ll never forgive this person for breaking my bubble. But I realized, This is the real world. So I’m much more careful not to allow myself to be in that kind of position anymore. But it hurt a lot then.
Playboy: As promised, let’s move on to other subjects, such as the films that made you best known to the American public–Romancing the Stone and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.
Turner: Right: Run! Jump! Hang! Fall! Hang! Run! [Laughs]
Playboy: The personal dynamics on that kind of set aren’t quite the same, eh?
Turner: Yeah. Every time Michael [Douglas] and I got to a scene in which we really got to talk, it would be like, “Hey, hi! I remember you.” Adventure films are a whole other thing. You can’t rehearse much of the material. How do you rehearse jumping onto a moving train or hanging off a moving train for 40 hours? You just have to do it, and there’s excitement in that, because it’s always fun to push yourself to that point where you just do it and see what you make of it.
Playboy: You don’t use stunt doubles?
Turner: I do a lot of it myself. I like it. I’m a real tomboy, anyway, and in those films there was such close coverage that there was no way to use a stunt double. I had stunt doubles who did some of it, of course. I did spend four or five days hanging from a train. It’s very safe–they put a hole through a wall in the train and we were in a harness on a steel cable that supported, they assured us, 3000 pounds–but you do go home at night wondering if normal people do this.
Playboy: At first, you refused to do the sequel, provoking a $25,000,000 lawsuit from the studio, 20th Century Fox. What’s your side of that?
Turner: They had sent me a draft of the first script and I thought it was not in the spirit and fun of Romancing. It turned into an exploitive adventure movie. Joan was a complete wimp. She really didn’t commit any actions to save herself, which was not in character, and there was questionable taste in scenes such as the one in which a bunch of Nubian pygmies tell Jack, “If you give us the woman for an hour, we’ll let you live.” I didn’t think that was very nice. I don’t like rape jokes. There was some money involved with it, too. Michael and I were arguing with Fox about the money earned by Romancing. According to Fox, Romancing was still $3,000,000 in the hole and they’d seen no profit from it.
Playboy: Yet reported earnings for the movie are upwards of $100,000,000.
Turner: Exactly. At the time, I was offered another film that I wanted to do. My agent tried to find out if they could postpone Jewel while we addressed the problems, so I could do this other film, at which point everything got mucked up. We lost the lines of communication. I wasn’t talking to Michael; he wasn’t talking to me. The next thing I knew, I walked into my building and the doorman said, “Oh, $25,000,000?” I said, “What?” He said, “Look at the Post: ‘Kathleen Turner Being Sued For $25,000,000.’” I was absolutely crazy. And I never said I wouldn’t do the movie; I just didn’t want to do a bad one, and I wanted to address the money issue up front. A friend–Jack Nicholson, in fact–sort of interceded and got Michael and me talking again. He promised he would resolve all my script-related doubts and I would, indeed, have some input.
Playboy: The story on the other side had you playing prima donna, even though it was Romancing that made you.
Turner: Romancing was my only popular film and certainly the one that gave me the greatest exposure and standing outside the business, but I don’t think I owe them anything for that. I believe I fulfilled my contract. I did a good job. I think I owe Michael for the opportunity and his judgment and his vision, but I don’t owe anybody for the work I do. That made me furious. But we resolved the problems and got to work.
Playboy: Did you have fears about doing the sequel to begin with? Romancing is a hard act to follow.
Turner: I did. Someone asked me if I would do a third Joan-and-Jack story. I’m not intrigued by the idea now. I’m not sure she’s that interesting to explore anymore. If Jewel is anywhere near as popular as Romancing was, then maybe it’s a fallback. In a couple of years, people may still want to see Jack and Joan. If I go too far and disillusion people or lose touch–because I think that’s bound to happen; you can’t keep the same audience appeal if you want to do things that interest you–then I could do Joan again. There are bound to be things that will alienate people–such as Crimes of Passion. If I go too far, maybe Joan Wilder is a net.
Playboy: Could you go too far?
Turner: I’m not sure. I’m well bred–thank you, Mom, thank you, Dad–and there is certainly something in me that shrinks from hurting or from behavior that is unconscionable in that sense. I don’t want to hurt anybody. But I sure don’t want to reinforce some “them” code of behavior–all the “theys” out there. I don’t want “them” to rule my world. I don’t want “them” out there to be more important than I am, and I really think that’s part of what I can do with my work. I can make the choices.
Playboy: It sounds as if your background made you want to be in control of your own choices. Since your father was in the diplomatic service, you grew up all over the world–Canada, Washington, Cuba, Florida, Venezuela and London. How do you think all the traveling affected you?
Turner: Some of it was confusing. I remember Canada–the house, the nursery school, singing God Save the Queen every morning. Later, when we returned to Missouri and my dad was studying Spanish, preparing for our next move, to Cuba, they put me in another nursery school. I was very frightened, but I was willing. The teacher started to play the piano, and I blasted out God Save the Queen while everybody else was singing, “My country, ’tis of thee.”
Overall, I probably had an easier time than my older brother and sister, who think they would like to settle in one place with their families and not move them around. I certainly intend to drag my kids everywhere. My younger brother and I both enjoyed ourselves very much. I loved the new places. I think I learned a lot about adjusting quickly, about presenting a picture of myself, because you go to a new school and right away kids are challenging you. I think that had a lot to do with acting; you went in there showing people something. You felt you could redo yourself; nobody knew what you were. My first month in England, people called me Doris–I looked like Doris Day or something; I had the bangs, at least. I was this perky little person for a while, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Yeah, there was that thought that you had a chance to change whatever mistakes you had made or the things you didn’t like about yourself. But my family kept me grounded that way. They knew.
Playboy: Was your father strict with you?
Turner: He was very Victorian, but a wonderful man. He worked his way up the diplomatic service and was U.S. Consul in Great Britain when he died. My big regret now is that he never took me seriously as an actor; he thought it was something I would outgrow. He wasn’t affectionate, really. I don’t think any of us ever doubted he loved us; but I was always more physically oriented than the others. I remember crawling onto his lap and telling him I wouldn’t leave until he hugged me. He was sort of embarrassed, but I just need my hugs.
Playboy: What were you like growing up?
Turner: I think I was always a tomboy to some extent. I was very competitive with my brothers. I was always the athlete of the family. I remember having a great time when I was a kid. Way back then, I already had an idea of the kind of grownup I wanted to be. I guess I wanted to be smart and I wanted to be pretty and to be in control of my life and all those kinds of things. That seems to be coming true in many ways. I am much happier with myself than I ever was. A lot of those desires came out of the feeling that I wasn’t any of those things and didn’t have control. I am much more contented, so I don’t feel the urge to keep making myself up.
Playboy: Your father died when you were in high school. What happened to the family then?
Turner: My mother and I had always been very close, but that brought us closer. We came back to the United States and we didn’t really have a home. We went through such a similar period–as I was starting college, we were both looking for a job, for friends, for a place to live. I think it created a closeness that I wouldn’t have had with her, because we were going through so much of the same thing.
Playboy: What was college like for an internationally raised kid?
Turner: It was probably the worst culture shock I had ever gone through. After 11 years outside the United States, I showed up in Missouri with a heavy English accent. In my absolute terror, I was determined not to lose this sort of distinction, what I thought of as a great affectation, and the kids were not very understanding or forgiving. They didn’t really want to hear about something that had happened in London and Paris. They thought I was just unbearable. Also, for the first time in my life, it didn’t matter who my father was. I had always had the feeling that I could go to any country in the world and say, “Contact Consul Turner” and I would be taken care of, which was basically true. That shook me up quite a bit. I took refuge in this theater group, which was very special.
Playboy: Were you living at home?
Turner: No. As a single woman at Southwest Missouri State College, you’re supposed to live in the dorms, but I just hated it. I hated living with a bunch of women, especially ones who [high-pitched squeal] talked singsong all the time. They were driving me out of my mind! They used to put notes on these boards, like, Peggy, Came By To See You, You Weren’t Here. But Be Back. Mary Lou. And at the top of these boards, they’d put the message for the day. Usually, this was a Bible quote or an advertising slogan. I think a biggie was “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” One day, I wrote, “‘Tis better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.–Milton.” I got back, and everybody’s door was open on to the hall and people were having a floor meeting about this. They asked me to erase this message. [Southern accent] “We respect your freedom under the First Amendment to express yourself as an American citizen, but either you must erase this message”–which they considered to be blasphemy–”or you should really consider moving.” I moved. I got a note from a psychiatrist that it was ruining my mental health to live in a dorm and got permission to move off campus with a roommate.
Playboy: And a year later, you went to New York.
Turner: I left town after about my third year. I wanted to get into experimental theater and I couldn’t do it there. There just wasn’t anything happening. I bought this Oldsmobile 88, 1965, for $300, packed all my stuff into it and drove to Baltimore to attend the University of Maryland. From there, I went to Washington with $100 and a recommendation for Arena Stage. I auditioned for them and the casting director recommended me to this agent in New York. I got an agent. We later lived together, and although the romance ended a long time ago, he is still my agent. So the agency started sending me out and I got a job as a waitress. I did an off-off-Broadway piece for about five or six months, and after about eight months, I got a soap opera. After a year and a half of that and some work in theater, I got Body Heat.
Playboy: That was a quite a first role to land. How did you get it?
Turner: I read the script and I was absolutely scared by it but also tremendously intrigued. I was scared by all the sexuality; I didn’t have an image of myself at all as this siren or sexy woman. I thought that might eliminate me right away. I never saw myself as a sort of femme fatale. Anyway, my agent was trying to submit me to get an audition, but they refused to see me. I happened to be in L.A. to read for some female mud-wrestling film–thank God I was not right for that part at all–and there was a woman casting Body Heat there. I was able to see her and read for her and she got quite excited. She set up a meeting with the film’s producer and Larry Kasdan. So I went in dressed to the nines: I put on my highest heels and a slit skirt and all the make-up I could muster.
I read for them and all they said was “Can you come back tomorrow?” The next day, I got there and Larry gave me a scene to read that he hadn’t allowed anyone else to see. It was the time when Matty talks about her past–when she went to Chicago and didn’t know what she was doing, got hooked on drugs…. He gave it to me and said, “I know you haven’t seen this, but read it for me anyway.” So I read the scene and there was this absolute silence. I was nervous and finally said, “Well?” Larry looked at me and said, “I never thought I’d hear that read as I hear it in my head.” Based on that, they decided to fight for me, even though I had no film credits, and they set up a screen test. I did the test with Bill [Hurt]. They then called me back to meet the Ladd people [the film's distributors], because they weren’t convinced I could do the lightness in the film.
Playboy: The ashtray incident?
Turner: Yes. I went into this room at the Ladd Company. It was all white on white on white–white sofa, white rug, blond wood–and there was this huge ashtray in the middle of the table that was filled with cigarette butts–it was as if they had been sitting there all day, smoking and talking about [macho voice] the girl. I was standing there with the script and one of the vice-presidents said, “Do drunk.” So I was doing drunk and I threw the script onto the table and it knocked into the ashtray and I watched it fly across the room. The butts went all over this white rug, scattered. I got down on my hands and knees and started picking them up–”This is the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my life.” And they laughed. I swear to God that turned them around.
Playboy: What was it like working with Hurt, who is obviously a gifted actor but has a reputation for being somewhere on the edge?
Turner: Maybe he is a little bit. I think he sometimes is difficult to deal with personally, because he doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion. His actions don’t progress in any sensible shape or form. However, he never brings that stuff on camera. We’d go to dinner and I would spend all evening completely unable to understand what the hell he was talking about. I mean, it got a little scary sometimes, like spending the whole night talking about your preferred mode of death, for instance. He said he would like to be sucked up into a jet engine and immediately atomized–and I’m saying, “Oh, my God, OK, here I am, sitting with this man I have to work with tomorrow who wants to die by being atomized in a jet engine.” Uh-huh. [Laughs] But the next day, there’s none of that. I think Bill is one of those people who are afraid that if they find a form of contentment of stability, they will lose the gift of their work. I don’t agree, but I think that is part of his behavior, though he never brought that shit on stage.
Playboy: What about Ned Racine, his character in Body Heat? Your line to him was, “You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.”
Turner: [Laughs] Yes. I think he was a character who had very much followed the rules–he went to college, went to law school–and was controlled by them. He expected that having obtained a law degree and then having set up his office, his life was going to be taken care of. I think he always expected something outside him to manage his life. And then Matty came along. [Smiles in Matty character] But I think he wasn’t unlike so many young people these days. They think that if they fulfill certain qualifications and pass the tests, they will be handed a ready-made life. He was always looking for someone to say, “Do this, do that, go this way and you will be rewarded.”
Playboy: There was a moment there, when you smiled, that brought back Matty. Were you at all wary of playing such a nasty character?
Turner: When you’re doing a character, you never think the character is evil. You find all the sympathetic things that touch you and move you. The woman was scared and married to this horrible man. Not that there was ever any justification possible for what she did, but you find mitigating reasons. The biggest challenge was to make the audience believe her. I was always terrified that they would stop believing. The challenge was to … to suck them all in. Everybody. At the same time, you had to leave clues all the way down the line, so when they looked back, they wouldn’t suddenly say, “Wait a minute! When did she go from good to bad?” There had to be little notes that sounded wrong in every scene. Why did she hesitate to say that word? What was that look? There had to be clues in every scene that she wasn’t what she seemed to be, but you couldn’t see them until you knew.
Playboy: How did you feel when you first saw the completed movie?
Turner: Thrilled, embarrassed. After a private screening, I went out to a movie theater and watched it with an audience. I put on glasses and everything. I guess I thought they were going to recognize me, which of course they wouldn’t have. I moved two or three times during the film, and it was wonderful. At the end, I was sitting next to this woman who was watching it alone, and when they had walked down to the boathouse, she said, under her breath, “Don’t go in, don’t go in.” I thought, This is great. And I sneaked out and sat in the lobby as people started to come out. They were all arguing: “She loved him.” No, she didn’t.” Or “I knew she was going to do that.” “Oh, you did not!” I thought, This is fabulous. I followed this couple for about two blocks and they kept arguing about whether or not she loved him.
Playboy: Body Heat‘s rave reviews must have really started things rolling.
Turner: Not at all. I didn’t work in a film for eight months after Body Heat. In fact, I was back filling in on soap operas and doing things like that. I went up to Canada to do stage work after about a year. I even did a little waitressing. I got a couple of offers to do films that I really didn’t like–bad imitations of Body Heat.
Playboy: How did The Man with Two Brains come about?
Turner: I read the script and thought it was very funny. But my agent was having trouble getting me an audition, because Carl [Reiner, the director] had seen Body Heat and, I was told, he thought I was talented but not funny. I got kind of upset. Most of my stage work had been comedic, and I didn’t think that was fair. So I told my agent I really wanted that audition, and ultimately Reiner agreed to see me.
Playboy: And you convinced him.
Turner: And Steve. And 15 minutes later, they asked me if I would do it. It may have helped that at the reading, I did a faint and then ended up climbing Steve’s leg.
Playboy: Was Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone your first sympathetic role?
Turner: Yes. The first nice girl. It meant a lot, because I was afraid I was starting to get a little typecast. The villainesses are interesting to do, but I never wanted to be stuck in one kind of role. My husband went back to the old home town. Everybody knew Jay and I were getting married, and they all wanted to know, “Is she really a bitch?” That was the first question. We have a pact: When someone asks Jay, “What’s she really like?” I’ll always love him for saying, “She makes great fried chicken.”
Playboy: Is it tough when you get a role that’s closer to you?
Turner: Yeah. When you are doing something that’s really outside yourself, such as when I was doing the whore in Crimes of Passion, there are all kinds of triggers–you just have to put on those shoes and that wig and you start going. They put you right into character. When you take away a lot of those props and you are doing things close to you, you start doubting whether they are good enough. Acting is never being real, I believe. It’s always a purposeful behavior that you are presenting as a sort of symbol of what the character is feeling, what she’s thinking.
Playboy: So isn’t the more real the better?
Turner: One of the realest things I think I ever did was when I was in the soap opera. My mother on the soap opera was dying, and for some reason I flashed really badly on Daddy’s death. And in the dress rehearsal, I just knew I was going to burst into tears. I thought, OK, OK, just hold it until they tape it. If you are going to go through this, at least use it. And for the taping, I finally let it go. I was sobbing. We finished the show, and I thought it was the most real thing I had ever done. But I saw the show and it was the worst piece of ham acting I’ve ever seen in my life. It just looked absurd. You’ve got to channel it. You’ve got to show people what the character is feeling. You can’t feel it really. I mean, you have to feel it to show it, but you’ve got to put that step in between to present it. The audience doesn’t actually want to step into your life. They don’t want to go through any pain you’re going through. They want to be touched by it.
Playboy: Beyond the example of getting involved with fellow actors, you seem sophisticated about the pitfalls of your profession. Why do you think you’ve been able to stay centered, not get carried away by it?
Turner: Some of it, I think, is background–just nice, practical, solid background. Also, it makes a difference that I never grew up with any sort of veneration of these worlds–movies and television. Not living in the States most of the time never made these things so important to me. It’s not better than my real world. A lot of people think that this world must be amazing and mystical and God-given and you can have anything you want and it solves all your problems. In fact, it eases some things and creates a whole batch of problems, but all that is obvious. Most of all, I suppose, I’m pretty levelheaded.
Playboy: Some wouldn’t call your decision to do Crimes of Passion levelheaded. You accepted one of the most sexually explicit roles any mainstream actress has played–that of China Blue, a businesswoman by day who is a prostitute by night. The picture has become something of a cult hit and has scenes in it that are so hot that some of its publicity touted it as deserving an X rating. Why did you take the role?
Turner: I was up against a lot to do Crimes of Passion. Jay was very concerned about my doing it. My mother was absolutely appalled by the idea. Even my agent had very mixed feelings about my doing it. I was doubtful. I was afraid of the sex, but I got contractual approval on the way everything would be shot. I had contractual approval to say yes or no. I had one week when I changed my mind and tried to get out of it and realized that I couldn’t and shouldn’t. In a way, all these people telling me not to do it almost made me decide that I must. The idea was very exciting. It was an acting tour de force, and you don’t get offered too many of those, especially if you are becoming a commercial Hollywood leading lady. Studios don’t want you going out on a limb and risking your reputation with these kinds of roles, because then you might lose audience. As time goes on and you become more popularly successful, the odds are you start to be limited in your choice of roles. So I really thought it was a good time to grab it, to go for that kind of stretch and because I thought I would act my ass off in it. And I think it was a correct decision. I think Crimes is my best work. I’m very pleased with it. I’m not pleased with the film. It’s not as good as I wanted it to be, but I like the work very much. And it did use all this anger.
Turner: You see, every few years or so, I get a build-up of anger, of something. You’ve been fulfilling all your goddamn responsibilities, you’ve been forging ahead–and every few years, there’s a whole body of anger that you haven’t tapped. You’ve just let it sit. It was one of those times when Crimes of Passion came in. [My character] Joanna is so angry and so hurt! To me, the background story on Joanna comes through in one scene when she sort of jokes with Anthony Perkins and says, “When I was in the kitchen trying desperately to make my husband’s favorite casserole, he was in the bedroom with my best friend, making her.” I envision that Joanna was trying to be Superwoman. She was carrying this job and this marriage, and when they were breaking up, her husband turned around and said something like, “You’re not a real woman.” It’s a problem for so many women today. What do you do? Do you spend your time making sure your man is all right or pursuing your career? Does he feel neglected? Ahh! It’s very hard! And Joanna got burned! He used her expertise and confidence against her and attacked her femininity. I envision that one night she went out and bought that wig because it was her idea of absolutely grotesque, absurd, and she went out to see if any man was going to pay attention to her. She got into the control thing and liked it. She was completely irresponsible. She could go fuck anybody she wanted to and pull any trip on him, play any kind of game, and then go back to her other life and not have to pay the price. It was obviously a very destructive way to use this anger, but it was her first access to it. When my husband first saw the film, right at the beginning, when China was walking down the street and dropped her cigarette in front of the policemen, he said, “I’ve never seen you like that. Why does she walk like that? What is it?” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know why she walked like that except to say, ‘Fuck you!’”
Playboy: And where does the parallel stop? Was this a destructive way to use your anger?
Turner: I don’t think it was destructive, though it certainly was using that built-up anger. In college, after I had been back in the States about two years and I had experienced the worst culture shock I ever had, feeling lost, alone and angry, I got the chance to do The Death of Bessie Smith. The character is a nurse who, at one point, is refusing admittance to this woman whose arm has been ripped off and who is bleeding to death. This is the most inhumane thing, and in the midst of this inexcusable behavior, she breaks down. [In character] “I’m just sick! Sick of the smell of this place! I’m sick. I’m sick of my skin. I want to rip it off….” [Shudders] And she gets slapped by the doctor, and the audience applauded, and I went, “Yeah! Right!” I mean, I got rid of two years right there….
Playboy: Did you have to exercise your contractual control over the sex scenes in Crimes of Passion?
Turner: Only one time. It was just ridiculous. The writer on that piece became extremely unreasonable. I guess he felt that his control wasn’t as powerful as he had intended it to be. In the scene with the old man [when China is hired by the wife of a dying man], he wanted me to do it naked–without a bra on or anything–and I said, “That’s ridiculous. People are going to spend all their time wondering when I’m going to get dressed, to begin with.” Essentially, this is a beautiful scene; it’s the only time that the woman allows her two lives to cross over, and it’s a shock to her. This is not about whether or not she’s going to fuck the old man. But the writer wanted to humiliate me, really.
Playboy: You nixed that one, yet you allowed a very kinky S/M scene. Why?
Turner: I found that very, very upsetting, but I’m basically an actor; and if the director, whom I admire and respect, says, “We’ve got to have this scene,” then I will certainly try to make it work, and I did try to make that work. I wasn’t happy with the S/M scene, but it has a reason, has a point. The payoff is when he spits in her face and she’s got that scene in the bathroom when she’s crying and trying so desperately to put make-up on and pull herself back together, when she knows she’s not in control–she’s been fooling herself the whole time about this whore character’s being free. So that’s worth it.
Playboy: Considering the film’s notoriety, it couldn’t have been easy on your husband.
Turner: It wasn’t, but he respects my work. We agreed to disagree on this one, which is OK. We were engaged and were going to be married right after the film. No, it wasn’t easy. My mother’s terror about Crimes of Passion, which she’s never seen and never will see, is that if I’m so good as this woman, won’t people all think I’m a whore? Well, this is ridiculous to my mind. I have no problem separating my actions as an actor from my actions in my life. I think that’s essential. If you don’t know when you’re off stage, how can you make yourself be on? If the line gets fuzzy, then things get very weird.
Playboy: And yet your family looks at the screen and sees you in very intimate scenes—-
Turner: I think it’s very hard. Crimes is very hard on Jay. In a way, he feels a little exposed himself. I’m showing an intimacy that in most normal lives is never seen outside the bedroom. Why would anyone ever see someone else’s wife in that position? I understand that, but that’s not me to me. I’ve got no problem with it, because I would never act like that.
Playboy: Yet any decision you make affects the people close to you.
Turner: Of course it affects Jay. It affects his family, it affects my family, everyone saying how wonderful or how awful, or how something. Of course it affects people around you who care for you. I think you’ve got to take into account what it may cost them, as well, and therefore what it’s going to cost you, but I don’t go to my mother for advice on what films to do.
Playboy: Your next role was in Prizzi’s Honor, with Jack Nicholson, directed by John Huston. That was certainly a less controversial decision.
Turner: Yes, though not necessarily for Jack. He was never quite sure about the script. Jack has told this story, so it’s OK to tell it. John couldn’t understand why, after several readings, Jack was still troubled by the script. He said to him, “It’s a very funny story; what’s wrong with you?” Jack said, “What? It’s a comedy?” He had never seen it as a comedy. He read it again and said, “Holy shit, this is funny!” The producers wouldn’t confirm that I had the offer until they knew they had Jack. They didn’t know whether or not they had Jack for months. I turned down another film because it would have been a conflict. I finally had to call Jack and say, “Hey, guy, give me a hint.” The next week, he agreed to it.
Playboy: How was Nicholson to work with?
Turner: I think he’s a stunning actor. He’s unique. I don’t know–with some actors, Jack included, it’s not why they are so good, it’s that they are who they are. Jack is technically excellent. You never have to worry if you are depending on a move or an emphasis or the pace of a line–you’ll get it from Jack. I got a little spoiled working with him. All I had to do was act–that’s all. I didn’t have to take care of nobody else.
Playboy: Jack joked about working with this sexy lady–you.
Turner: Off camera. Right. I asked him if he was having a good time. He said, “How can I be having a good time? I’m working with a bunch of old men and a goddamn newlywed.” [Laughs] Actually, I think he and Anjelica [Huston] probably had a very good time.
Playboy: But the role wasn’t exactly sympathetic, for all that you wanted a change. A hit lady who gets bumped off by her husband isn’t exactly the all-American girl.
Turner: [Shrugs] Hey! It was just business, ya know? Part of it was just to go for the old charm. There was no explanation or justification for her at all. My God, these people are completely amoral. These people live in their own world, with their own code of honor. She broke it and she’s got to pay the price. It’s very moral in that sense. On her side, as one line goes, “She’s an American trying to get ahead.” Hey! [Shrugs] Business is business. She broke da rules.
Playboy: And, obviously, the sex scenes in Prizzi’s Honor are of a different order from the ones in your other movies.
Turner: Oh, sure. The love scene on the bed was just a gas to do. I think that’s one of the secrets of doing good sex on film, actually. I think that just having intense, intense kissing or touching is really kind of boring and archaic. I think the real joy is finding joy. I always try to laugh, always try to put in a gurgle of joy, because that touches people much more than watching someone pant. I mean, when we hit the headboard and it’s banging the wall–there isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t know that sound. [Laughs]
Playboy: What attracted you to your most recent film, Peggy Sue Got Married?
Turner: The script and Francis Coppola.
Playboy: Peggy Sue opens at a high school reunion. Have you ever gone to one?
Turner: The only good high school memories I have are of this theater group I was in. I can’t imagine going back to high school. Peggy Sue was a cheerleader in high school. Cheerleaders were a joke in London, where I went to high school. We formed a cheerleading squad for the teachers, who played the high school basketball team, which was called the Eagles. The teachers were the Bald Eagles, and we cheered for them; we went out and spread-eagled between shots.
Playboy: You said it was also Coppola who drew you to this film. Are there any directors with whom you would work regardless of the script?
Turner: Well, you also have to have a sense of whether you can work with them or not. There are some fabulous people out there, but truly, if you’re not going to do good work with them, you’re going to hurt each other. There was one director I met who took great pride in telling me how he manipulated his actors–specifically, in one case, when he made this woman fall in love with him. In the script, she was dumped by her boyfriend, and the director very cleverly, he thought, dumped her three days before the scene and, yes, got a stunning performance out of her. I thought, I would kill you, you bastard. This is why I am quite sure I will never work with him and, no, I won’t name names. The point is, I don’t feel I need that kind of manipulation. I don’t think it’s fair. This is acting! You don’t screw up somebody’s life.
Playboy: Do you have any dream roles?
Turner: Oh, yes. More on stage than in film, I suppose, because there’s so much more history on stage. I find it very difficult to think of doing film roles, because I haven’t read them yet, but on stage there are many things. There’s a piece I have wanted to do since I was 15, Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice. It’s been done twice. Ingrid Bergman did it and Liv Ullmann did it a few years ago. It’s quite an extraordinary piece. I have to be older–the character should be in her 40s, really. It’s a one-woman piece. The whole thing is a phone conversation. She’s leaving her lover of five years. She’s just over the edge where she’s lost her youthful attractiveness. She doesn’t know what she is. The range is just–phewww! The arc is so big.
Playboy: You’ve been active in certain political causes. Does it bother you that some people sneer at actors’ using their platforms to advance their causes?
Turner: I’ll tell you: I’m going to be a woman all my life and I’m not necessarily going to be an actress all my life. So it’s important to take some stands. For instance, I am a supporter of Planned Parenthood. I’m on the Board of Advocates. Although I would be horrified to have to make a decision on abortion, I support the prochoice position, because it is more appalling to me to bring these children into the world without any resources, without any choice, without love and a future.
I also did some stuff for People for the American Way, Norman Lear’s organization concerned with censorship. I feel that’s terribly important. I find that a lot of these born-again-Christian Falwell characters–Falwell in particular–are absolutely frightening, because they are making political judgments under this blanket of Christian sanctity. It is such hypocrisy that I really find it amazing that they have the stature that they do. I definitely think they’re a serious threat to our country. The justification they use is that they are the personification of God’s will, so any action against them is an action against God, which is unbelievable arrogance. Nobody has informed me that there’s been another Jesus Christ.
Playboy: But there are causes about which you feel zealous, aren’t there?
Turner: Yeah, in a way. When I first came back to the States from England, I was in a fervent acting-as-religion phase; I really wanted to work toward building a better regional theater in the United States, because that is so important and accepted in England and I was so admiring of it. I had this idea that I would walk into Springfield, Missouri, and do Medea or something. Whether they were shocked, whether they liked it or not, it would push their feelings a little further. This is very arrogant, I admit, but I had this idea that even if they never made use of it in their lives, they would be aware of a further range because of the experience. Somebody says, “Ah! All right. That exists. Something different.” [Laughs] It still sounds arrogant.
Playboy: Switching back to your personal life, why did you decide to get married?
Turner: After Romancing, I had this idea that I was becoming somewhat known and that I had the leisure to attack this whole New York dating society scene. I went out with a couple of guys who were very nice, but I just hated it. I would find myself calling them up at six o’clock before a dinner engagement and saying, “Listen, if you think anything is going to happen after dinner, forget it.” “No, no, no, I just wanted the pleasure of your company.” Right. Sure. Eleven o’clock and you’re still trying to shove him out the door. I was very flustered. I didn’t enjoy it very much. I decided that obviously, that was not going to be my way of life. It had a little to do with Body Heat. People expected me to be very glamorous and sensuous and perhaps even easy; who knows?
I was living in a sublet on 57th Street that I really hated. I figured it was time that I had a nice place. A friend knew this guy Jay Weiss, who owned buildings and was in the business, and asked him if he would help me find an apartment. At first, he refused–he said he didn’t do that kind of thing–but she bugged him, and finally he lined up a bunch of apartments and took me to look at these buildings, none of which I liked. Afterward, I took him to lunch at the Russian Tea Room to thank him for his effort. Then we talked until four o’clock in the morning, and after that, I think every single night I was in New York, we went out together. At first, he didn’t want to–well, get involved with an actress, so I had to persuade him. He couldn’t resist me. [Laughs]
Playboy: Despite your openness with us, you have a reputation in some quarters for being icy and arrogant. Why?
Turner: Some of it is a distance that I think I have to keep. It’s also partly the way I talk. I don’t use slang a lot and I don’t go, “Hey, man,” and “OK” and “Like, far out.” I got along with John Huston because I’m like he is–I speak very properly and formally, even though it comes off stiff and arrogant. When I get very nervous, I become very precise. In New York, when I was starting in auditions, I was terribly nervous, so I would be so incredibly proper it was ridiculous. I mean, who is this kid who is acting like my mother, you know? And I would get feedback from the agency like, “Who is this prima donna? We don’t need to waste our time on this.”
Playboy: So you keep your distance, especially on the set.
Turner: Well, you want to have friendships, to be available to everyone. You know everybody’s name on the crew; you try to know if people are well or if they are sick. But you can’t … you’re the girl, you’re the star and can’t go down to the bar and just have drinks with the guys and stuff like that, because there is always that question of sexuality involved; and especially if you’re on location and everybody is away from home, you’re going to make all kinds of trouble. One nymphomaniac in this position could turn a crew upside down and sideways. You have to be aware of your position and use it responsibly.
Playboy: So you build a wall?
Turner: I hope not. I really like people. I really like being with people. I spend a lot of time alone now, for many reasons, but I would hate to feel I had to. As long as it’s still my choice.
Playboy: Do you ever fear becoming addicted to the kind of attention you get?
Turner: Yes, I do. I do wonder if it could become more important to me than real love and admiration. A couple of years ago, I started seeing a shrink. I still see her when I’m in New York, and sometimes I call her when I’m away. I went to her because I had this concept, this feeling that there was a capital-K, capital-T Kathleen Turner who was getting a lot of attention and was more important than I was. And I was feeding her! I was spending my time trying to perform this Kathleen Turner, and I thought, This is sick! And I felt it was getting very dangerous. If I couldn’t sit at home and be happy reading, if I had to get out and get my dose of attention every day, then I was going to be in trouble. And she has really helped me find a perspective.
Now, I will go perform Kathleen Turner when I should, when I have to–at an opening, when I’m on the set–but I don’t want to feed my energy into this public figure every day. I want to live my own life.
Playboy: So, no major regrets in the life of Kathleen Turner–capitalized or not?
Turner: I don’t have a lot of wasted time in my life. I don’t look back and think, There’s a whole section that didn’t mean anything. What I like about my work so far, my life so far, are the leaps. There are times I’ve said, “Either I’m going to do it or I’m going to sit here and ask myself ‘What if?’” When it’s come down to that point, I’ve always done it.
Playboy: What do you see ahead?
Turner: I’d like to keep acting forever. I don’t see any reason why I won’t. There is a very difficult time in a woman’s career, sometime in her late 30s or early 40s, when she loses that edge of youth and attractiveness and is no longer considered a young leading lady. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever been a young leading lady, so I’m not too upset about it. But it’s still going to be tough on the ego. However, some of the best roles ever, particularly on stage–Hedda Gabler, Lady Macbeth, numerous roles–are written for women who are no longer forced to barter their youth and beauty. So I’m kind of looking forward to that. I’ll tell you one thing: Helen Hayes is an inspiration. There she is, doing Airport-whatever at the age of 69. I think that’s great. I hope to do as well. That’s me–Airport XVII.