Kathleen Turner is a pistol. She may not have the face or body she had when she made Body Heat with William Hurt in 1981, but get over it. She’s still got the voice that made a Jessica Rabbit sizzle, but more than that she’s got the life experience. And yes we all have life experience, but hers involves Danny DeVito (“a real asshole most of the time”) and Michael Douglas and Steve Martin and Hurt and Hollywood and Broadway. She’s turned into a tough cookie with a ton of terrific stories and she’s great.
And by the way — and I was sitting in the front row last night at her Montclair Film Festival tribute at the Bellevue Theater — she looks a lot better than she did in 2009 playing the editor/dominatrix Sue Collini in Californication.
And oh that voice. What is it? Gravel wrapped in velvet or something?
“I always had a low voice,” Turner said in response to a question from the audience. “When I was in junior high school, they put me in the boy’s choir.”
Although it eventually became one of her strongest assets, Turner said it was hard when she was 21, looked 21, but sounded much older. After Kasdan cast her in Body Heat — her first film role — he asked her how old she was. She said 25. “No,” he said. “You’re 30.” That was the age she was give to the world.
She talked about how she still does vocal exercises daily — she does more theater these days than film — and how when she was doing eight shows a week on Broadway (most notably in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), she often went on voice rest offstage, handing waiters and friends a little sign: “I am on voice rest. Please ask yes or no questions.”
“Doing theater is seriously not for sissies,” she said. “It is seriously an athlete’s job.”
Sitting on the high stool onstage, Turner’s resting expression, listening to questions from MFF programmer Thom Powers or the audience, was usually tough and skeptical. But once the questions ended and it was her turn, Turner would break into a grin and say something like, “Here we go,” and sudden there would be a wide smile and half way through her answer a huge throaty laugh. For a while, I stopped taking notes just to watch and I realized, yes, she was seducing the audience.
And it worked.
One of the most interesting questions from the audience was about her moral position towards the character, Matty Walker, in Body Heat.
“What?” Turner said with an expression of mock disbelief. “You didn’t approve of Mattie?”
But then she talked about how, during the process of becoming every character she ever played in a movie, she would think “I hate this woman.” She would think, “Why doesn’t she do something constructive?” And then she’d go to the backstory — in Mattie’s case, a past that involved some poverty — and she’d conclude, “Okay, that makes sense to me.”
It didn’t mean she had to approve of the character’s choice. “If I play a prostitute, I’m not going to give it a try. You just try to figure it out.”
The film festival is screening Turner’s latest movie, “The Perfect Family,” in which Turner plays a character trying for the title of Catholic Woman of the Year, on Saturday. Director Anne Renton was brought onstage for the last part of the interview, and the two women discussed the process that brought Turner to the film.
“Here we go,” Turner said, with that throaty laugh. “I have decided that I am too old to work with assholes.” She paused for a beat and smile over at the young director. “She passed.”
Though the Saturday screening for The Perfect Family is sold out, the film opens in New York on Friday and is downloadable on iTunes, Renton said.