Kathleen Turner Overdrive: The TFT Interview With an American Icon
Kathleen Turner will return to Broadway in “High”, a new play by Matthew Lombardo at the Booth Theatre, opening April 19. She is cast as Sister Jamie, a hard as nails, foul mouthed, recovering alcoholic nun whose job it is to provide tough love to recovering addicts as they come to her church for rehabilitation under the guidance of the stoic Father Michael Delpapp, played by Stephen Kunken. Sister Jamie’s tough but empathetic approach to rehab is challenged when 19 year old street hustler Cody Randall, played by Evan Jonigkeit, is thrust upon her as a patient after his failed suicide attempt through deliberate overdose. Cody’s nihilistic approach to his addiction and life in general eventually challenge Sister Jamie’s “seen it all” attitude until finally, a jarring secret about the relationship between Father Delpapp and Cody and is brought to light causing all three characters to confront difficult truths about themselves.
What is the moment before curtain up like for you now compared to when you were just starting out?
It hasn’t changed much since I started because, to me, all my nerves occur off stage. Before I go on is when I’m like “Come on, let’s do this!” Before you go on you have the time to think about whether something will go wrong or you’ll forget a line. Once I put my foot on the stage I can do something about whatever happens. I’m a very practical person. So, just let me get on stage and I’m fine. What it’s like now is actually something quite delicious. Delicious is a good word for it. It feels good.
What kind of notes did you get during rehearsal for High?
This is such a personal story for Matthew Lombardo, the playwright because is a recovering crystal meth addict. So, much of this work has been saying to Matthew, “What exactly do you want this character to say now?” He’ll give us the words and everything and then we’ll try and find the exact intention and very often we will find the common ground.
So, this process of rehearsal has been very much about building the script which is different to being handed a script and being told to make it work. For example, you don’t change a single word of Edward Albee. I mean, if you change one word of his, Edward will show up in your dressing room and want to know why. He has actually done that.
Oh yes! He literally came back stage one night. I opened my door and straight away he said “You left out HA!” I said to him, “Well, Mr. Albee it will be there tomorrow.”
What convinced you to take this part?
They were pretty persistent. Matt and Rob, the director sent me a draft about a year and a half ago and I read it and I thought there was something there but it was not a play. So, I called them up and said that it was intriguing and the character rather attracted me but it didn’t work. We went to lunch and talked it over and they impressed me. Several months and re-writes later it walked and talked. So, then I had to say yes.
What’s brought you back to the stage so frequently and not so much the screen?
Theatre is so much more satisfying. I’ve enjoyed making films but, for an actor, it’s very often rather boring. It can be very cut-up from the point of view of the actor. Whereas, on stage, I come to the theatre at six, I spend an hour and a half preparing, I go on stage and in the end I have a solid two to three hours of acting and I feel I have accomplished something complete.
You’ve said you made it a goal to play Martha in Virginia Woolf by the time you were fifty and you did. Who are you looking forward to playing in future?
Martha was something that came to my head in college. It was a very clear goal from the beginning. There are many women I would still like to play; mostly theatre because, of course, there aren’t many film roles. I think I will probably go back to Tennessee Williams and do “Sweet Bird of Youth” one day. There’s also been very intriguing suggestion that I do Lear. I haven’t done Shakespeare for years and I have to go and read it again to decide whether I’m being silly. We have to see if it will work before I shoot my mouth off, you know?
You’re known for your candor in public, how important is honesty to you when it comes to your public profile and have you ever said anything in public that you regret?
I’m sure I must have, of course. You have to be so careful because it can be silly things you never meant that upset people and I never aim to upset people. I obviously have strong opinions about many things. Particularly issues about women’s health, about intolerance in any form, about a lot of our politicians. Most of the time I know exactly what I mean to say though.
It seems that often you say things that cause quite a scandal in the name of making a critical point. It can be kind of stark to hear someone say “I’ve spent my life correcting Elizabeth Taylor’s performances”
I have been rude there, have I not?
But usually, if one is paying attention, it’s clear you’re thinking analytically and in a way, unemotionally. However, I wonder if you speak and then suddenly feel regret. I mean, maybe you don’t. That’s what I’m interested in.
Oh yes, I DO. I did not anticipate Nicholas Cage would have such a strong reaction to my memory of what it was like to work with him. I mean, it was twenty something years ago and he really was a twit back then. But he did get upset. So, I sent him an apology. Big deal. I think in terms of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Martha in Virginia Woolf I was right. I think I gave a truer and better representation of the playwright’s intention than Elizabeth Taylor did.
You’ve been very vocal on the difficulties faced by women actors because they are women. How has the plight of women actors changed during your career?
Not a great deal and the thing is, my generation includes an extraordinary crop of actors. I hesitate to name them because I’m sure that I’ll leave someone important out. I, personally, never intended to have a career that wouldn’t encompass as much stage work as I could do. But also, because I knew that the better roles for women as one grows older would be on stage. It’s very difficult to do film when you’re a woman over a certain age. Film writing has increasingly been about specific categories. There’s the love interest, the hero, the villain, there is the anguished spinster, the benign grandfather. If you don’t fit those immediate categories they don’t know how to write for you or why they should.
I wonder if Meryl Streep is somehow breaking that limitation put on women actors.
I think she’s an exception.
Not just because she’s a good actor but also because she’s playing sexually active women in their fifties and those roles, as you say, aren’t common.
And I’m jealous as hell.
Oh, it’s wonderful. I love to watch her. I laughed so much during Julie and Julia. I had a delightful time with that. Yeah, I’m jealous. By the way, thank you for not asking how Michael Douglas kisses.
A lot of your bios say that you hit your fame peak in the mid eighties to early nineties…
Oh yes, when I was a top box office hit at the top of the world…
What can you tell me about fame?
Well, you know, some of this is hindsight. There are choices that you make along the way. One of the biggest choices I made that I have no hesitation or regret about was choosing not to live in LA in that film world. I had a young daughter and there was no way I was bringing her up in LA in that atmosphere with all that pressure on young girls. I wanted to be in New York to keep my theatre going and I wanted to support my husband’s life and business. This meant a real disengagement from a great deal of business that was going on out there. In hindsight it probably cost me a lot of work because I wasn’t getting involved with that kind of fame. But I can honestly say that that is absolutely fine with me. I’m where I want to be now. I get to go home at the end of the day and feel confident I’ve touched the audience in some way.
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