The Standard of Sexuality: Kathleen Turner on Returning to Hollywood

The star of The Perfect Family talks the enduring appeal of Jessica Rabbit and hating Nicolas Cage's voice.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


We wish you could hear this interview. Kathleen Turner is one of the most legendary voices in Hollywood. We got to speak with her about the new film The Perfect Family, in which she plays Eileen, a Catholic mother forced to deal with a gay daughter and adulterous son. There’s a chance the title is ironic. For the occasion of Turner’s return to the screen after an accomplished decade in theater, we reflected on all her legendary film roles. The Perfect Family opens in New York May 4 and Los Angeles May 11.


CraveOnline: Would The Perfect Family make a nice bookend with Serial Mom?

Kathleen Turner: Well, you know, I actually did think of Beverly Sutphin once or twice. I think it was just the invocation of suburban motherhood because I don’t think I’d ever confuse the two.


No, it would be showing both extremes.

Yeah, I can’t imagine either of them in each other’s shoes. Do you know what intrigued me very much about Eileen is how people like that live their lives with such a commitment, accepting someone else’s rules, someone else’s doctrine of how they’re supposed to behave or live, what to live by and then try and force the world into that. Because that seems to me an almost impossible task.


Did you get any closer to understanding it?

Only that it doesn’t work.


What does it take to bring you back to the screen these days?

This combination was a good one for that because I’m not very interested in most of the mainstream filmmaking right now. I find it very predictable, very formulaic. I could almost always tell you the person’s next line before they speak. They do the same things over and over again and there are TV shows they’ve decided to make into film. It’s boring. I also mind in this day and age the amount of money spent on some of these films that could be so much better used to my mind. So given that, when an independent film comes along that involves almost entirely women, women’s creative talent, I find that most attractive.


Was Eileen a dream role?

No. No, the only dream role I’ve ever had is Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? No, she’s an interesting person to explore.


How gratifying is it to you when people still say, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way?”

[Laughs] It happens a lot. It happens a lot. There are many lines as the years build up that people quote back at me.


Would you still do the voice of Jessica Rabbit if they wanted to do another Roger Rabbit?

Oh sure, absolutely. I’d like to sing the song this time though.


Kids still see that movie, don’t they?

Listen, half the fan mail I get for autographs is Jessica Rabbit.


Do parents introduce their kids to you and try to explain that you’re her voice?

Yes, sometimes. Yes, they do.


Even with the chance to do War of the Roses, do you wish there had been a third Romancing the Stone movie?

No, no. I thought we did our best work in the first one but I think that’s true of the system of sequels. Once the characters have been developed, okay, you can put them into another situation, you can put them into another realm of danger or something like that, but you don’t have that same joy of finding out who they are. You assume you already know or the audience does. So then you’re just seeing them run through the story. It’s not as fun.


Another classic of yours, Peggy Sue Got Married, where did you weigh in on Nicolas Cage’s voice in that movie?

Hated it. Ugh, absolutely hated it. I think Nic was going through a thing where he was very young then. What was he, 21? He was rebelling against the idea of nepotism, that he had been cast because he was related so closely to Francis [Ford Coppola.] So I think he just wanted to do almost anything he could to set himself apart from Francis, from Coppola. The voice unfortunately was one of those things.


Can you still watch the movie now?

Yeah. I don’t watch any of my films really, except maybe for a moment or two just to remember. I don’t think I’ve seen that for a long time.


How about to have worked with both Francis and Sofia Coppola?

It was great. When I came to meet Sophia on Virgin Suicides and I hadn’t seen her since she grew up at that point, so that was fun. I expected to see her in a green uniform. She was the girl scout in [Peggy Sue Got Married]. But boy, that script, how she adapted the book was so well done. That alone convinced me that she could handle this.


You did V.I. Warchowski and now you see all the female action heroes. Are you sort of like, “Come on!”

Yeah, it’s not just that. I think Body Heat set the stage for a lot of the standard of sexuality in our films. I think Romancing set up the whole adventurous kind of thing. I think a lot of my films have set precedents. Yeah, Warchowski being this tough law enforcing type, there’s so much of it now. And I still enjoy it. I love “Law & Order.” I love all those kinds of things.


Yeah, even Joan Wilder was an action heroine?



How do you feel when you see the vampy Body Heat now?

Well, I think of how long ago it was. It’s now 30 years ago. It’s still strong. That moment of the break in I think is still considered one of the sexiest moments in film.


It’s a fine line because if she wasn’t okay with it, that could’ve been a different scene.

Oh, of course. You didn’t know. That was part of the excitement.


What did you think when “Friends” offered you the role of Chandler’s dad?

It made me laugh. I was doing Tallulah up in San Francisco when David Crane flew up and told me that Chandler’s father was a transvestite. I thought, “Okay, wait a minute. He’s talking about a woman playing a man playing a woman. Well, I haven’t done that. Yeah, could be fun.” I just thought it was a gas.


Does theater allow you to immerse yourself and disappear into characters now more than film, where you’re so recognized?

Well, obviously not as many people see theater as see film or camera work. But no, I think that theater to me is the most alive I can be because every second, every moment you’re engaged with hundreds of people. You’re thinking about your next breath, your next word and there’s no protection. There’s no one who’s going to say cut or an editor who’s going to come in and rearrange your choices to work better. In film they can put together a scene that made you look like the most brilliant actor on earth. You might not have any talent at all. You can’t get away with that on stage.


Or even if someone’s sitting far enough back they might be able to forget they’re watching Kathleen Turner?

I think they do. I think that’s a compliment. I have close friends that they tell me they forget they know me. I like that.


You mentioned that one of the appeals of The Perfect Family is that there was so much female talent in the film. Is that at least getting better in the industry these days?

I hope so. I hope so. Certainly much more than when I started out. When we did Body Heat, there was no woman who was a head of a studio. There were very few female producers at all. There may have been more writers but no directors really. No, all of this is gradually and progressively I trust changing well. 

Photo Credit: Variance Films