PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Kathleen Turner

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Kathleen Turner If you were a producer looking for a marquee name to play the man-eating Martha in a new staging of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you wouldn't have to look much further than Kathleen Turner.
Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo by Paul Kolnick

Since first making her name as a film actress in 1981, she has gotten the best of men played by William Hurt, Michael Douglas, Nicholas Cage and Jack Nicholson in movies like "Body Heat," "The War of the Roses," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Prizzi's Honor." Even when playing the mouthpiece of a cartoon bunny in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," her throaty growl intimidated flesh and blood males. On Broadway, Turner has unnerved Jude Law in Indiscretions and Jason Biggs in The Graduate.

Martha may be Turner's most outsized assignment to date; It's certainly among the most challenging stage roles in dramatic literature. But don't expect Turner to be afraid. She's been waiting to take a stab at the part all of her life. The actress, who does not lack for wit, candidness or self-confidence, talked to Playbill.com before leaving for the Broadway-bound production's Boston tryout.

Playbill.com: Your Broadway appearances have been steady over the past decade. Do you consider yourself a theatre person now?
Kathleen Turner: Oh, I think I always was. When I first came to New York in 1978, I got on Broadway right away, in Gemini, which was exhilarating. Then films started happening. That was a whole new field to learn and explore. And it was fascinating. But I have never gone more than two and a half years without being on stage, whether it was at Arena Stage or Long Wharf or Toronto. I never wanted to lose the skills, and I never wanted to become afraid of it. I know so many screen actors who are terrified of going back to the stage. And I think I'm my best on stage. There's no one editing me or holding me back or telling me I'm too loud or too big.

Playbill.com: You must feel, then, that you've earned this part.
KT: Oh, yes, I do. I've been trying to get this one for some time. I just had to get old enough.

Playbill.com: Some people have called Martha a monster. How do you see her?
KT: She has had many years of essential failure, both in herself and what she expected from her husband, starting way back with her father. And at this time, a woman of intelligence and energy, as she is really, was unable to pursue her own ambitions at all and had to work through a man. I think the frustration and anger at that inability to make her own way is very much a part of her seeming monsterness. Playbill.com: You've had a lot of stage experience in Boston, where the show is trying out.
KT: This will be my fourth play in Boston. I was thrilled when they said Boston, because I love the audiences, and, even more, I think they love me! You go on stage going, 'They're waiting for me.' It's a great feeling.

Playbill.com: This is a demanding role physically and vocally. How are you preparing yourself?
KT: Every other week will be seven shows. Vocally, it is extraordinarily demanding. I am going to have my pad and paper. And I have this little thing on top [of the pad] that says, 'Please try to ask a question with a yes or no answer.' I will be quiet offstage a great deal of the time. I have to. It's like being an athlete in training. Everything you do goes toward that performance.

Playbill.com: How long are you signed on for? About a year?
KT: A year is too long. I find eight months is enough. Because then I start mucking about with it. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, after about eight months, you've really done all the exploration you can. So I start thinking, "Well, Tennessee didn't write a laugh here, but I bet I could get one."

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