Kathleen Turner has worked tirelessly in film, theater, and voice acting for decades, from a withdrawn novelist turned adventurer in Romancing the Stone to the husky voice of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to Charlie Runkle's brash boss on Californication. In Turner's latest film, The Perfect Family, she portrays a Catholic mother and wife struggling to prove to herself and her loved ones that she is as "good" as she claims to be. Izumi Hasegawa recently met with the triple-threat actress to discuss her recent work on the stage, how she connects with her costars, and what drew her to this project.
Izumi Hasegawa: You’re not only the lead of The Perfect Family, but also a producer. Is this the first film you’ve produced?
Kathleen Turner: I am. The first time I get credit for it, I'll say that. But I do have to say that I can't take much credit for it. I mean, really truly, they, Cora [Olson] and Jen [Dubin] and Connie [Cummings]... once we get into the making of the film, I don't have a brain for anything else but the acting. I mean, I can help with some of the prep and I can help with some decisions after, but during the filming itself I can't take any credit for producing.
IH: Would you do it again?
KT: Yes, because it's a privilege — and this is something that I think comes with years of experience — being part of developing the script and making choices as to what you want this to say. Why are we doing this? And those kinds of choices are fantastic to be part of.
IH: Though you've had a strong career in film, you’ve also done a lot of theater the past few years.
KT: I love [the] stage. I have for several years now. I'm just so thrilled with it. I'm going back now to do this Molly Ivins' play [Red Hot Patriot] that I did at the Geffen all December, January and February. And now I'm on tour with this play High, but in the end of August I'm taking the Molly Ivins into the Arena stage in D.C. I think we need a good, strong woman's liberal voice before the election. Loud and clear. But then right after that I'll be going into another play that I will be starring and directing in. So my job now will be to get that play all done, to line up my designers and approve all the designs, to do the casting, to make sure that the set and costumes and everything is progressing according to schedule, then I have to run off and do Molly because all the rest has to be ready when I finish Molly to do right into the next project.
IH: Do you have a film project lined up?
KT: No, I am booked for about the next year at the moment. I have some voiceover work. I'm sneaking in some animation here and there. I get to be an evil spider soon. Why me? (laughs)
IH: With Red Hot Patriot premiering to stellar reviews at the Geffen, and your current tour of High, what about The Perfect Family drew you away from theater?
KT: It didn't pull me away, actually, because I really snuck it in between. I don't understand her. I don't understand how this woman believes ... When you first read it, when you first read the premise, that she can accept this incredibly rigid formula for living, the rules — this is right and this is wrong — and expect to live in the real world. This seems to me an impossible task. And then to have so much of her private world, her family — all three members of her family — be so far outside what she believes in, how does this woman survive? Well, I think, again, every character has to change, has to go through a stage of growth to be interesting, period. If she doesn't change, then I'm not interested in doing her. And I was very attracted to the compassion that's inherent in the film. It doesn't have to be Catholicism, it can be any organized and rigid religion. It could be Judaism, it could be Islam. Any religion that says, 'This is the only way God approves of you' is fine as a structure for this conflict. Catholicism simply is the most familiar for this, the most workable ear. I wanted to figure out how she survived.
IH: The film takes a very sharp look at confession in the Catholic Church.
KT: Yes, yes. Well, every religion has a get-out-of-jail-free card, too. You know, Judaism, they all do. And to her, it was more than a prize. To her it was necessary. Because what I learned in studying up on the Catholic religion — since I knew nothing of it essentially when I started this — was if you've committed a mortal sin and never confessed it, then every confession you have made thereafter, no matter how many years, is invalid. It doesn't count if you've got an unconfessed mortal sin on your soul. So this absolution? She's been unconfessed for 20 years. Imagine how that weighs on her. This is what drives her, why she wants it so desperately — at the possible cost of her family. And what she realizes ultimately is that nothing is worth that cost. But that's why she is so driven toward it.
IH: Though The Perfect Family focuses on the effect of religion on a woman and her family, belief comes in a multitude of forms. Disregarding spirituality for a moment, what do you believe in?
KT: What do I believe? I believe that I would die for my daughter, that that would be the most important thing on earth to me, more important than my own life. Absolutely. I believe that to never knowingly cause harm to someone or to profit from someone else's harm is the golden rule, and if I follow that, then that will be the best way I can live — to not cause harm and not to profit from someone's harm I think is my golden rule. If I can be true to that, then I think I will be a good person. That's about as doctrinaire as I get.
IH: That makes perfect sense. The Perfect Family obviously delves into family dynamic and what can drive a rift in it. What do you think is the key to making it work with your family, no matter your differences?
KT: Support, I think, to support each other. I have two brothers and a sister — and my mother, who is still very well and very strong. We haven't lived in the same worlds for years and years and years. One brother lives in Idaho, one lives in New Zealand, my sister lives in Missouri, and we see each other maybe once a year, maybe twice a year. But if they called and said, 'I need you, would you do this?' I would say yes. You know? There would be no question of why or, 'Really?' And I believe they would do the same for me. They're family. We sound like a pretty nice group, don't we? Actually, we are. All four of us are pretty good kids.
IH: What sorts of parallels did you draw from your own life?
KT: I think the sense of family is not alien. My family as a unit sort of broke up just when I turned 18 because my father died very suddenly, so that shifted all the dynamics. But I suppose no, there's a familiarity in the idea that there's a mother, a father, children and a certain... There is a familiarity, isn't there? To this sort of family unit? I suppose it might not read the same in Europe or some place — they might not find a sense of familiarity — but I think we all do.
IH: You worked with Richard Chamberlain, Emily Deschanel, and Jason Ritter. How did you all get to know each other to create that sort of intense family dynamic and history?
KT: We did a lot of improv. I mean, we only had a couple of days. We basically did a lot of improv. For example, the four of us are in a room and I would say, 'Jason, I want you to do the dishes after supper, it's your turn to clean up.' 'Oh Mom, I don't want to.' You know, you take it on and you pull people in by their duties and their positions within the family and all the expectations that you have of each other and all this stuff. And pretty much you start really sounding like mothers and kids and husbands and wives, and you just jump in. When I said yes, I didn't know who I was going to be working with because they hadn't cast the rest of the film, so when Anne called and said that she'd gotten Emily and Jason and Michael McGrady and Richard Chamberlain — who I had a crush on since I was 16 — Oh, are you kidding? I saw him onstage in London when I was 15 or 16 and --
IH: Was this your first time working together?
KT: Yes. I gushed the first time I met him. I told him [I saw] The Lady's Not for Burning, which is the play he was doing, and he was this swashbuckling pirate kind of guy. Oh. Head over heels. It was the first thing I said to him, of course. 'Oh, Richard, I remember you...' Poor man. He looked so bemused. (laughs)
IH: So you enjoyed working with your ‘work-family’ then?
KT: When Anne called and told me who she had, that was... Well, in part it was flattering because I knew part of reason they agreed to do the roles was because I had said yes I would do it, so that was a very nice thought. But also I've liked Emily for years, you know? Jason I didn't really know, but I knew of him — good stuff. Michael I'd seen on Southland, so I had a sense of him, and I thought he did a great job. It was just so strong and so compassionate. So tolerant! He's the most tolerant character, all together, in the film. It was pretty exciting, but all these actors are willing to just do it, you know? They're not the type of actors that talk about it, that have to beat it to death with words kind of things, who are willing to get up and just do it. And that's my kind of acting. So we were fine together.
IH: Though you and your costars have all had lengthy acting careers, this is director Anne Renton’s first full length feature. How was it working with her?
KT: When we met, I was impressed with her intelligence, with her grasp of the whole body of material, how she talked about laying out the filming, given all the resources that I knew we had or didn't have. She was very calm and very well-planned, I thought. Reasonable. She doesn't talk in terms of hyperbole or something. You got the sense that she doesn't misrepresent anything. She's very accurate. So all of this made me feel that she would be good to work with and didn't have the kind of ego that would get in the way of the work, because that actually happens a lot of the time.
Gravitas Ventures' 'The Perfect Family' is in select theaters and available On Demand.