A Storyteller at Heart: Kathleen Turner brings ‘that voice’ to MAC

Kathleen Turner calls working on “Romancing the Stone” one of the highlights of her career. (Kathleen Turner/Submitted)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

With her trademark husky voice, Kathleen Turner calls herself a storyteller. 

She tells stories through movies like “Romancing the Stone,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “The War of the Roses” and via Broadway, for which she garnered two Tony nominations for her roles in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

“That’s what I do; that’s what I love,” she says. 

Turner will share stories of her career with “Finding My Voice” at the Mesa Arts Center’s Piper Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 18. Her show has been described as humorous with music and insights into her extensive career. 

“I’m looking forward to Mesa,” Turner says. “I was in Arizona recently. I came out to a wellness spa (Civana in Carefree) and it was amazing. The treatments — oh! — some of the sessions, they were great.”

At her shows, she croons tunes like “Let’s Fall in Love,” “I’d Rather Be Sailing,” “On the Street Where You Live” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” 

“I tell stories and out of the stories come songs,” she says. “Nothing original — they’re all classics in their way. They act as spotlights on the stories.”

Her latest story is “White House Plumbers,” which hits HBO in March. The five-episode show takes a look at how Watergate masterminds E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson) and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux) accidentally toppled the presidency they were trying to protect.

Turner says she’s in the first episode and it’s humorous to see what they thought they could get away with. That study of human behavior has kept her passionate since her career began in the early 1980s. 

“Acting is the study of human behavior,” she says. “There’s no end to that, Lord knows. Why someone behaves the way they do is endlessly fascinating.”

Discouraged to act

Born June 19, 1954, in Springfield, Missouri, Turner was raised in a strictly conservative Christian home to parents who discouraged performance. 

“My father was of missionary stock,” she was quoted as saying. “So theater and acting were just one step up from being a streetwalker, you know? So when I was performing in school, he would drive my mom (there) and sit in the car. She’d come out at intermissions and tell him, ‘She’s doing very well.’”

Because of her father’s foreign service jobs, she grew up in Canada Cuba, Venezuela and London, England, where she attended The American School in London. 

That’s where she got the acting bug. She attended Southwest Missouri State University for two years, when director Herbert Blau saw her in “The House of Blue Leaves.” He invited her to spend her senior year at the University of Maryland. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from there in 1977.

It proved to be a springboard for her career. After making her TV debut in “The Doctors,” she starred as Matty Walker in “Body Heat,” which brought her international acclaim. 

In 1983, she signed on for “The Man with Two Brains” and, subsequently, “Romancing the Stone,” for which she won a Golden Globe. She reteamed with her co-stars Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito in “The Jewel of the Nile.” Her resume also includes starring roles in “Prizzi’s Honor” with Jack Nicholson, “Peggy Sue Got Married” with Nicolas Cage, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” 

In the late 1980s, she partnered with Douglas and DeVito again in “The War of the Roses.”

Turner remained an A-list film star leading lady in the early 1990s, starring in “V.I. Warshawski” and “Undercover Blues,” until rheumatoid arthritis seriously restricted her activities. 

Looking back, she has fond memories of her career, particularly her experiences with “Romancing the Stone.”

“We had such a great time,” she said. “I loved being down in Mexico. I grew up in South America, in part. It was fun to be immersed in that culture again. Michael (Douglas) had one bilingual assistant director. Some of the actors didn’t speak English; Manuel (Ojeda, who played Zolo), almost no English at all. We had to give them annunciation and interpretations.”

Her passions now are directing and teaching. In the fall, she worked with graduate students at the University of Virginia a week every month. After 45 years in the business, she yearns to pass on the ethics and the responsibility. 

“I just have to be very, very, very true to myself,” she says. “I can’t make up stories or lie or any of that. I can’t. It’s a constant test of honesty and intention.”

Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 18

WHERE: Piper Repertory Theater at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main Street, Mesa

COST: Tickets start at $54

INFO: 480-644-6500, mesaartscenter.com