Their sizzling, sensual aura was palpable not just on screen but to everyone around them. But while Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas are now considered one of the greatest romantic cinematic pairings of all time, did this magnetism spill over into real life?
Turner admits ‘the sexual attraction was all too real’, and as the cameras rolled for their 1984 blockbuster Romancing The Stone there were few, including Turner, who did not believe their on-set passion would lead to an affair.
‘The chemistry was there and Michael and I were both terrible flirts. I thought Michael was separated. We were in the jungle and I was feeling very romantic towards him,’ says Turner with a wistful sigh. ‘It was going to happen. Then I walked on set one day and his wife was suddenly there.’
Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in a promotional shot for Romancing The Stone, 1984. ‘The chemistry was there and Michael and I were both terrible flirts,’ says Turner
The appearance of Douglas’s wife, Diandra, was a warning message to Turner that she and her husband were still very much married. ‘She sat next to him and made that very clear to me,’ recalls Turner. ‘And that was that. You don’t mess with another woman’s husband.’
In hindsight, Turner says a romance with Douglas – who would go on to divorce Diandra and marry Catherine Zeta-Jones – ‘would have been a complete disaster – he’s ten years older and comes from a family of all-males. He would have tried to squelch me. We would have killed each other. It would have been dreadful. There would have been no happy ending.’
She says she feels sorry for Zeta-Jones ‘because she must get really sick of people saying what great chemistry he and I had’.
In person Turner, 64, comes across as a woman any man, even a legendary lothario like Douglas, would be a fool to mess with. Earthy, unpretentious and with a piercing wit, she is the first to admit her bombshell looks have long gone (‘Honey, I’m fat’), but she still has the sexy, throaty laugh and smoky voice that shot her to fame in classics like Body Heat and Prizzi’s Honor, as well as The War Of The Roses, Romancing The Stone and The Jewel Of The Nile. The latter three of those films all co-starred Douglas, who she regularly sees for lunch and remains a close friend.
We meet at the New York Metropolitan Opera, where Turner is, rather improbably, about to make her debut in Donizetti’s La Fille Du Régiment in a speaking role, the Duchess of Krakenthorp.
Dressed in baggy black sweatshirt, shapeless tracksuit bottoms and trainers, she plops herself down in a battered leather swivel chair, groans and plonks her feet on a table ‘because my back is giving me hell’.
Her hair is a mane of grey but her most famous attribute, that smouldering voice, remains as strong and outspoken as ever.
These days she is in ‘constant pain’ from rheumatoid arthritis, which was diagnosed in 1992 and very nearly ended her career.
When the steroids used to treat the disease caused her body to balloon, the actress was cruelly accused of everything from being an alcoholic to a drug addict. The movie offers dried up and, because she was often too unwell to work, she wrongly earned a reputation in Hollywood as someone who was ‘difficult’.
Kathleen Truner with Jack Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor, 1985. Turner loathes Hollywood with a passion: ‘I think it’s immoral to spend $300 million on a movie’
Turner starred in Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986. Turner has often been compared to the feisty film stars of old, like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall
‘Waking up with that deep bone ache is very depressing. I had some tough times. Last year was hell because my medication stopped working. I’m now on something that seems to be working better, but I’m in constant pain.’
The woman who once confidently flaunted her body in revealing outfits on screen now dreads the vulnerability of showing her figure to a stranger. She says being measured for her opera costume was ‘an ordeal’.
‘I’m much too heavy. Every time I look in a mirror I think I’ve got to lose weight! I try to eat healthily. I work out. But I can’t seem to shift it.
‘When I was younger I was happy with my body. I was a great athlete. It was never about how it looked to me. It was about what my body would do. If a director said, “Jump across the room, now!” I could do it and that was exhilarating.
‘When the rheumatoid arthritis hit, the first doctor told me I’d be in a wheelchair. That was terrifying, and I got rid of that doctor. But I’d never realised until that point how entirely my confidence was based on my physicality. It was terribly hurtful, very frightening. It was a helplessness. And I’m not good at feeling helpless.’
Today she says she has learnt to live with her illness and has found a new contentment in life.
She loathes Hollywood with a passion: ‘I think it’s immoral to spend $300 million on a movie. It’s shocking and wrong.’ When she discovers I live in LA she says sympathetically, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” Even in the early days of her career she refused to live there, preferring to rent a house and then retreat to New York when shooting ended.
In characteristic outspoken style she has little time for the women of the #MeToo movement, started by those who were allegedly abused by now-disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. Instead she prefers to raise money for the Time’s Up movement, which provides funds for non-celebrity victims of sexual abuse and harassment.
Turner and Donald Trump met several times during the height of her fame when he was an up-and-coming property mogul in New York
‘I never went through the whole casting couch thing because my first role in Body Heat was a starring role. So many of the young women who were abused by the system were up-and-comers. They were needy. I wasn’t.
‘I’d rather give money to real women who need it. Not actresses who pretty much knew what the deal was. Going to Weinstein’s room at 11pm at night? That was just dumb. They should’ve known better. I kind of blame the women. I don’t think there’s a good reason for it [to go to his room]. Maybe they honestly believed he had no bad intentions. Still, you don’t go to a man’s room at 11pm at night unless you want to go, if you know what I mean. No way.’
She has encountered her fair share of sexism though. During one dinner with Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas, she took the empty chair next to Nicholson.
‘I had to leave early because I had a shoot the next day and when I got back to my hotel Jack called and said, “How could you do that to me?”
‘I said, “Do what?”
‘And he said, “Leave early when you were my date.”
‘I said, “No one told me I was your date.” It was assumed. That’s what I don’t like about Hollywood. I don’t think it’s changed much. Women are considered objects to be traded.’
She later found out the three men had a secret competition to see who could bed her first.
None of them did.
In an age where celebrities are surrounded by swarms of publicists and hangers-on monitoring their every word, Turner is wonderfully refreshing and indiscreet. Swigging her water straight from the bottle, she leans forward to tap my bottle with a loud, ‘Cheers!’
She has often been compared to the feisty film stars of old, like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall, whom she once met at a party. Lauren said: ‘Oh, I hear you’re the young me.’
Would she ever have plastic surgery to stay young?
‘Yes, if I needed it, but I don’t like to see those faces that are so overdone. Nicole Kidman is such a great actress but…’ She stops for a damning pause.
‘I went to my godson’s bar mitzvah in LA, and I said to my friend, “I didn’t know you had so many relatives”, and she said, “I don’t. But there were all these women there who all looked alike. They’d all been to the same plastic surgeon. He may as well have carved his name on their faces.
‘Faye Dunaway told me if I hadn’t started plastic surgery by the time I was 40 then it was too late. Well, Faye, it’s too late.’
Does she think Dunaway looks good? ‘No I don’t think she does. But then Cher has gone to the complete extreme and is proud of it, and that’s her signature now.’
Turner also has an aversion to Donald Trump, whom she met several times during the height of her fame when he was an up-and-coming property mogul in New York. ‘There’s a wonderful picture of Trump and me and my ex-husband in the Eighties. I was rolling my eyes.’
Turner suddenly reaches out and grabs my hand in hers. She softly shakes my hand while using her middle finger to caress and rub the inside of my palm.
‘That’s what Trump’s handshake is like’, she says with disdain. ‘What a creep! Ugh! I wanted to wash my hands afterwards.’
Turner has been single since her 23-year marriage to American businessman Jay Weiss ended in 2007. The couple have a 31-year-old daughter, Rachel, who is a musician.
‘I went out on a couple of dates last year. My daughter and friends tell me men are intimidated by me. The last man I dated was a little younger than me but needy. He wanted to be taken care of. I’ve been there and done that. I don’t want to make sure you’re fed. I don’t give a s*** if the laundry’s done. It’s not my job.’
She admits her ex-husband, with whom she is still friends, has since admitted he was ‘very spoiled’ during their marriage.
‘That’s one thing I tell young women who ask me how I had a career, a kid, a marriage? I say the truth is you need to make enough money to hire a wife.’
Would she like to marry again?
‘I’ve not had a man making me feel “Ooh, ahhh” for a while. I’ve met some wonderful men but they’ve been married. I’ll never do that to another woman.
‘Anyway, in my [theatrical] world, most of the men are gay.’
Turner has spent decades since her diagnosis ended her film career building an impressive body of work on the stage, both in New York and London, earning Tony nominations for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. She caused a sensation opposite a young Matthew Rhys in The Graduate in the West End and later on Broadway, when she fleetingly appeared on stage naked.
She says the secret to happiness is to constantly challenge yourself. Last year she sang in public for the first time in a one-woman cabaret, and she recently filmed a show for Netflix, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, which will air later this year. Turner lets out another raucous laugh: ‘I have five layers of age make-up on and they padded my body. Ha! I loved that!’
Turner, whose diplomat father died when she was 17, began performing at university but has never had a single acting lesson in her life, a remarkable accomplishment for someone now celebrating her 42nd year in showbusiness. She has little time for method actors. ‘Just shut up and do it,’ she says, shaking her head. ‘When I did the film Crimes Of Passion I played a hooker. I didn’t need to put on a wig and stand on Hollywood Boulevard and be a 50-dollar whore. I’ve got an imagination, thank you very much.’
These days she teaches acting, takes singing lessons and has a tight circle of female friends, who gather in her flat in Manhattan’s trendy Tribeca district for monthly poker games. ‘Some of us have been in the game for 30 years. We’ve been through marriages, deaths. There’s an accountant, a couple of lawyers, a gynaecologist. We like and support each other.’
She does have one close celebrity friend – Downton Abbey’s formidable Maggie Smith. The pair met when they were performing at neighbouring theatres in London’s West End two decades ago and remain firm friends.
Kathleen’s turn on stage isn’t the only hit show to see at the cinema…
The Royal Opera House regularly screens its productions live. So let the Royal Ballet whisk you off to Spain on a chilly February evening with Carlos Acosta’s effervescent take on the Cervantes novel about a nobleman’s adventure with his trusty squire, Sancho Panza. Tuesday, roh.org.uk
Home of the famous Ride Of The Valkyries, Wagner’s opera, the second in his Ring cycle, sees twins Sieglinde and Siegmund reunite and fall in love. Eva-Maria Westbroek and Stuart Skelton play the incestuous duo in the Met Opera’s production, broadcast live from New York. March 30, metliveinhd.co.uk
Turner (in purple dress) as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in La Fille Du Régiment
La Forza Del Destino
This will probably be your only chance to see opera legends Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Netrebko as the doomed lovers Don Alvaro and Leonora in Verdi’s opera. With such a stellar cast, and the esteemed conductor Antonio Pappano in the pit, it’s not surprising that Christof Loy’s production for the Royal Opera has already sold out. April 2, roh.org.uk
All About Eve
Gillian Anderson plays Broadway legend Margo Channing in Ivo van Hove’s new adaptation for the National Theatre of the award-winning film. Lily James is the beautiful young woman who insinuates herself into Channing’s life and threatens her career. April 11, ntlive.com
All My Sons
Hollywood heavyweights Sally Field and Bill Pullman star in The Old Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s first successful play, a tragic story of a family in postwar America destroyed by secrets, death and war-profiteering. May 14, ntlive.com
Turner says: ‘Maggie refuses to have a cell phone or a computer. When I want to speak to her I email her assistant. Then she’ll call me up. She rang me the other day and said, “What new adventures are you up to?” When I told her about La Fille Du Régiment she said, “Gorgeous costume, only a few lines. Perfect.”’
With that, the sound of a male opera singer warming up reverberates through the walls of our tiny interview room. She beams with delight. ‘Listen to that,’ she purrs. ‘Now that is what makes me feel alive.’
Will she ever retire?
‘My older sister retired recently and I asked her, “What the f*** do you do?”’ She does nothing. I would shoot myself.’
Kathleen Turner can be seen in ‘The Met Live in HD: La Fille Du Régiment’ at selected UK cinema on March 2. metliveinhd.co.uk