The Perfect Family, from first-time feature director Anne Renton, tells the story of suburban super-mom Eileen Cleary (Academy Award nominee Kathleen Turner), the ultimate devoted Catholic who gets nominated for the coveted Catholic Woman of the Year Award at her local parish and will go to any lengths to prove she’s worthy of the title. But, needing the church board’s approval is proving to be a difficult task, with her non-conformist family that includes a gay daughter (Emily Deschanel), an unhappily married son (Jason Ritter) and her recovering alcoholic husband (Michael McGrady).
At the film’s press day, Collider spoke to actress Kathleen Turner, in both a roundtable and a 1-on-1 interview, about how she came to be a part of this indie film, the ways in which she identified with her character, the challenge of finding roles that are not so predictable, and how she hopes audiences will take away a sense of compassion that is reciprocal. She also talked about the roles that fans want to talk to her about the most, why Joan Wilder (from Romancing the Stone) is the only character that she’s ever returned to for a sequel, how her role on Californication made her blush, and that she has two stage roles coming up next. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
How did your involvement with this film come about?
KATHLEEN TURNER: As one gets older and more experienced, one of the most exciting things is that you get more and more involved with the development of pieces, whether it’s a play or a film. The script came through my agency. I have a policy that I will try to read what comes to me. I don’t always manage to do it, but I read a lot of it, if it comes through the right channels at the agency. So, this was one I got to and I was intrigued by this woman and by her problem. How in the world does someone who allows this church to set all the guidelines and parameters of her life, live in the real world? That’s an interesting dilemma. And then, you add the complications in the family’s choices, and you’ve got something. So, I called Anne Renton, the director, and we talked on the phone for some time. I suggested some changes and some places where I felt I didn’t have enough information or we didn’t know why something was going on. And then, three months later, I got a rewrite that pretty much incorporated everything we talked about. So, I thought I should meet Anne, since this was her first time directing, and I was impressed with her intelligence and her manner. She is a fairly calm, self-contained, balanced woman. I don’t want to go seeking drama in my life. I don’t need that. Who does? But, it seemed to me that she had a good understanding and a good balance in herself. So, in my usual manner, I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” I didn’t even realize, at that point, that all the creative talent in the film were women. If that’s possible, I would like to help support other women’s work. It wouldn’t be the reason I took the job, but it would certainly be another reason to do it.
What appealed to you most about this project?
TURNER: It’s a nicely balanced film. I was very glad about that, when I saw it. I thought they did a really good job in the editing, and putting the final product together because it was very even-handed.
Were there ways that you identified with this character personally, or did you take any inspiration for anyone in particular?
TURNER: She has a lot of qualities we all admire. The dedication that she brings is something that I do identify with. I do a lot of work with Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way, Citymeals on Wheels, and Child Help USA. I go to most of the affiliates in the country, and if I can, I’ll have an event and raise money, and go to the clinics and meet the people. I work with People for the American Way on the protection of the First Amendment. I’ll go to Congress and show up for things for intolerance. I pass out meals in New York City for Citymeals on Wheels. I think everyone has time and should spend time doing things like that. So, in that sense, I understood how important this was to her and why it would be so easy to fill up so much of your life this way. When I was married, in between jobs, my husband would say, “God, I wish you’d go back to work ‘cause this saving the world stuff is just driving me crazy.” And then, I’d go back to work and my world would get really intense and small for awhile, and I couldn’t do all those things. She’s a good woman. She really is. She has just accepted an impossible set of rules.
This character has such a complete journey in the film. Is it challenging to find roles that are so fully encompassing?
TURNER: Yeah, it is. I’m not attracted to a character that doesn’t change, or go through some change, and learn to adapt to something. It doesn’t mean they adapt successfully or that they win. That would just be too simple. We don’t want to give answers to all these things, anyway. So much of the filmmaking I see, nowadays, is like you have to write things so that each character has a generic, known history, like “This is the love interest. This is the bitter old woman whose marriage has failed or whose husband left her for a younger babe.” The characters are typecast in categories, and I just think that’s so predictable.
Was it important to you that the religious aspect of this film is much more about how it affects people’s lives, instead of trying to preach anything specific?
TURNER: Yes, it was very important to me. It’s not my job to prosthelytize, in any way, shape or form. To suggest, to open up thought and to embody situation where you have to say, “What would I do?,” that’s my job. To tell you, “This is right and this is wrong,” I don’t do that. I don’t think it has to be Catholicism. Any organized religion that says, “This is what we believe, and anyone who doesn’t is on the outside,” is like that. Almost any form of religion that excludes people would be fine. Catholicism was just the structure that they chose to use for this film.
How much of a challenge was it to portray this woman’s devotion without mocking it?
TURNER: Well, not mocking was real important because I do not agree with her, in my own life. I should not say this, but of course, I’m going to. To me, organized religion is primarily man putting words in God’s mouth. That’s how I basically feel about that. But, I do believe in believing and I admire it. I just don’t think it should be exclusive or judgmental.
What was this great cast like to work with?
TURNER: I was thrilled. I said yes, before they cast the rest of it. So then, when Anne called me up and said, “I’ve got Emily Deschanel. I’ve got Jason Ritter. I’ve got Richard Chamberlain. I’ve got Michael McGrady.” Really, truly, my first response was, “You got all these people?!” I was thrilled. I have a daughter who’s 24, and we watch Bones. My daughter has said to me, “That’s one of the only real women on television,” and I agree. And then, I got to work with her.
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
TURNER: I hope, more than anything, they will take a sense of compassion that is reciprocal. The truth is that the family shows up for her, in the end. The love that the family has is unquestioned. I think that’s it’s strength. Even though they don’t accept each other’s lifestyle, it never reaches the point of destruction to the family, and I like that. I think that’s imperative.
With so many memorable roles in so many iconic films, is there something that fans want to talk to you about, most often?
TURNER: Well, people love Peggy Sue (from Peggy Sue Got Married), and they love Joan Wilder (from Romancing the Stone). Essentially, what seems to have come across, through all the years now, is humor and the fact that I don’t do victims. I really find them uninteresting. Being a victim means that you’re hoping somebody else will come along and take care of you. I don’t think so! So, I think I’m mostly appreciated for my humor and my self-reliance, which are great things.
How come Joan Wilder is the only character you’ve ever returned to?
TURNER: Because I signed a sequel deal, and they sued me for $25 million. I said that I had agreed to a sequel, but that I hadn’t agreed to lower my standards. I thought the second script was awful. It was really crap. So, I said I wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t up to my standards. Rather than deal with me like adults, they sued me for $25 million, which my agent said was probably a very good thing because it made me more expensive. But, Michael [Douglas] and I worked out a deal. We went back to the original writer, Diane [Thomas], and got her to contribute some, and then we also got another set of writers. So, Michael and I sat down and, from these three versions, put together a script. He was reasonable.
Are there any other characters that you have wanted to revisit?
TURNER: No. I know too much now, with the impact of what that character did. The interesting thing is the work, not the affect of the work. Once you know the affect of the work, you take away the mystery of the work.
Did you have any idea that you’d find yourself playing a character like Sue Collini on Californication?
TURNER: No, that surprised me. She made me blush. She really did. The most embarrassing thing was the times when I had to ask what something meant. I’ve had this image of being this incredibly sexy woman, for all these years, but the truth is that I was a late bloomer, and then I was married for 22 years, in a monogamous relationship. I don’t have all that much experience. Sorry to disappoint. The image is out the window, once again.
What is the greatest gift that acting has given you?
TURNER: Access to the world. What acting really is, ultimately, is the study of human behavior, and that goes over every age, year after year after year, no matter how old you are or where you are in your life. It’s all another stage of behavior and learning. And then, you have access to all kinds of worlds and people. It’s the closest thing that Americans have to transversing different levels of society, which is really a great honor.
Is there a dream role that you’d still love to do?
TURNER: For years and years and years, it was Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And then, I got to do it and it was as wonderful as I hoped it would be, which is scary. You spend all those years thinking about something, and then it’s as good as you hoped it would be? Wow, that’s very frightening! I don’t know if there’s a dream film role that I’d want to do.
What’s next for you?
TURNER: I have two roles coming up on stage. I’m playing Molly Ivins, in a one-woman play called Red-Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, that I’m taking to Washington, D.C. for September and October, so that I have a strong feminist liberal voice in the Capitol before the election, thank you very much. And then, I’m going to do a very, very odd British comedy, after that. And, I’ve got a great new animated film that I’m working on, where I play an evil spider.