No man dares date me!

KATH­LEEN TURNER ON HOW SHE STILL IN­TIM­I­DATES MEN – AND HER BAT­TLE WITH CRIP­PLING ARTHRI­TIS

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

Kath­leen Turner’s voice is un­mis­tak­able. A grav­elly purr. A cig­a­rette-soaked rasp. You hear her be­fore you see her. And then the rest of her ap­pears in a black asym­met­ric top, black trousers, black plim­solls and trade­mark leo­nine hair. Almost 15 years ago I met her back­stage when she was ap­pear­ing in The Grad­u­ate in London. She was in her un­der­wear, to­tally com­fort­able in her own body, hav­ing just been seen by the en­tire the­atre nude as the mid­dle-aged se­duc­tress Mrs Robin­son. Now, 33 years since she first smoul­dered naked as a conniving siren who wants her hus­band bumped off in Body Heat, the woman who Ro­manced The Stone with Michael Dou­glas in 1984, then di­vorced him with pas­sion in The War Of The Roses in 1989, still ex­udes charisma and con­fi­dence in her phys­i­cal­ity.

But in 1992 she gave up a stel­lar movie ca­reer when she was di­ag­nosed with a form of crip­pling arthri­tis and told by one doc­tor she may never walk again. She changed doc­tors, and though it be­came im­pos­si­ble for her to even wear heels – a tragedy for a woman who al­ways wanted to do her own stunts – she rein­vented her­self in her for­ties as a stage ac­tor, win­ning spec­tac­u­lar ac­claim for her per­for­mances in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on Broad­way and The Grad­u­ate in London.

When the rav­aging ef­fects of rheuma­toid ar thr itis – a chronic inf lam­ma­tory disorder that af­fects the joints – and the drugs used to con­trol it caused her to bloat and gain weight, her looks were the last thing on her mind. All she was con­cerned about was sur­viv­ing. Peo­ple were cruel and she was ac­cused of be­ing a drunk. At the time she wasn’t, but she ad­mit­ted she later found that vodka numbed the pain. She said in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in 2008 that she started us­ing al­co­hol as pain re­lief be­cause the drugs were mess­ing up her mind, but it spi­ralled out of con­trol and she be­came ‘a nasty drunk’. After pass­ing out while in re­hearsals for The Grad­u­ate in New York in 2002 she fi­nally con­fronted her prob­lems, fin­ished the show’s run and then sent her­self to re­hab.

‘Men don’t dare ask me to date them. It’s sad’

The first symp­tom of the arthri­tis was swelling feet. She had to wear her hus­band’s train­ers be­cause they were the only things that fit­ted her. When she went to the doc­tor he ac­cused her of be­ing vain and said there was noth­ing that could be done about it. But that wasn’t the Turner way. ‘I do Pi­lates twice a week. I do yoga twice a week and I walk as much as I can stand,’ she says. ‘I’m a master of bal­ance. My yoga teacher can’t be­lieve it. I have no toes.’ Rheuma­toid arthri­tis af­fects the joints so badly that fin­gers and toes can be ren­dered to­tally use­less. ‘On my right foot only the big toe works. On the other the joints don’t work, they’re just kind of floppy. Gross isn’t it?’

She can still bal­ance on one leg, she says, and she’s learned how to walk by re­dis­tribut­ing weight in her foot. ‘What­ever it takes I’ll do it. I don’t think there’s any amaz­ing virtue to it. I want to keep act­ing and I want to keep on be­ing an ac­tivist. It’s a big part of who I am. I speak about things that are im­por­tant to me.

‘About two years ago I had another bad flare-up and ended up in hos­pi­tal again. They give you the drug Pred­nisone im­me­di­ately to slam it down. I hate what it does to my mind [de­pres­sion is a common side ef­fect of the drug]. I hate what it does to my body too. You don’t sleep well. It makes you feel jagged all the time, but some­times it’s the only thing that works. It ul­ti­mately da­m­ages bone and mus­cle tis­sue so you only use it when you have to. Like ev­ery­thing, it’s a bal­ance.

‘There’s no cure for rheuma­toid arthri­tis and I didn’t think I’d even get to this point. When it blows up my hands don’t work very well. If somebody hands me a glass I’ll drop it. There’s noth­ing I can do about it. At the time I was di­ag­nosed in the 90s no­body knew much about th­ese auto-im­mune dis­eases. Peo­ple hire drunks in this business, but they don’t hire peo­ple with dis­eases they don’t un­der­stand. Time has changed some of that. There are bet­ter drugs now, but they lower your im­mune sys­tem.’

To­day, sit­ting in the restau­rant of a Bev­erly Hills ho­tel, we or­der iced tea and ta­cos and eat heartily. ‘I have to avoid grain and eat a lot of pro­tein. I can have corn though,’ she says, ges­tur­ing to the ta­cos. ‘But I don’t eat wheat or rye be­cause they support in­flam­ma­tion, or dairy be­cause it does the same. I cook with turmeric and onions be­cause they’re nat­u­rally anti-in­flam­ma­tory. Luck­ily I love onions. You’re prone to a flare-up if you’re un­der stress so I have to be care­ful.’

She was mar­ried to prop­erty de­vel­oper Jay Weiss for 20 years, which is long by Hol­ly­wood stan­dards, and they have a daugh­ter Rachel Ann who’s now 27. He was de­voted to Kath­leen when she be­came ill. ‘We’re still friends and he’s in a nice re­la­tion­ship with a woman I like. He brings her to my shows. But we don’t see each other as dou­ble-dat­ing ma­te­rial. That would be weird.’

Why did they break up? ‘We had dif­fer­ent ideas of how our life was go­ing. Rachel was leav­ing home.’ It seems she was the glue that held them to­gether. ‘In a way, yes. I was look­ing ahead and think­ing of a time when I’d be free of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. I wanted my life to get larger in terms of the world and travel, and he was go­ing the other way. He wanted to hun­ker down. But he was won­der­ful when I was sick, re­ally great.’

She’s been sin­gle since they di­vorced in 2007, though not by choice. Men seem to think she’s for­mi­da­ble. ‘They don’t dare ask me to date them,’ she agrees. ‘I’m not in­vited to date very of­ten at all. Maybe men just don’t con­sider I’m avail­able

or some­thing. Or don’t think of me as pos­si­ble dat­ing ma­te­rial. It’s sad. I’m good company.’ Per­haps they’re put off by her con­fi­dence and her de­sire never to show vul­ner­a­bil­ity? Could it also be that per­haps some part of her is just not open to it? She nods. ‘Rachel said that. I’d hate her to be right.’

Kath­leen’s known for one-lin­ers that put men down in the movies she’s done: ‘You’re not too smart, are you. I like that in a man,’ she told Wil­liam Hurt in Body Heat. ‘Well, I think they should get over that rep­u­ta­tion. I’d like a man and I’d like him to be smart and funny. I like the company of men. My mother never mar­ried again or had any kind of re­la­tion­ship after my fa­ther died. I re­mem­ber her say­ing to me, “It’s so nice to be around the smell of men.” Just lit­tle things like that. The smell of a man. You re­alise you’ve missed that.’

Given her re­cent suc­cess on the stage, it’s rather sur­pris­ing to see her turn up in film again in Dumb And Dumber To, the se­quel to the Far­relly Brothers’ ground-break­ing 1994 com- edy star­ring Jim Car­rey and Jeff Daniels. When she heard the script re­quired ‘an un­der­stated Kath­leen Turner’ she let it be known that the ac­tual Kath­leen Turner may be avail­able. She lets out a boom­ing laugh. Her character Fraida is cat­nip to men, and even has sex in a broom cup­board. ‘Fraida is a ti­tanic whore and I sup­pose they thought I wouldn’t want to do it, that I’d be in­sulted. I think they thought I’d be up­set when in the script Jim and Jeff meet this woman and she says, “I’m Fraida”, and they say, “No. Fraida’s hot. Fraida’s smoking. That’s not you.” But I felt quite the op­po­site, thank good­ness. This is where I can say, “Do you know what? I don’t look like I did 30 years ago. Get over it.”’

Of course no one looks the same as they did 30 years ago, but there are so many Hol­ly­wood for­mer A-listers whose ca­reers have been based on how they look and who are still try­ing to keep it up. Not Kath­leen Turner. It seems almost a re­lief to her that she doesn’t have to work at be­ing a pin-up any more and can take on roles she re­ally wants. ‘I think I sur­prised the Far­relly brothers by say­ing I’d do the movie,’ she says. ‘I like their hu­mour. None of it’s based on mean­ness. The cur­rent trend in TV shows is all about laugh­ing at some­one’s hu­mil­i­a­tion and I don’t like that, but there’s none of that in the film. This hu­mour is kind of sweet. It wasn’t some­thing I thought I’d be do­ing but if I haven’t done some­thing be­fore I’ll prob­a­bly try it, as long as we’re not talk­ing drugs or any­thing like that. I wore slip­pers and there were no shots of my feet. The cin­e­matog­ra­pher was very sweet. He’d say “Feet?” I’d say “No” and he’d re­frame the shot.’

She’s never tried to change her­self to ap­peal. She’s never had Bo­tox or nipped and tucked. ‘No one is sexy if they don’t like them­selves. I don’t care how they look. When high def­i­ni­tion pho­tog­ra­phy came out on film every­body thought they looked fat and the Bo­tox craze started. It’s de­struc­tive. You see a per­fectly good ac­tor who sud­denly can’t move their fore­head or their eye­brows.’

Kath­leen has never been in­ter­ested in di­ets ei­ther. A pro­ducer once sent her a box of diet food when she was about to take the part of high school stu­dent Peggy Sue in Peggy Sue Got Mar­ried in 1986, for which she was Os­car-nom­i­nated. ‘I taped the box up and sent it back to his of­fice. It con­tained diet salad dress­ing, diet potato chips. I thought, “What the hell is this?” It was male chau­vin­ist c***, that’s what it was. I like to en­joy life. I like food, I like wine. I don’t want to spend 15 hours of my day won­der­ing how I look. For some peo­ple, men and women, that’s their pri­mary fo­cus and that’s so bor­ing,’

She didn’t tell any­one she was sick with the arthri­tis for a very long time. ‘I fear be­ing vul­ner­a­ble in peo­ple’s eyes. I’ve trained my­self so that now when somebody says, “I’m go­ing to help you”, I say “Yes” and make my­self think of what they can do. My au­to­matic re­sponse in the past was “No”. In my fam­ily if you needed help it meant you were a fail­ure. My dad was pretty tough.’

Kath­leen grew up in Cuba, Venezuela and London. Her fa­ther was an Amer­i­can diplo­mat and the fam­ily trav­elled in in­ter­est­ing cir­cles. When he died of throm­bo­sis just be­fore she turned 18 it shocked the fam­ily. He knew he was sick but he hadn’t told any­one. She nods gravely. ‘Well, I’m not go­ing to die,’ she says. Her mother is 91 now. ‘All the women in my fam­ily have lived long lives. My grand­mother was 100 when she died. I’ve learnt so much from my mother. She’s so gra­cious. And from my dad I learnt dis­ci­pline and a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. I turn up on time and I take on ev­ery­thing.’

Her daugh­ter is a mu­si­cian and they’re ex­tremely close. ‘Her voice is ex­tra­or­di­nary. I tell peo­ple I’m her mother but I’m not a stage mother. In some ways we’re sim­i­lar. She’s out­go­ing, can be quite charm­ing and very smart. On stage she makes sure her gui­tar is in tune and then looks up and takes a breath and sighs, “I’m on stage, I’m home.” That’s when I think, “Yes all right, that’s my daugh­ter.”’

Does she feel happy at 60? ‘I’m very happy at the mo­ment. I love my re­la­tion­ship with my daugh­ter. I adore her and she adores me. That’s top of my list. I’m happy with the friend­ships that I know will con­tinue to support me. I’m happy that I’m 60 and have so many choices in work.’ She thinks she has more choices now than she had at 50. ‘I do. I do. I’m edg­ing now into that ter­ri­tory where a lot of us have been win­nowed out. The com­pe­ti­tion’s get­ting smaller,’ she laughs. ‘Maybe there’ll be more movies be­cause they can be a lot of fun. And I could still do my stage work too, so it’s a nice bal­ance. I could never see my­self com­mit­ting to a TV se­ries for years on end, but I like to pop in and do lit­tle char­ac­ters. The younger gen­er­a­tion knows me as Chandler’s dad in Friends.’

She also has a black cat, Si­mon, a very well- trav­elled fe­line who goes with her – East Coast, West Coast, London – wher­ever she is. Is he black to match her clothes? She laughs. ‘No, although I found him at the ASPCA [the Amer­i­can ISPCA] and I was wear­ing all black. They had five cats to show me. Si­mon was first and he came and sat on my shoul­der straight away. Some­one who worked there said he iden­ti­fied with me be­cause I was all in black, so I said, “If I wear colour is he go­ing to run away?”’ He didn’t, and she laughs that big boom­ing laugh again.

Dumb And Dumber To is in cin­e­mas on 19 De­cem­ber

Kath­leen in 1981 and (in­set) last year

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