Kathleen Turner on Faith, a Celebrity Crush, and Being Friends With Maggie Smith


Kathleen Turner, who lit up the ’80s with spark plug performances in films like Prizzi’s Honor and Peggy Sue Got Married, has never stopped working thanks to her perseverance and range. And now, the husky-voiced staple—who scored as the blowsy fantasy monger Martha in Broadway’s 2005 revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—is playing an offbeat matriarch with some real children. Turner co-produced and stars in the film The Perfect Family, playing a nominee for Catholic Woman of the Year, though she might not get the prize

if they find out about her pregnant lesbian daughter, philandering son, and drunken husband.

In an interview last week, Turner intuitively answered my first question before I even asked it. “People inevitably say, ‘Were you raised Catholic?'” observed the actress. “First of all, in this country, it’s none of your business. Secondly, hell no! It’s about as far from my own beliefs as you can get. But I like any character who has an arc of growth and change. The learning of tolerance or proportion appeals very much to me.

“The idea is not to proselytize,” she added, “not to tell people what they should be thinking. It’s to create questions, to take some of the rigidity out of people and let them consider something from another angle. That would be the optimal effect of good acting.”

Speaking of acting, Turner liked the cast, like BonesEmily Deschanel, who plays her lesbian offspring. (“My daughter said, ‘That’s one of the only real women on TV.'”) And she admitted that back in high school, she had a crush on Richard Chamberlain, who drops in as the monsignor. Didn’t read the tabloids much? “At that time, I don’t think anybody did,” she replied, wryly.

And that’s not the end of the faith-related explorations. Turner has been touring in High, the play in which she’s a cursing, recovering alkie nun who counsels a troubled young gay hustler on drugs. “I’m suddenly doing these Catholic women,” she told me, bemused. “It’s like, ‘How weird is this?'”

But she’s also doing a woman who abhorred the excesses of organized religion. Turner wants to bring her one-woman show, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, to Washington before the election. “I want Molly’s voice there,” she said. “Molly was an incredibly funny and politically savvy writer. She’s the one who named Bush ‘Shrub.'”

And you can’t get any more entertainingly heathen than Albee’s Martha (“Hey, swampy!”), the role Turner considers her quintessential one. “I wanted to do her for so many years,” she said, “and when we did, it was—I know it sounds arrogant—but everything I hoped it would be. Edward Albee is still my good friend. He was pretty cool with me. He was a little tough on the others. He’d ride them a bit. It’s intimidating to have Albee riding you. It’s not the easiest thing. You have to do a lot of picking up and reassuring.” He can ride me like a jockey, for all I care; I love any three-time Pulitzer winner.

And any dame, too, so I was thrilled to hear that Turner is friends with Maggie Smith. When I asked if she calls her Dame Maggie, Turner said: “I never thought of that. Maybe I should. Although she’d probably slap me.” [Husky laugh.]

Finally, I brought up some of the campy plays and movies Turner has done, and she said: “I have a wide range. If I haven’t done it yet, then that’s probably what I’ll be doing.” But when she had an accident a few years ago, Turner had to do an entire run of a play wearing a full-length leg cast. “I didn’t notice,” I admitted. “You didn’t see those wide palazzo pants?” she replied, astonished. “That was to cover the cast. You see—that’s how good I am!”

In hopes of winning Catholic Columnist of the Year, let me feed you some other tidbits about oldies but goodies: Peter Bogdanovich is telling people he will shoot a screwball comedy in NYC this fall starring Olivia Wilde. Meanwhile, the Chiller Theatre autograph show in Parsippany brought out stars like Parker Stevenson, Dean Cain, and Mike d’Abo, who was on the original Jesus Christ Superstar album and wrote the hit song “Build Me Up Buttercup.” And I was excited!

At the event, Michael Constantine (Room 222) told me he was in the 1996 flick Thinner and did a scene with author Stephen King, who played a doofy doctor. As King told Constantine, “I like to play jerks.”

And I like to play Catholic jerks. But first I had to meet boxer Jake LaMotta, whose battered life was the basis for Raging Bull. “It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and superstar Robert De Niro won the Oscar for Best Actor,” he told me, rotely. Yes, superstar Mikey Musto knew that. “I wanted to play myself,” he added, “but the producers said, ‘You’re not the right type.'” Ba dum pum. “They were thinking of Sammy Davis Jr.,” he continued, “but he couldn’t do it—he was too Jewish.” Ouch. Still, I laughed my guts out—so he wouldn’t hit me!

And it’s not a joke that Ellen DeGeneres kicked off the GLAAD awards in L.A. last week, where Chaz Bono nabbed an honor. (No, not Catholic Transsexual of the Year.) But am I the only one who remembers that Chaz once had to step down from GLAAD leadership after saying Ellen’s sitcom had probably been “too gay” for success? Oh, well. I love a happy ending. Vote for me.

Read more Michael Musto at La Dolce Musto

[email protected]