Strong, sexy, stylish, Kathleen Turner, is the only actress today who evokes glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Since Body Heat, she has played it tough — with class. But can her V.I. Warshawski’s hold its own against this summer’s onslaught of hardheaded, gunslinging hit women?
Ten years have passed since Kathleen Turner fogged the lens of Lawrence Kasdan’s camera in her first movie, Body Heat. Marriage, a baby, and 14 films later, Turner, at 37, still has killer dimples, legs like concealed weapons, and, anytime she cares to flash it, a come-hither look that could induce whiplash in a bishop.
But this day, in a restaurant near her beachfront Long Island home, she’s trying to induce that baby — Rachel Ann, now 3 years old — to stay with her sitter so Mommy can be a movie star for a couple of hours. ”I’m just going to do this interview,” the actress says, maternally attired in a roomy white cotton outfit with a snap-on Pop Swatch. ”When you’re done eating and wake up from your nap, I’ll be there.” Rachel nods and wanders off to schmooze some grade-school boys at the adjacent table. The girl can already work a room. ”She likes boys,” Turner shrugs.
Later, stirring a screwdriver in the seaside bar where she sometimes sings with the Suits, a rock band that’s the avocation of her real estate tycoon husband, Jay Weiss, Turner marvels over motherhood. ”Rachel’s got half my expressions down. The other day she came up and said, ‘HAH!’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, give it back, that’s my bit!”’ We’re sitting by the darkened bandstand in a deserted corner of the bar, but Turner seems to fill the space — leaning forward conspiratorially one minute, throwing back her head in an operatic laugh the next. ”It’s kind of shocking when you see your mannerisms reflected,” she goes on, ”and I have so many of them.”
Turner is, in a sense, an amalgam of great bits. That clipped diction, that saucy stride, that cool, challenging stare. No one, not even Rachel, does them better than she. In an age when movie stars pride themselves on honesty and directness, on not acting like stars, she’s a throwback to Hollywood’s glamorous heyday. Her grand matinee-idol manner has provoked comparisons to Bacall, Garbo, and that gloriously mouthy broad Barbara Stanwyck. ”After Body Heat,” says Turner, ”Stanwyck told me the only one who could’ve done it better was her.” Some actresses — Demi Moore, Debra Winger, Julia Roberts — reach us through the shock of their emotional nakedness. But Kathleen Turner is opaque, ironic; we can never be quite sure what’s going through her mind.
One secret is her voice. With its smoked-honey texture and unplaceable, actressy accent, it suggests a woman who’s accustomed to getting her way. She used it as an instrument of lubricious duplicity to seduce a quivering William Hurt (”You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man”) in Body Heat, the 1981 film that earned her $30,000 and film noir immortality at 26. At 31, she talked us into buying her as a 43-year-old who becomes 17 again in Peggy Sue Got Married, effecting the illusion mostly by verbal means. Her body didn’t even appear in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but her breathy way with lines like ”I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” made Jessica Rabbit the biggest cartoon sex symbol since Betty Boop. In V.I. Warshawski, Turner’s newly released turn as a private eye, she wraps her vocal cords around lines that seem to have been hard-boiled just for her (”Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of cashmere?”).