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Kathleen Turner interview: "I always have fun, always"

Time Out chats to Kathleen Turner, as she returns to the London stage in 'Bakersfield Mist', her third West End role

© Rob Greig

Whether you know her as the spunky heroine of ‘Romancing the Stone’, Chandler’s dad in ‘Friends’, or from the London stage in ‘The Graduate’ (2000) and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ (2006), you’ll undoubtedly recognise the great Kathleen Turner and her incomparably gravelly voice. Now she’s back in new play ‘Bakersfield Mist’, in which she plays Maude, a trailer-trash barmaid who attempts to persuade Ian McDiarmid’s fusty New York art expert that the painting she bought at a yard sale is an original Jackson Pollock.

Are you a fan of London?
‘I grew up here, I went to high school at the American school, I like it here. I was struck today by how familiar it feels in some ways and how unfamiliar in others. I went walking along the Embankment – I’d never seen the [drawls extravagantly] Shaaaaard before. Wow, that was pretty exciting.’

Were you taken with ‘Bakersfield Mist’, and Maude, as soon as you read it?
‘At first I thought: Oh yeah, right. Blowsy-looking American, bottle of bourbon on the table, overflowing ashtray – how clichéd, how tacky-American. But that didn’t last long because once I got into the play more and saw the possibilities for change in this woman, what exposure to the art world does to her and might do to her… it’s fantastic. I love characters who change.’

Maude abuses alcohol. Is it fair to say you did too at one point?
‘I was using it as a painkiller for my arthritis; thankfully I figured that it wasn’t doing me any good. I’ve come down from that now, I can enjoy a glass of wine. It doesn’t worry me anymore, but then I’m not in pain any more either.’

Do you think of yourself as essentially a stage actor these days?
‘Oh yeah, I always have. When I did “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 1990 I had these phone calls from Michael Douglas, from Jack Nicholson, saying: “Don’t do it, they’ll shoot you down, you’re a film actor now.” And I thought: No no no – what you don’t know is that I’m better on stage than in film.’

Was being an ’80s movie star fun?
‘Oh yeah. I loved a lot of it, I loved doing my own stunts, I had a ball. I always have fun, always. If I don’t have fun, I’m outta there.’

You’ve done lots of classic American roles; do any Brit ones take your fancy?
‘I’ve been thinking I’d like to play King Lear. But with the proviso I’d keep the daughters as daughters, not changed to sons – there’s so much unexplored material in women’s relationships.’

Is there a big difference between the West End and Broadway?
'On Broadway the star gets an automatic standing ovation. In the West End, they don’t. I swear this is true, or if it isn’t, Dustin Hoffman won’t kill me. But he was here in “The Merchant of Venice” when Laurence Olivier passed away, and at the end he said: “It is my sad duty to inform you that Lord Olivier has died.” And the audience rose to their feet. And as Dustin was going off, he muttered: “You have to die, you have to fucking die.”’

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