In 1981, movie audiences around the world became aware of a new and sexy young actress named Kathleen Turner. Her breakthrough performance as Matty Walker was in the critically acclaimed Body Heat, and she went on to star is such popular and diverse films as Peggy Sue Got Married, The Man with Two Brains, Prizzi’s Honor, War of the Roses, The Virgin Suicides, The Accidental Tourist and of course, as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in the animated Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
In her new movie The Perfect Family she portrays Eileen Cleary, a suburban supermom who has been nominated for the coveted Catholic Woman of the Year Award at her local parish. Only one final test remains – introducing her dysfunctional family to the board for their seal of approval.
How did this project come to you?
I got the script and I thought it was worth exploring, but I didn’t think the script was that good.
I got a hold of (director) Anne Renton on the phone and we talked for an hour or two and I made suggestions and told her where I thought there were weaknesses or strengths. She came back to me a couple of months later with a rewrite that seemed to incorporate what we talked about.
One of the things that gets more interesting as a career goes on and on is that you get to be much more a part of developing a project, and so a script will come to me very early sometimes.
Anne had only directed one short film, Love is Love. What was it about her that made you want to work with her?
I was impressed with her intelligence, her kindness and with her calmness. At this stage of my career I pretty much direct myself, and I usually do. But to have a director is a gift, and she handled everyone really nicely.
We did this film in nineteen days. So this really had to move, we didn’t have any time or money to waste. She was on top of it all the way.
Do you have a perfect family?
Back in New York I have an extraordinary daughter, a very nice ex-husband, and some wonderful friends.
What would you call perfect?
I would call absolutely nothing perfect.
How much of Kathleen is in Eileen Cleary?
I supposed she’s sort like the Kathleen that I might have been in a different world. My mother was an extraordinary woman, but until my father died she didn’t think of having a career or of doing anything really other than rising four children.
But, at the same time, she was also extremely active in volunteer work and service. That I really identified with Eileen, because it’s a big part of my life.
One of the really interesting ideas that caught my imagination about doing this film was how does any person, man or woman, accept so totally these confining rules that she’s supposed to follow in order to live life correctly? How does that exist in a real world, day-to-day living?
How much of a challenge was it to portray her devotion to that set of rules without mocking it?
Not mocking was real important, because I do not agree with her in my own life. I should not say this, but of course I’m going to, to me religion is primarily man putting words in God’s mouth. I do believe in believing and I admire it. I just don’t think it should be exclusive or judgmental.
How much do you think she believes in her religion versus seeking validation just for her own life?
I think they are independent. I think that it’s a question of her self-worth. The closer she can follow the rules that she’s been brought up to accept and to act upon, the closer she feels she can stay to that model, the better person she must be.
In my opinion, I think finding value about yourself from outside yourself, by any source, is probably weakening.
Does that carry over to career choices that you make, because if you sat and read every review and took it all to heart you would never step on the stage again.
Oh yes, I would, because I’ve always had good reviews on stage. It might be different in film, but on the stage, universal, cross the board, baby, I’m good!
What I’ve found over the years is you can say, ‘Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know,’ and the truth is that whether you read them or not someone is always going to let you know what was said. Always.
When you look back on your career, what do you most want to be remembered by?
My intelligent humor.
What do you hope the audience will take away from this film?
I hope more than anything they will take away a sense of compassion. The truth is her family show up for her in the end, the love that the family has is unquestionable. I think that’s its strength.
Even though they don’t accept each others’ life style, the children don’t accept the mother’s choices, and she of course thinks theirs are wrong, it never reaches the point of destruction to the family, and I like that, I think that’s imperative.