After nailing her acting debut in the 1981 erotic thriller “Body Heat,” ’80s Hollywood sensation and two-time Golden Globe winner Kathleen Turner quickly made a name for herself.
She’s starred in such films as “Romancing the Stone,” “The Man with Two Brains” and even garnered an Oscar nom for “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Turner also became a Broadway star after moving to the Big Apple 40 years ago.
You can catch Turner on stage before the Plaza Classic Film Festival’s screenings of “Romancing the Stone” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.” She’ll sign autographs on Saturday, Aug. 5 at the El Paso Community Foundation Room.
What’s Up caught up with her to talk about strength and perseverance in her career.
One of my favorite films of yours is “Romancing the Stone.” I love your character Joan Wilder.
Yeah, she’s a doll. More than anything it was fun; I grew up in Venezuela and South America for five years. I am very fluent in Spanish. It was a real pleasure to go back to Mexico, to that culture. Also Michael [Douglas] really needed me because he had one first assistant director that was bilingual, and that’s all. A lot of the actors didn’t speak English.
The thing you have to remember is it wasn’t just Michael and me; it’s always been Michael and Danny DeVito and me. We’re just a terrible team. We terrorize everyone and pull tricks on people. We have so much fun. It was really hard up in the wilds of the mountains, and the rains really were that bad and the roads really did get washed out; we were in landslides. At times it was extremely miserable, but we still had a ball.
It seems like you gravitate toward strong characters. Was Joan strong in her own way?
Absolutely. She was a lovely character because she had to plot her growth. She starts out so insecure and so unsure of herself and any power she might have. You can see her gaining that. She’s this wonderful creature in the end that strides down the street, giving sh*t back to the street vendors. It was lovely to be able to plan her.
At first, did you know how you’d make that transformation happen?
I don’t think I’m that clinical; I think I go about it more instinctively. You find when you break down in the doing, where the pieces have to fall.
When you first arrived in New York, you intended to become a Broadway star rather than an actor?
I am! (Laughs.) Absolutely. I only saw my career in terms of theater; I’d never really been exposed to film. I was on Broadway my first year and I thought “Ok, I’m on track.” Then I was asked to audition for films, and suddenly I was doing film and learning very fast.
Your first film role was Matty Walker in “Body Heat.” What was it like being thrust into that kind of role your first time on screen?
I think I was extremely fortunate in that I really couldn’t imagine – not having done film or being that exposed to film – the impact, either of seeing it or being seen. I was protected very much by my ignorance, my innocence. By the time it came out and I saw the reaction, then I had I a better handle on what was happening.
I read a quote about your character Martha in the stage production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and the challenges 20-year-olds face versus those in their 50s.
I read the play when I was 20 in college and said, “When I’m 50, that’s my role,” just assuming I’d be wonderful at it. By the time I got to 50, I had been through battling the rheumatoid arthritis, which was still ongoing. I abused alcohol for a while in order to try and control the pain, which was, in hindsight, very foolish, but at the time seemed to work. You learn. When I actually did Martha, I couldn’t have done it without all that. She would’ve been shallow and superficial if I hadn’t gone through it, but you do wonder how much you have to pay sometimes.
What about 20-year-old Kathleen versus 50-year-old Kathleen?
The core is the same. I’m still going to take on whatever I feel I have to and the hell with the rest. I’m still going to say “No, that’s not right,” and I will fight for that. I’m a fighter and I don’t have to win, but I have to fight.
What was it like being Peggy Sue?
I love Peggy Sue; I love Francis. It was magic in so many ways. There was unbelievable difficulty doing that, because Francis [Ford Coppola-director] had signed a contract to finish the film on time. I was in every scene, essentially. It was extremely difficult for me. My last day of shooting was 24 hours to get it under the budget.
Being an actor seems like hard work.
We work longer days than almost anyone. In film, we can work a minimum of 14 hours. I don’t know many people who work 14, 16 hours in their jobs. Even in theater, doing eight shows a week, which is no small thing either. You have to be a bit of an Olympic athlete to pull it off. This is not for sissies, honey.
So you’re still doing theater?
Oh Lord yes, and I teach! I love teaching. In fact, NYU wants me to do a series of master classes this fall. I’ve decided on a fourth career; I’m going to have a singing career. I’m building a cabaret that I’m going to perform in September. Nobody knows I sing, and I’m really good. I figured, “What the hell; I haven’t done that yet.”