Kathleen Turner on Send Yourself Roses audiobook: 'I'm not known for being a wallflower'
Kathleen Turner (Body Heat, Romancing the Stone) is known for her voice — deep and rich, shifting from sensual to scary in an instant. So it’s somewhat of a shock that it’s taken nearly a decade for the actress and activist to record the audiobook version of her 2008 memoir Send Yourself Roses.
Funnily enough, it was a conversation with another actress-turned-author, Amy Poehler, that inspired Turner to finally get into the studio, when Poehler asked why she couldn’t find an audio copy of Send Yourself Roses. (The two connected when Poehler invited Turner to take part in her audiobook for her memoir Yes, Please.)
Below, Turner talks to EW about the recording experience, and what it was like to relive the raw, honest words she’d published years before.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just can’t believe there was never a Send Yourself Roses audiobook before this.
KATHLEEN TURNER: I know! Well, I’ll tell you, right after we finished the book, I took off on the U.S. tour of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. And then I went right into another play. It just got away! But when Amy put that in my head, I was like, “Yeah… I should do that.” I was going to try and do it last fall, but I was under contract to do Joan Didion’s play The Year of Magical Thinking at Arena Stage in Washington. That play is an hour-and-42-minute monologue… I kind of underestimated the amount of vocal demand. I planned to record this in Washington during the day. Turned out no human being could actually talk that much and keep the quality of voice that you want. Anyway, I finally got it together to sit down in January, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually read through the book in years, and I thought, “Oh my god, what if I don’t like it anymore?”
And did you?
I started to read the book and thought, “No, I really like it. I really like it!” I love the idea that the parts that I think are funny, or should make people laugh, that my reading of it will make them laugh because of my delivery.
The whole book sounds so conversational.
Yeah, it is. The fact is that [co-author] Gloria Feldt and I sat down, and I’ve got 62 hours of tape. Then, of course, the problem was to prioritize and edit and get it down to what we thought was essential. I have to give Gloria the most credit for that because I don’t have that kind of organizational brain, you know? But every word is mine, out of my mouth. It does make it very easy to translate into an audiobook.
So what was the experience of recording it like?
I had a ball! I really enjoyed it so much. I had a terrific director, this woman Suzanne Toren, and I had a great engineer, Charles, who were a really good audience even though they’re on the other side of the glass. I found myself telling them stories that weren’t in the book half the time. I’d say, “Oh my god, that’s right, I was also…”
But part of what was interesting to me was, I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to read some parts of it: My father’s death when I was 17, and some of the worst parts about the rheumatoid arthritis when it was finally discovered, and then when I was abusing alcohol for the pain. These were really hard places to get through. I would have to stop and collect myself and then start again. When we were getting near the end of the book, Suzanne asked if I wanted to go back and re-record those parts, because it was clear how difficult they were for me. And I said, “No! I don’t want it to sound pasteurized. It’s hard [to read] because it’s hard.” … It was surprising how vivid it all still is. I hadn’t quite expected I would go through a reliving process. Kind of spooky! Made for some serious dreaming at night.
That is wild!
It was. But it also told me how honest the book is.
Were there any parts you wished you could rewrite?
No, I thought that would be dishonest. If I was willing to put it out there in the first place, then that’s what I did. I don’t get to go back and rewrite history.
What aspects of the book are you still proud of?
Some of the wisdom! I mean honestly, now I know this sounds absolutely absurd, and I don’t remember exactly what section, but … I sort of stopped and looked up through the glass at Suzanne and Chuck and went, “That is f—ing wise!” And they went, “Yeah!” I was kind of thrilled with that.
Did any chapters seem extra relevant now?
Well actually, I was pleased at some of my diplomacy about people. I thought, “Well, that was good of you, Turner. In fact, they were a real a–hole.” But honestly, that’s for me. That’s not to protect anyone else. It’s the way I want to behave. But there are no lies or anything like that.
I don’t think most stars are as honest as you were in this book.
So I’m told often. [Laughs.]
How did you decide how much to reveal?
Well, there’s just me. It was a real hurdle to get through [talking about myself] in the first place. Gloria really had to talk me into this one. She said, “Look, you really have a lot to share.” And I said, “I don’t know. It sounds so egotistical, talking all about myself.” And she said, “That’s the point.” I went, “Oh! Okay.”
I think at one place in the book I speak of — and this is true of any industry, not just acting — that if a woman has decisive ideas about how something should be done, she’s often labeled “difficult.” Whereas if a man says, “No, I think it should be like this,” he’s “decisive.” As we know, this echoes through all our professions. But you’re very susceptible in this industry because it is so inbred. And my answer to [being called difficult] has always been, “Well, has that person worked with me?” Because if they have worked with me, they know the difference is that it’s not personal. I’m not saying my idea is better than yours because you’re an idiot, I’m saying this is the best idea, as I see it. So that usually answers any questions. But I am not known for being a wallflower or… demure, let’s say.
I loved the section where you explained that the women you signed on to play had to be integral to the story. Every actress should think like that. [Note: Listen to this section in EW’s exclusive clip, below.]
It’s just so simple to me, honestly. If you take the character out of the script, what substantially changes? Does something really change? And if the answer is no, then why is she’s there? Just because somebody thinks, “Stick in a girlfriend or a mother.” It just makes no sense to me, and it’s a waste of my time and interest.
I just went to see a production of The Tempest with Harriet Walker at St. Ann’s [in New York]. It’s an all-women production, and it’s set in a women’s prison, which creates a whole different level of hierarchy and prejudice. It’s amazingly fascinating and powerful. It’s one of the performances that will stay with me my whole life, and I don’t say that lightly. Actually, it was kind of funny. I went backstage, and I started to say “Thank you for a wonderful—” and then I burst into tears! And I said [putting on a blubbering voice], “I’m sorry! I didn’t know this was going to happen!” And they all started hugging me. It was that powerful. I didn’t even know I was going to do that.
That reminds me of Orange is the New Black. Do you watch a lot of TV?
I don’t really. Unfortunately, I’ve been watching much too much MSNBC. … But I have a daughter in her late 20s, and she’s turned me on to Scandal. I had my first experience last weekend of binge-watching. I must have watched five episodes in a row. I was like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” But it takes so much time. How do people have time to watch these things?
I don’t know! You wake up out of your stupor, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s 11 p.m.”
Yeah, crazy! It’s wild. But it was kind of fun. And then I watched Westworld — I really liked that. I watched that the weekend before. Bad influences, you young people are!
You’ve been involved with Planned Parenthood for decades. How do you balance your activism with your acting work?
Usually, when I’m in rehearsals for a play, say, I contact my organizations. Because I also serve on the board of CityMeals here in New York. I contact them and say, “I’m going under for two months. I’m not available, don’t try me.” But once I’m in performance, then I have Monday nights [free]. Or I have some time in my days when I’m outside of New York City — which is often, because I like to work at regional theaters. I like to take good theater outside New York, because we forget people out there deserve [great art] as well.
Anyway, once I’m in performance, then what I do is I’ll do master classes at some of the local universities, or I’ll do functions for Planned Parenthood during the day. [For instance] this fall, when I was in Washington, D.C. doing Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, they had just completed a new clinic after many years of battle. They were able to have the ceremony on a Monday night so that I could emcee it. Doing stuff like that is terrific. Then when I’m not working, when I’m in between jobs, I can do things like travel to the affiliates. That will create an opportunity for dialogue, I hope, with the community about the services that the clinic really offers and why they should continue to support it. It’s not always pleasant. I was in Naples, Florida once when [people] poured concrete in the windows and doorways. And then… Texas is so difficult, but somebody’s got to go, right?
Would you ever write a follow-up book?
I’m working on a book about acting, but that will be more for schools, more of a teaching book. I’m working with this guy who’s at the University of Oregon. He’s very good. It will be kind of the same format [as the memoir] in terms of my dos and don’ts from what I’ve learned, but I don’t know that it will be published in a more popular way.
Would you write another memoir?
Give me a few more years, kiddo. I’m going to give myself a vacation for the first time in a couple years. I’m going to fly over to London [for] 10 days. I have a lot of friends in London because I worked over there so much. So I called up Maggie Smith the other day to tell her I was coming, and she’s so funny. She says, “Oh yes, darling, that’s wonderful, darling. You must give me all your time. All your time, I tell you!” Then she says, “But first, when are you coming?” I said, “I’m coming in April.” She says, “Oh good, because I have to go off to Sri Lanka for a few days in March, but I’ll be back by April!” I adore this woman. She’s the best.