KATHLEEN TURNER: HER YEAR OF CATHOLICISM
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KATHLEEN TURNER is as confused as anyone about the heavenly detour her roles have taken lately.
She’s making her first appearance as a Roman Catholic nun when the play HIGH opens this month on Broadway. And, in a divine bit of coincidence, the actor best known for BODY HEAT and ROMANCING THE STONE also stars as a suburban mom striving to be named CATHOLIC WOMAN OF THE YEAR in a new film opening simultaneously at THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL.
“For some reason this year it’s my year of Catholicism. Who knew?” said the actor in her rose filled dressing room at THE BOOTH THEATER where she’s putting the finishing touches on MATTHEW LOMBARDO’S play.
“I must confess that I don’t believe in any organized religion. I happen to think that they’re all men putting words in God’s mouth. That doesn’t work for me. But I certainly believe in belief and faith.”
The first of back to back devout Catholic roles has KATHLEEN playing SISTER JAMISON CONNELLY, a foul mouthed recovering alcoholic who is asked to treat a 19 year old crystal meth addict and prostitute.
The three character play explores the battle between addiction and faith as the nun tries to help a young man perhaps beyond forgiveness or redemption. It requires her to be devoid of glamour in shapeless clothing and a ponytail. The playwright had someone specifically in mind.
“When I was starting to get the idea of this play going — before I even put it on paper — I wanted a Kathleen Turner type,” MATTHEW LOMBARDO explained.
“I needed a broad to play this role.”
He got the perfect one — a Broadway veteran with a distinctive husky voice who has earned ACADEMY AWARD and GOLDEN GLOBE nominations. He also got an performer who was not afraid of dropping F bombs or showing a savage side.
“I am very drawn to women who simply just don’t accept how things are,” commented KATHLEEN.
“Don’t ask me to play a victim. It’s not going to work. I would stink at that. Give me a woman with a fight on her hands.”
She also brought something else to the feisty role that MATTHEW LOMBARDO only gradually learned: a familiarity with substance abuse. About a decade ago KATHLEEN admitted that she was abusing alcohol to calm the grinding pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
“I didn’t realize the extent I was self medicating. You know, I was in that strange place where I wouldn’t take pills because I was afraid they’d screw up my mind but I’d take another drink. And alcohol kills pain. It really does. When I realized how insane this thinking was, I checked myself into a clinic to figure out what was going on. And I learned a lot.”
KATHLEEN took HIGH on a pre Broadway tour — there were workshops in Hartford, Connecticut, Cincinnati and St. Louis — and she learned she wasn’t alone. From hundreds of audience members who stayed to chat after performances came tales of families torn apart by addiction.
“I’m starting to think we have a huge national dirty little secret here,” she stated.
Her own addiction may have helped her get in touch with the emotions associated with substance abuse, but KATHLEEN dismissed the suggestion that being an addict is a requirement for the part.
“I’ve played hookers but I’ve never been out on Hollywood Boulevard, OK?” she said, laughing.
The play marks her first return to Broadway since her 2005 TONY AWARD nominated spin in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. Her other notable Broadway roles include MRS. ROBINSON in THE GRADUATE in 2002 and MAGGIE in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF in 1990.
When she was playing MRS. ROBINSON on stage, KATHLEEN famously appeared nude. This time, the clothes stay on even if playing SISTER JAMISON CONNELLY has meant a different kind of stripping.
“It’s so intensely personal that it feels very, very, very vulnerable. I don’t know how to shield myself from some of that material, which is good and is essential for the material to work, but it’s hard. If you’ve ever had a phobia about like standing up naked in front of everybody, that’s what it feels like.”
KATHLEEN has also been focusing on one person shows, including SANDRA RYAN HEYWARD’S TALLULAH and portraying newspaper columnist MOLLY IVINS in RED HOT PATRIOT, which she debuted in Philadelphia last year and hopes to tour with next year. She also made time to play a Catholic mom with a secret in the new independent film THE PERFECT FAMILY, costarring EMILY DESCHANEL and JASON RITTER.
KATHLEEN has found more roles in the theatre as big film projects dry up and has been nurturing HIGH for almost two years as it made its way to Broadway. MATTHEW LOMBARDO said that she turned down any special treatment along the way, declining to stay at five star hotels if it meant breaking up the team.
“She just wanted to be with the company. It’s rare that you find an actress who’s willing to do that kind of work. What makes her different from the rest is that she understands the creative process. How many actresses of her calibre would schlep through three cities?”
KATHLEEN said that she did it because she’s growing sick of revivals and happy to champion good new works.
“I’m thrilled at the thought that I’m helping to place a new piece in the library.”
And after years of safe choices on Broadway, she thinks better, riskier times are ahead. Along with HIGH, she loved DAVID LINDSAY ABAIRE’S darkly comic new play GOOD PEOPLE and laughed out loud with her daughter at THE BOOK OF MORMON.
“I think people are getting their guts back.”