Kathleen Turner began her career in the theater, before a sizzling film debut in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 thriller Body Heat established her as one of the screen sirens of that decade. Hits ensued: Romancing the Stone, The Man with Two Brains, Prizzi’s Honor, Peggy Sue Got Married and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? numbered among her critical and commercial successes, while Turner would gravitate toward the black comedy of The War of the Roses and, later, a delectably unhinged turn as John Waters’ Serial Mom. Mixing film, TV and acclaimed stage roles since, Turner remains busy, and this week she headlines the independent comedy The Perfect Family, about a woman about to be named “Catholic of the Year” just as her household is coming apart.
We spent some time recently with Turner to talk about her favorite movies — a subject that proved to be both challenging and an entertaining glance back at her career. “I just don’t think that way, in terms of comparison and listing,” Turner said, considering the topic of her Five Favorite Films. Nonetheless, we soldiered on…
The Music Lovers (Ken Russell, 1970; 67% Tomatometer)
One of the reasons I did Crimes of Passion was because I saw The Music Lovers, Ken Russell’s film, with Richard Chamberlain. It was, and I still think it is, one of the most extraordinary films I have ever seen. Amazing. So when Ken came to talk to me about [Crimes], you know, I was thrilled. I got a wonderful note once from Isabella Rossellini and she told me that she did Blue Velvet because she saw Crimes of Passion. I thought that was a really nice compliment, because I think she’s quite wonderful. So that’s a movie.
I love Ken Russell’s sense of excess; he’s just fantastic.
Yeah. We talked a couple of months before he died. He wanted to shoot his version of Alice in Wonderland, and he wanted me for the Red Queen. But then, you know — he passed away.
It’s a shame, ’cause that would have been something.
It is a shame. I imagine it would have been something. Ken Russell’s [Alice] would be unique. But not anymore.
Anyway, what else? I love animated films. I really do. I enjoy them tremendously. I loved the film Shrek. I thought it was great. I loved the animation, I loved the humor.
You’re of course synonymous with one of movies’ more famous animated characters, Jessica Rabbit.
Well Jessica, that was an extraordinary experiment, that film — putting together live film with animation. It was a wonderful job. Bob Zemeckis kept me informed all the way. He kept sending me the tapes of how the work was going and how they were doing it and all this stuff, when it got to the point where they were finally drawing in Jessica’s body — not her face, but her body — so that I could start to put in all the breath and everything so that you could see the movement in the body. And then when we worked up to the face, you know; that whole process, it was fantastic.
You also did the voice in Monster House…
Yeah, but they cut the hell outta that. There was tons of stuff before she turned into the house, when she was the fat woman.
Still, I really liked that film. Did you and Bob ever talk about doing the sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I know the rumor has been floating around for years.
Oh it’s been floating around for ages. First of all, I don’t think anybody’s gonna do that. Technology — again, it was incredibly demanding and expensive, and they don’t need to do it the same way now.
It’d be too easy now. The magic was in the challenge…
Yeah. It was drawing 300 frames a minute, you know. I mean, my God.
Alright, I’ve got an animated, I’ve got The Music Lovers… there must be something in between.
[Laughs] Between Ken Russell and children’s animation? The first thing that sprang to mind — and maybe ’cause you did Serial Mom with him — would have to be John Waters.
[Laughs] Yes. John Waters would be that middle ground.
But I don’t want to pick them for you. Was there something you loved as a kid?
I never saw many movies growing up. I grew up overseas, in South America, until we moved to London when I was in high school; and then, it was mostly theater that I went to, but not film. Films honestly didn’t play a major part of my life until university, I guess; until I came back to the States — and then of course there was very little else. [Laughs] I’m sorry! It’s just not my strength here.
You’ve worked with some acclaimed filmmakers: Francis Coppola, John Huston, Robert Zemeckis, Lawrence Kasdan…
Well I would have to pick… even though I’m in it… I think one of my favorite films is The Accidental Tourist — because I thought Larry [Kasdan] did such an extraordinarily wonderful transcription of the book. I mean, he was incredibly faithful to Anne Tyler, and people had been trying for years to do some of her books, and she’d never allowed it. She’d never been satisfied with film scripts, and when Larry did Accidental Tourist she felt that he really did capture the essence of her book. And I think we did, too. So that’s one I truly loved.
You can include your own films, it’s okay.
[Laughs] It’s a really good film! I’m not sure it was ever as appreciated [as it should have been.] There we go, we’ve got three! I only need two more, huh?
Uh! Come on, there must have been something!
What’s something you liked recently?
Oh actually, I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I didn’t really expect to, and I really did. I thought it was really well done. I liked it much more than I thought I would. That sounds like faint praise, but my expectations were that — like most big American studio films — it would be watered down and essentially de-toothed, de-clawed, whatever.
I think Fincher likes to put the teeth back in.
Yeah. [Laughs] So we can put that in, as a recent one.
Let’s see, what else… [Long pause]
You’re in a film that I’d put in my favorites.
The Virgin Suicides.
Ah! Well, again, Sofia [Coppola] did an amazing transcription of the book, and again, Jeffrey Eugenides had never allowed anyone to do it because he was never satisfied with the film script. Sofia did that one on spec, really — she had no guarantee.
It’s a very sad performance from you.
Thank you. You know, it’s a really terrifying film for me. I mean, Why? Why did these children decide that there was nothing to live for? My daughter was a teenager then, so it was very frightening for me to contemplate. [Pauses] Come on, start listing some films.
Oh — if we’re talking classic films, we’ll go with Rosalind Russell. I adore Rosalind Russell. I think I’d have to go with Auntie Mame. That’s actually a character I think I’d like to do one day. [Pauses] Phew!
Sorry to put you through all that.
[Laughs] I wish my brain worked that way! I wish I had lists in my head, but I don’t.
You did pretty well, under pressure.
The Perfect Family is in selected theaters this week.