Actress Kathleen Turner, Part 2

In part two of her conversation with Tavis, Turner reflects on the projects from her body of work that she absolutely loves.

Kathleen Turner paid her acting dues for years as a relative unknown in stage productions and on TV before landing her breakthrough role in the neo-noir thriller Body Heat. She's since starred in a wide variety of popular movies and also found success on the stage, earning two Oscar nominations and two Best Actress Tony nods. The daughter of a U.S. ambassador, Turner has lived in several countries—gaining experience that helped mold her as an actress. She's also a passionate and outspoken advocate for women's health choices and has worked to raise awareness of rheumatoid arthritis.


Tavis: Back now with part two of our conversation with Kathleen Turner. Before we get back into her life and career, let’s take a quick look now at some of the memorable roles and films from her outstanding career, beginning with that breakout role in the Hollywood classic, “Body Heat.”

[Montage of clips from Kathleen Turner’s films]

Tavis: We spent a lot of time last night talking about “Body Heat.” Still looks just as good, doesn’t it?

Kathleen Turner: Well, I think it stands up, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah, I think it does too. So I promised last night that we were going to start with “Romancing the Stone.”

Turner: Oh, yeah, I have to make a confession.

Tavis: Go ahead, make a confession, go.

Turner: Well, sometimes, actually, when I’m kind of blue or something, I might slip that film in and watch a few minutes of it because it cheers me up.

Tavis: You know what? See, you took the words out of my mouth. I love that movie because it makes me smile. There’s some things that I pop in on any given day when I want to just smile. Rough day and I want to just grin. I could watch, and have watched, “Romancing the Stone” more times than I could ever count.

I have worn out DVDs of “Romancing the Stone.” It is such a cool, beautiful movie, and speaking of being an ingĂ©nue, you played that role so wonderful.

Turner: Oh, she was fun.

Tavis: Oh, Lord, I love it.

Turner: She was fun, how she grew up.

Tavis: Yeah.

Turner: That again, that was a struggle to get that role, because they said –

Tavis: A struggle? You played it brilliantly.

Turner: Well, yeah, but you see, they said, “Oh, she was sexy,” right? “She proved she could do sexy.” (Unintelligible) prove that she could be funny.

Tavis: Right.

Turner: But how do we know that she can, like, play this little mouse also?

Tavis: Mm-hmm.

Turner: I said, “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, gentlemen, it’s called acting.” (Laughter) However – no, but so I go in with no makeup and really sloppy, silly clothes, and just sort of bump into all the furniture and everything, and they finally believed that I could do that arc of starting out as a really insecure thing and grow into the writer at the end. So (makes noise) really.

Tavis: Since you went there, I’m just curious now, and I’m sure there’s a long list, but just give me two or three other things in your corpus. Last night we talked about “Virginia Woolf,” your stage play, so I know that’s at the top of your list of work that you’re proud of. “Romancing the Stone,” you like, you pop it in every now and then, you treat yourself.

But what else is on your – I know what I like of your stuff, but what else is on your list that you actually like?

Turner: The truth is that I haven’t hardly done any – I’ve only done one film that I didn’t love doing.

Tavis: That you didn’t love, okay.

Turner: Yeah. That was the one and only time I took a job for money. Taught me a lesson.

Tavis: I hear this all the time.

Turner: Yeah.

Tavis: I can’t count the number of people I’ve talked to over the course of my career who have said to me that the thing that they most regret is the one time they did something just for the money.

Turner: Yeah, yeah. But the ones I love, “Serial Mom.” Oh, I laughed so hard every day. (Laughter) It was just so crazy. “Accidental Tourist.” That put me back again with Bill Hurt and Larry Kasdan. It was such a beautiful book, and so well – Larry did a great job of making it into a screenplay, so that Anne Tyler was very pleased with it, with us.

“Prizzi’s Honor,” I enjoyed the hell out of that, working with John Huston and Jack Nicholson.

Tavis: Since you raised it a couple times now, what is the thing with you and Bill Hurt? That relationship seems to work on film.

Turner: Well, I thought we work – we work very well together, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah.

Turner: Bill is – we’re actually very different kinds of actors. Bill always likes to be much more sort of methody and submerge himself more into the character, and me, I’m talking on the phone or I’m having fun with somebody, and they say role, and I’m in character.

And he would go, “How do you do that?” He would get almost angry with me, because he’d be off suffering and I would be having fun. (Laughter) Yeah. But I just don’t believe in suffering, not if you can avoid it.

Tavis: How do you now go about choosing the kinds of roles, either on the stage or on film, that you want to play, and has the way you choose changed over the years in your career?

Turner: There’s always had to be something – as I’m reading a script, at some point, if I’m not acting it in my head by halfway through, if I’m not saying how I would say this and how I would do that and how this needs changing, it’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen, unless – if I don’t get caught up in it right away and start to see how I would do this, then I’m just not going to do it.

But it also, there are certain definite values involved. I will not do anything that has what I call kid jep – that puts a child in jeopardy in order to forward the storyline. I think that’s cheap and appalling, and as a parent, I won’t do it. I won’t have anything to do with that sort of thing.

Or a certain amount of exploitation of women. That, I will not do. I don’t do victims very well. Just can’t seem to do those.

Tavis: Is that something – let me explore that, if I can. Is that because of something inside of you? Something emotional, something –

Turner: No, I think it’s – well, I think it’s – the essence of a victim is someone who does not take any action to try and help or protect themselves, and that is against everything in my nature. And the idea also then of usually having a man come along and save you I find rather offensive, so that’s my problem there.

Tavis: Mm-hmm, I get it. (Laughter) I get it.

Turner: Was that clear enough for you?

Tavis: Very clear, yeah.

Turner: Okay, good.

Tavis: What are you trying to say? No, I get it. Speaking of children, what film were you – you got pregnant on, you were filming –

Turner: Oh, I was very pregnant when we were doing “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

Tavis: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” that’s what it was, exactly, yeah.

Turner: Well, because all they needed was my voice.

Tavis: It fit though, yeah, exactly. You could work that out, yeah.

Turner: Yeah, so I waddled into the studio, nobody would know that Jessica was actually about to pop. (Laughter)

Tavis: Did you – you’re funny. Do you like doing the voiceover stuff?

Turner: Yeah, I do.

Tavis: Yeah, you do? Yeah?

Turner: It’s fun.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah.

Turner: I like to – sometimes I record books and things like this, too, because – in fact, I was nominated for a Grammy because I produced and put together the complete recordings of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Tavis: Ooh.

Turner: And got a lot of wonderful actors together to do that, and that sort of thing. When I do these kind of things, like all the books or things I record, 30 percent goes to the charity of choice, so.

Tavis: You’ve lived and you’ve traveled around the world in this wonderful career, and obviously filmed around the world, but there are two specific places I want to ask you about. One is China, because your father grew up in China.

Turner: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: Tell me about –

Turner: Well, I actually have still not been to China.

Tavis: You’ve still not been.

Turner: No. I know it seems almost crazy to me, because yes, my father grew up in China; my mother went to China in ’47 with UNRA, with the United Nations Relief Association. They met and married in China, and lived there until ’49 when all foreigners were expelled by Mao.

Everything in our home is antiques, and all the furniture and the rugs and the dishes and everything comes from all my father’s family and their time. There are several generations in China.

My mother’s been back, she’s been back twice, and the first time she went back she said they went to their house where she and my father and his two aunts lived before the war, and now there were 11 families living in that house.

Tavis: Mm-hmm, that sounds right.

Turner: But as she turned away, she heard this man saying, “Missie Turner, Missie Turner,” and it was a man who’d been the houseboy when they actually lived there, and somehow recognized her or assumed it would be her, which shook her quite – he had managed to stay at the house. But I still have not been there.

Tavis: What are you waiting on?

Turner: Opportunity, I guess. I don’t know what I’m waiting on. Not to work for a while. I really don’t –

Tavis: There are worse problems to have in this business.

Turner: Yeah, no, listen, I’m not complaining about too much work, but I haven’t had any breaks for a long time now.

Tavis: Yeah. The other place I want to ask you about is Cuba. When I read your Castro story –

Turner: I remember, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah, the candy, Castro –

Turner: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: I have a Castro story, but I read yours, I thought yours was cooler. So I’ll let you tell the Castro story.

Turner: Well, I was four or – in ’59, yeah?

Tavis: Yup.

Turner: Yes, that makes me 58, thank you. (Laughter) So I was in what they call (speaks in Spanish) which is pre-kindergarten there. So one day after Castro had come to power the teacher, because many of the teachers in the intelligencia were behind and supportive of the revolution. The teacher told all the children to close their eyes and to pray to God for candy, and so we did.

Then she said, “Open your eyes,” and there’s no candy. She said, “Close your eyes and pray to Castro for candy,” and she must have gone around and, and she said, “Open your eyes, and who loves you, God or Castro?”

So I ran home and said, “Mom, Mom, Castro loves me, he gave me candy,” and that was the last day I went to school.

Tavis: Mm-hmm. (Laughter)

Turner: Boy, they started early, boy. They started that kind of brainwashing on four-year-olds.

Tavis: What do you make of the world that we live today? And I ask that against a backdrop of talking about China and about Cuba, and I don’t want to color it – I could, but I don’t want to color it any more than that. But what do you make of world affairs today, the politics of the world that we are trying to navigate ourselves through?

Turner: Well, I think that what started out as a European Union originally was probably a really wonderful and world-changing idea, the idea of this kind of cooperation and interdependence between countries. Of course geographically it was possible there, not in a way that it’s possible in the Western Hemisphere, in North and South America, necessarily.

But the idea that individualization would work on common ground, not on conflict, not against each other, but to find how each benefitted from the other I thought was an incredibly hopeful and positive possibility.

Now what I fear very much happening is that the differences are creating almost a sense of hostility in a sense of someone has to win and someone has to lose, as opposed to both people benefitting.

This, I’m afraid, is happening very, very much in our country, in the United States, this way of thinking that someone has to come out on top at the expense of someone else, and I find that very dangerous and very destructive thought.

Tavis: How worried are you, or concerned are you, in this election year about the issues that matter most to you? We talked last night on this program about some of the issues that you’re passionate about.

You’ve been on the board for years now of People for the American Way, so civil liberties are terribly important to you, your engagement with Planned Parenthood, so women’s reproductive freedom, very important to you. How concerned are you about this election year and the treatment or maltreatment that those issues that are important to you are going to receive this year?

Turner: I think I’m thoroughly frightened. I think the issue of women’s choice is essential for a woman being able to have their lives – if they cannot control their own bodies by choosing if or when to have a child, then they cannot control their working life or anything around them.

It’s also an issue of this – to me, when I read, for example, all of the essential religious books, the Qur’an or the bible or the Jewish bible, or the Old Testament, all of these, all of the religious teachings, ultimately ask for encompassments or for belief for tolerance. It is essential to each and every one of these religions, and that is the least, the least quality I see being emphasized now. I’m very frightened right now.

Tavis: You mentioned the bible, you mentioned the Qur’an, you mentioned the Torah. Are you a spiritual person?

Turner: Well, this other play I’m doing, I play a nun. I never really thought I’d end up there, but anyway, (laughter) it’s a good conflict. It’s a good conflict. She has a very foul mouth, I’m happy to say, but in any case –

Tavis: So there’s something for you to work with there.

Turner: Yeah.

Tavis: Okay.

Turner: Right, yeah. (Laughter) Anyway, I, yes, I am a believer. I am, as Molly says, an optimist to the point of idiocy, but what I think of organized church is I think it’s man putting words in God’s mouth, essentially. So I can’t go that road.

Tavis: I wonder whether you think that we have sacrificed too much in the name of going after terrorists or terrorism – they are two different things, obviously. Have we sacrificed too many civil liberties? I know how important that is to you. But how much have we sacrificed, too much?

Turner: Oh, I think so. Absolutely, I do. I don’t think it necessarily makes us any safer, either. What is it, was it Ben Franklin who said that those who do not deserve – mm, I’m not going to get this right, am I? Well, I can quote John Henry Faulk. “When you make yourself less free, you are not safer, you are just less free.”

Tavis: Mm-hmm.

Turner: I do not think that we are more protected or safer by giving up a lot of the rights that we have done.

Tavis: Molly Ivins, this play that you’re starring in now, “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” Molly was very serious, obviously, about civil liberties and wrote about it and talked about it extensively. I wonder whether or not you think that she was – how do I want to put this – whether or not you think she was ahead of her time?

I ask that because I can imagine a good part of what Molly would have to say today being considered by –

Turner: Ah.

Tavis: You see where I’m going with this?

Turner: You’re going to (unintelligible) “Playboy.” I know (unintelligible) now.

Tavis: – being considered politically incorrect. So could a Molly Ivins get off the ground these days without being attacked by every quarter of (unintelligible)?

Turner: Wow, be pretty tough, I think. I think it would be pretty hard.

Tavis: Not that it was easy for her then, but yeah.

Turner: No, it wasn’t easy for her then, and she paid the price in a lot of ways. She never got the Pulitzer Prize, for example, even though she was voted for Pulitzer Prize, and then a committee withheld it from her.

Tavis: For what reason?

Turner: I’m not sure. That – same thing happened to Edward Albee. They yanked – he was voted for “Virginia Woolf,” and they yanked it from him. Anyway, so she paid the price in a lot of ways for being so outspoken and individualistic. Yes, I think it’s harder and harder for someone like that to survive today. It is a darn shame.

The flip side of her, or someone like her, getting traction and getting off the ground today without being accused of being politically incorrect every other day, the flip side of that is what there is for those persons in the media today to learn from Molly Ivins. How would you answer that?

Turner: Well, it is – we do have some really fun exceptions, and I’m thinking of Jon Stewart or Colbert, who get away with a lot.

Tavis: Of course, they’re not women, either.

Turner: Well, they’re not women, but one of the things I find very humorous about that is that in a recent study or poll, it was found that 70-some percent of young Americans believe they actually get the real news from those shows.

Tavis: Oh, yeah, sure.

Turner: (Laughs) Come on, guys. This is pretty funny, I think. I think – I hope they take it responsibly. I think they do. But that someone would rather believe Colbert than an NBC news anchor, for example, I think is kind of a delicious irony.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Strange question to ask –

Turner: You keep saying things like that.

Tavis: It is a little strange.

Turner: Yeah.

Tavis: Because I don’t want to – yeah. (Laughter)

Turner: Are you warning me, or –

Tavis: Trying to preface my stupidity.

Turner: Oh, no.

Tavis: Anybody out there on the scene today that you think is writing in the Molly Ivins tradition? Because when her brother comes onstage, comes backstage and hugs you and says, “Thank you for keeping her alive,” are you seeing stuff out there today that suggests to you that somebody is writing in that tradition?

Turner: Well, I am a New Yorker, so basically I read “The New York Times” every day.

Tavis: So Maureen Dowd, yeah.

Turner: No. Actually, I was thinking Gail Collins.

Tavis: Gail, oh, yeah, yeah, I like Gail.

Turner: Yeah, I do, too.

Tavis: That’s fair.

Turner: I think, yeah, I –

Tavis: You checked me on that.

Turner: But I would say I prefer Gail, and now he’s just left the times, but I thought Frank Rich was doing a very good job.

Tavis: He’s still writing. He’s at “New York” magazine.

Turner: Yeah, but he just left “The New York Times.”

Tavis: “The Times,” yeah.

Turner: But I thought he was doing a good job of keeping things in perspective, much more so than when he was a theater critic, thank you very much.

Tavis: (Laughter) Does that mean that Frank wrote something about you one time that you didn’t like?

Turner: It’s entirely possible. (Laughter)

Tavis: I thought I kind of picked up on that. On that note, I’m done with this conversation. (Laughter) I don’t want to ask any more questions that might tick Kathleen Turner off. If you are in L.A. or coming to the L.A. area in the next few weeks, they have extended this because it is doing so well, sold out audiences every night, so how you going to get a ticket unless you know Kathleen Turner, I do not know.

But if you can get in, you should go see her. She’s at the Geffen Playhouse. It’s called “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-A Wit of Molly Ivins.” Kathleen Turner, I have enjoyed having you on this program for these two shows.

Turner: I’ve enjoyed being here.

Tavis: Thank you for talking to me.

Turner: You bet.

Tavis: I appreciate it. That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, thanks for watching and keep the faith.


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Last modified: January 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm