Kathleen Turner is, more or less, exactly how you’d expect her. You can hear her long before and after you’re in the same room, and she certainly doesn’t suffer fools. Or anybody else, for that matter. We spoke (for much less than our alloted time slot) with the iconic star of “Body Heat,” “Serial Mom” and “Baby Geniuses” about her role in “The Perfect Family,” an ultra low-budget indie about a Catholic woman who is shocked to discover that her family falls short of her ideals.
How did you come into the project?
The script was sent to my agency by, well, you know, an established person. And I have a reputation for being very open to material, which I try to do, if it comes through the right channels, and I say that so I won’t be flattered with unqualified scripts. I was intrigued. I was very intrigued. Eileen is a good woman, I think, and not even a judgmental woman or an intolerant woman, in and of herself, and yet she’s accepting of this impossibly rigid, exclusive way of life. How the hell does she think she’s going to make it work in the real world? So, that really caught my imagination. I mean, who’s fooling who here? And once you throw in the family’s idiosyncracies, you have quite a pot stirring. So, I said I wanted to talk to the director, Anne Renton. We had a long talk over the phone, and we were very specific. I’m very good at saying, “Look, if this is the kind of thing you want her to be saying, and if this is the kind of thing you want understood, I haven’t got the words for it. You’re indicating it, but you’re not giving it to me. So let’s go back and rethink.” I’m good at telling someone about how something will work acting-wise. So, she did. And I flew out to LA for something, and we met for several breakfasts with Anne. I wanted to meet her, because with an independent like this, I mean, we had 19 days to shoot this…
Tiny budget, too.
Yes, tiny, tiny budget. Really, truly, you don’t have time for egos, and you don’t have time for disagreements. (Clicks her tongue.) You have to be on the same page when you go into it, or you’re not going to get it done, or the quality is going to be severely compromised. And I liked her. I thought she was smart. So, I thought, that’s a go. Then I got her rewrites back, and they were very good. So I said yes, trusting that they would give me a good cast, which they did. I absolutely adore Emily Deschanel. I thought Jason Ritter was swell. Richard Chamberlain is, well…
He’s Richard Chamberlain.
Oh my goodness, yes. And Michael McGrady was such a good solid character.
Having a super low budget and stepping into the role of producer, was it a step out of your comfort zone at all?
Well, you know, I always figure that ultimately it will come down to the camera, to the acting. If we get that right, we’re in good shape. One thing I didn’t have time for real access was to the editing. I just caught this film in between other projects. But I did trust them, and the two women who were the line producers, Jan and Cora, I liked them very much. So when I saw the first cut, I was pleased. Sometimes you see a first cut, and you say, “There’s so much more” or “There’s so many better choices.” But I didn’t say that. I thought they had done exactly what the movie was supposed to do, which doesn’t happen that often.
This is your first big leading lady role since “Serial Mom”…
On film. This is the first on film. (Clicks her tongue.) I certainly have been so involved with stage. And TV along the way. But the stage is what I set out to do.
Was it a conscious decision to move into the theater?
Well, in a way. After “Serial Mom” I got extremely ill with rheumatoid arthritis, and I just couldn’t take on the responsibility of a leading role not knowing if I could walk the next day. Unless you can be pretty sure that you can physically do it, you shouldn’t sign that contract.
And the stage hasn’t been demanding for you physically?
Well, there were a few years where I wasn’t able to work hardly at all. But, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Stage was where I was always going. Knowing, as I got older, the more interesting and complex woman are in the theater. I always kept my head. I never went more than two and a half years without being on stage. I saw so many actors get afraid of it when they hadn’t done it for a few years. They got frightened or timid.
Why do you think that is?
Because there’s no safety net. Because nobody’s going to say cut. Because nobody’s going to edit a scene to make you look good. It’s bare bones out there, which is pretty scary.
You’re someone who has been pretty active politically for liberal causes and you’re down with the gays.
Very much so. (Clicks her tongue.)
So was it difficult for you to empathize with Eileen when you were discovering…
Well, it’s not about what I believe. This isn’t about what me or what I think. It’s about Eileen’s beliefs and the shake-up that’s going on in her world. With her daughter, you can’t dispute the love within the family. That’s there. So, suddenly, to have someone she cares so deeply and desperately about be so outside her vision of the world. The shock of it! What was interesting to me about that was how she dealt with it. Not what I would do. It doesn’t matter.
You’re working with a first-time director on….
You know, a lot of what we do is leap of faith! But go on!
Thanks. You’re working with a first-time director on this film.
Your question? Uh huh.
You worked with Lawrence Kasdan and Sofia Coppola…
…their first times out. Is there something invogorating about…
The risk. (Clicks her tongue.) I like it. It makes me feel alive. I don’t feel like driving a car 120 miles per hour. I mean, what would come of this? What skill do they bring? I don’t mean that people get stuck in ruts or something, but a lot of times, actors or directors get known for one kind of thing well. A romantic comedy. Or an action film. Or something like this. And unless they push themselves to explore other areas of their talent, they get stuck in a pattern. That’s not very interesting to me. Here you have someone without a pattern at all. That’s never been a problem for me.
Yeah, it’s the truth. After I saw “The Perfect Family,” I went home and watched “Crimes of Passion.”
Wow, isn’t that outrageous. (Clicks her tongue.) Well, I think Ken Russell’s genius.
He passed away recently…
He just called me a month or so before. He wanted to do “Alice in Wonderland” and he wanted me for the Red Queen. (Clicks her tongue.) And I said, “Oh, Ken. You’ve got to let me think about this.” But then he died. (She looks at her watch.)
I was wondering…
We’ve got to wrap this up, kid.
Oh. Well, in that case, what’s next for you?
I’m taking the Molly Ivins play to Washington for September and October before the election. I want to get that voice in there. (Clicks her tongue.)