‘I knew Harvey Weinstein was a creep’: Kathleen Turner on Hollywood and finding her voice in new show
- Credit: Archant
Kathleen Turner's sparky attitude, husky voice and sex appeal turned her into a star with a string of hit films in the 1980s and 90s. Now she is telling stories from her career and singing songs in a new one-woman show coming to the region.
'I am just so tickled at the thought I can do it at all,' chuckles Hollywood star Kathleen Turner in that famous smoky voice. 'I never thought of myself as a singer. I actually have perfect pitch, but when I came to New York aged 22 every lead in anything was a soprano and that was never going to be me. I can actually sing 'Ol' Man River' in the original key. I think I'm one of about seven women who can do that!'
The showbiz veteran, now 63, who was one of the biggest film stars of the 1980s and 90s, is talking about her latest starring role, her solo cabaret show Finding My Voice, that sees her lending her husky alto to classic tunes from the American songbook and telling stories.
It is a deeply personal account of her career spanning over 40 years in the Hollywood limelight, on Broadway and in the West End and brings her to the region for two shows next month.
'This is not a script given to me that I find a way to work. This one I get to write myself. It's so thrilling,' she says.
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Amongst the songs she performs are Fall in Love, On the Street Where you Live and Every Time We Say Goodbye.
'I've never sung – I mean, not publicly – but I wanted to explore what I could sing and we started to find songs we loved and I felt good singing,' she says. 'I have a deep voice and I like the feel of it. Then I would tell a story that the song reminded me of and eventually we just said: 'Why don't we make a show? A one-woman show?'
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She has lots of stories to tell mixing her glittering career with her personal ups and downs and mixes the poignant with the political.
'Like when I was shooting Peggy Sue Got Married,' she elaborates. 'I flew my grandparents in on the day I was filming a scene with Peggy Sue's grandparents, including an actor called Leon Ames, who was 83. His line was: 'When's it going to be? Friday or Saturday?' and he was saying: 'When's it going to be? Thursday or Friday? Oh, give me another take…' Eventually from behind the camera I hear: 'Oh for heaven's sake, Friday or Saturday!' I went, 'Grandmommy!' And she said: 'Well, I'm 85. If I can retain it, why can't he?''
Turner was born in Springfield, Missouri. Her father was a US Foreign Service officer who grew up in China where Turner's great-grandfather had been a Methodist missionary. Kathleen, her sister and two brothers, were raised in what was a strict conservative Christian household, and her interest in performing was discouraged by both of her parents.
'My father was of missionary stock,' she explains. 'Theatre and acting were just one step up from being a streetwalker, you know? So when I was performing in school, he would drive my mom there and sit in the car. She'd come out at intermissions and tell him, 'She's doing very well.''
Her father's job meant they grew up aboard and she graduated from the American School in London in 1972, the same year her father died of a coronary thrombosis, prompting the family moved back to the United States. 'We ended up back in Springfield, Missouri, with my grandparents. The greatest culture shock of my life!'
She studied theatre at the University of Maryland and moved to New York the minute she could. 'The second I finished university my car was packed,' she recalls. 'I was supposed to share a flat with another woman but when I got there she and her boyfriend had reconciled and he'd moved in, so I spent my first night in my car. New York was very frightening back then but when you're 21, you're invincible.'
She made her television debut in daytime soap The Doctors but it was playing the ruthless Matty Walker, one of the definitive screen femme fatales, in Body Heat that made her a film star.
'That was my first film!' she points out. 'But I never moved to Los Angeles. People understand it better now with all the revelations coming out but it was a very hostile environment towards women; the way they treated women, the disrespect, the sense that you were just a prop.'
She ever experienced it first hand but she was well aware of the reputations of certain individuals in the business. 'You know when it's creepy,' as she points out.
'I got an email from my ex-husband when the whole Weinstein thing started. He said: 'You told me 25 years ago he was a creep!' I said: 'I told you 30 years ago!'
'But by the time I met Harvey I was well established and he tended to prey on younger, less secure women and that wasn't me.'
Body Heat turned her into one of the most sought-after actresses of the 1980s and early 1990s. However she side stepped being stereotyped as a femme fatale, opting for comedy alongside Steve Martin in The Man With Two Brains and romantic action-adventure Romancing the Stone, on which she struck up a sparky chemistry with Michael Douglas that later revived in the sequel The Jewel of the Nile.
She was nominated for an Oscar for Peggy Sue Got Married in 1987 and also won acclaim for Prizzi's Honor with Jack Nicholson, but her personal favourite is The Accidental Tourist.
With her deep voice and smouldering sexuality, she was often compared to a young Lauren Bacall. When the two met, Turner introduced herself by saying, 'Hi, I'm the young you.'
It is an image that she played with in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, providing voice of cartoon femme fatale Jessica Rabbit, intoning the famous line, 'I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.'
Though it no longer frustrates her that she is still referred to as a screen siren — 'I got over that a long time ago' — she admits that for a long time she avoided the 'sexy' pigeonhole, because 'femme fatale roles had a shelf-life.'
She adds: 'After Body Heat, you can imagine there were endless offers for Body Heat 2, 3, 4, whatever,' she says. 'And I said no. If I've explored one thing, I have no desire to do it again.
'I remember an interview I did for Playboy. I showed up for the cover shoot and they had all this lingerie and I said: 'I don't think so!' I'd brought an outfit I liked, which was a long skirt. I was never going to do that crap. I wore what I wanted to wear.'
Does she consider herself a feminist? 'Absolutely!' she exclaims. 'I always have been. That was how I was brought up.'
She does a lot of work for women's groups. 'I'm chair of the board of advocates for Planned Parenthood. We are clinics. We take care of women and their health. We were designed originally to help women plan their families.'
In the mid-1990s, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and her film career suffered a hiatus.
She has since developed a name for herself as a stage actress, winning acclaim for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway and playing Mrs Robinson in The Graduate in London.
She loves that theatre brings her back to the UK and offers a chance to catch up with friends.
'I became good friends with Maggie Smith when we were in theatres next to each other. I was doing The Graduate and she was doing The Lady In The Van and there were all these barriers and police and everything for me, and I'd come out, look over and see Maggie Smith just come out of her stage door and walk away.
'And one day I got a note from her saying, 'May I borrow a barrier?' So I carried the barrier over and asked if she'd have dinner with me. So Thursday nights we used to have dinner at The Ivy and used to stay so late we'd close the place!
'I never feel more alive than when I'm on stage,' she adds. 'It's fascinating to do film, but there's nothing like the knowledge that what is happening won't ever be repeated again. Theatre is a once in a lifetime occasion and subliminally the audience knows that.'
• Kathleen Turner will be at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on May 9 and the Mercury Theatre in Colchester on May 12. More details at faneproductions.com/kathleenturner