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One On 1 Profile: Award-Winning Actor Kathleen Turner Thrives In The Spotlight Despite Chronic Health Issues

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Kathleen Turner lived in Venezuela, England and Baltimore before coming to New York, and after bursting onto the scene in the 1981 film "Body Heat," she has been a presence on stage and screen ever since. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.

Kathleen Turner is nothing, if not frank, both with her characters on stage and screen and in her 2008 memoir, "Send Yourself Roses." The title is a nod at her famed 1989 film with Michael Douglas, "The War Of The Roses."

"Michael Douglas read it and called me up and said, 'You just had to, didn't you?' I said, 'Yeah, I did Michael," Turner says.

So it was intriguing to hear during our interview at Sardi's in Manhattan's Theater District that if acting hadn't worked out for Turner, she would have been... a diplomat.

"I would have gone back to school and gone into the foreign service, because that was a life I knew and loved," says Turner.

Actually, her father was a foreign service officer, and she grew up all over the world.
But for more than 30 years, she has called New York home.

In her latest film, "The Perfect Family," Turner's character is nominated for the local Catholic Woman of the Year award, at a time when her marriage is failing, her son's having an affair and her daughter has announced she is a lesbian and is having a baby.

Turner says her thoughts about her characters come from the script, not from specific life experiences.

"I'm not going to go out and live this character's life. If I'm playing a hooker, you're not going to meet me on 10th Avenue or wherever the heck they hang out now," says Turner.

Her own story would be compelling on stage or screen. She was the star of several big budget films in the 1980s, including "Prizzi's Honor," three films with Michael Douglas, and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," where she was the voice of cartoon siren Jessica Rabbit.

But even during the big film days, Turner had her eye on stage work.

"I figured as I got older, the film roles would be less and less available. I'd be less and less in demand the older I got. It's the way our film industry works," she says.

But something else was at hand. In the mid-1990s, she started suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. To cope, Turner says she used medication and alcohol to deaden the pain and the tears.

"Someone would go by, inevitability, and whisper 'Isn't that Kathleen Turner?' and I'm like, 'Okay, okay, I get it. This is funny, yeah,'" says Turner.

It was anything but funny. Her confidence and employability took a hit.

"There was a period where I couldn't take any lead roles because I couldn't be sure that I would be able to keep up with the day-to-day, that I would be actually able to physically do that, that I would be able to walk that day," she says.

Her memories of those years are still vivid and raw.

"People would hire drunks, they would hire people who abused drugs, all kinds of things. But they wouldn't hire someone with an illness they couldn't understand," says Turner.

Over the past decade, Turner has been seen primarily on stage in shows like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Graduate."

Turner says she initially did not want to bring "The Graduate" to Broadway until she read a screenplay that included the phrase "37 but still attractive."

"I was 48 when we did it on Broadway. I said, 'How dare you?'" Turner says. "I got a letter from this woman, I'll never forget, where this woman said, 'I haven't undressed in front of my husband in 10 years, and I will tonight.' And I said, 'Yes!' That's why I did it, kind of a [thumbing my nose]."

Turner was born in Missouri, but thanks to her father's work in the foreign service was raised in Cuba, Venezuela and London, where she started acting and going to theater.

Life was good, but then when she was 17, her father died. A month later, the family relocated from London to Springfield, Missouri.

"I had a round-trip ticket, you know, that they gave us when we left England. And I slept with the return under my pillow until it expired almost a year later," she says.

She studied theater and did shows at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and then she came to New York. One of her first jobs was temping at a Jewish travel agency.

"All these people calling up and saying, 'I have to be there for Passover,' and I'd say, 'I'm sorry, when is Passover?' I had no idea," says Turner.

It wasn't long before she was acting in a soap opera by day and a play by night.

"It was going to happen, period. there was never any doubt," says Turner. "It had to. I still feel that way."

Then she was cast as the lead in a 1981 film called "Body Heat." It would propel her to stardom, but no one knew that in the six months between the end of shooting and the release of the film.

When she returned to waitressing in New York, she tried to explain her absence to co-workers.

"I was in a film. I was doing a lead in the film, and they said, 'Wow, god. What was it called?' I say, 'Body Heat' and they go, 'Oh.' Everyone just assumed, I guess, that it was a porno film," Turner says.

There is still the toss of the hair and that voice, a signature of Kathleen Turner's appeal. But her oft-quoted line about the subject occasionally gets mangled.

"The whole quote is, 'If I feel really good about myself that night, when I walk into a room and a man doesn't look at me, he's probably gay.' The point being how I'm feeling about myself," says Turner. "And they just chop that off and went with, 'When I walk into a room and a man doesn't look at me, he's probably gay," leaving... missing the whole point."

Turner is known for her dedication to the craft, even though it's had its consequences.

"Something that for example, my ex-husband had difficulty dealing with the time. 'Where are you going to be in six months?' I don't know, depends on the job," she says.

Turner says her rheumatoid arthritis is in remission, though she still needs an elbow replacement.

How has she persevered through multiple operations, and the whispers and volatility of her business? Perhaps it's her penchant for meeting fear with confidence. Witness her response to the playwright Edward Albee, when Turner was reading for a role she desired for 30 years, Martha in Albee's "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?"

"Edward came over and said, 'I haven't heard anything like this since Uta Hagen,' and I said, 'And you've only heard one act.' And then I thought, 'Oh, Turner, god have mercy.' My response is, I don't know, to get bolder," she says.

Turner's latest film, "The Perfect Family" has just opened in theaters, primarily in New York and Los Angeles, and is also available on demand.

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