She Magazine interview with Guin Turner October 2002
Gabbing with “The Goddess” An Exclusive Interview with Guinevere Turner
The moment I saw Guinevere Turner in her latest film, Stray Dogs, I thought, “Damn, she looks just like Bettie Page, the famous pin-up girl from the 1950s.”
Apparently, I´m not the only one who thinks so. According to Turner, when she met Page´s brother, he said, “God, you look an awful lot like Bettie.”
I mention this, only because Guinevere Turner-actress, writer and director has written a script called The Ballad of Bettie Page, along with Mary Harron, with whom she co-wrote American Psycho. And thought Turner bears an uncanny resemblance to Page, in one of those weird Hollywood twists of fate, she won´t be playing the famed pin-up girl. In order to get the movie made with a decent budget, the producers are going with a more established star. That´s one of those decisions that Hollywood will be kicking themselves for later. Guinevere Turner is gorgeous, smart, funny and talanted-truly a force to be reck-oned with.
Turner is no stranger to audiences who love quirky, independent films. Her first big success was Go Fish, a lesbian film she co-wrote and starred in. She has directed a short film Spare Me, and looks forward to directing more in the future. She´s also appeared in Watermelon Woman, Dogma, The Fluffer, Kiss Me Guido, Chasing Amy and American Psycho.
One look at her work in, Stray Dogs, and it´s easy to understand why Turner is in such demand.
In the film, she plays the pregnant mother of two sons, in Appalachia in the 1950s, who is trying to get away from her husband. There is a strong lesbian subtext running through the film the family is being supported by the mother´s butch sister-in-law, who is also in love with her. Stray Dogs was a hit on the gay film fest circuit, and was recently released on video.
Though born in Boston, Turner now lives in Los Angeles. She and her girlfriend Jenny, a motorcycle mechanic, have been together for about 11 months.
She is a vegan and animal lover who would one day love to have a dog, when she´s not travelling so much.
Turner made time for our phone interview during a one-day layover in New York, she had just flown in from London and was leaving the next day for Los Angeles. Although sleepy at first, after some Coca-Cola, which she called, “The secret miracle cure of life,” she was good to go.
Mary Damiano: Guinevere is an unusual name.
Guinevere Turner: My mom was 19. This is what happens when you give 19 year-olds the job of naming babies. I was named after the Donovan song. It´s just a trippy, drugged-out hippy thing, really. Yeah, that´s me. I was named after a hippy song.
I read you wanted to write a book about your childhood because it was so unusual. How was it unusual?
My childhood-well, I grew up in a cult. You know, like a commune, but worse. I just grew up with home schooling and very close-knit family-it´s irrelevant to write about it. And a lot of the kids I grew up with are writing about it, too, so they´d probably beat me to it.
Did you set out to be an actress, or do you consider yourself more a writer?
I have always, always been a writer-since I was a little kid, I´ve always been writing. The only reason I ever started acting was because when we started writing Go Fish, we realized that we needed five or six dedicated actresses to act for free and to act under duress, and so I was like, “Okay, I´ll be one of them.” And that´s how I started acting.
So, the acting came out of necessity from the writing?
Yeah. But now I really wish I was acting more because Lord knows you can´t act when you´re old and ugly. Oh, I mean, you can write when you´re old and ugly. Acting is more like, well, especially where I live, in L.A., it´s about being young and pretty. And I´m actually, by L.A. standards, neither of those anymore.
You don´t think so?
Every time I say that, people are like, “No, no, that´s not true.” I mean, I think I´m beautiful, but you have to understand that when you go into an audition, you sit in a room where everyone´s 22 and blonde, and everyone has huge tits and they´re wearing a low-cut outfits. It´s crazy, crazy world out there, acting-wise, and I´m definitely, definitely, too old. I´m 34 years old, and I´m above the line for leading lady. I don´t look my age, but once I open my mouth, I think I see my age. But it´s fine. If I was better at auditioning, I´d probably end up being a mom on some TV show or a cop or something, which I would love, but ultimately maybe I would hate. I don´t know.
You don´t like auditioning?
Ugh. I hate auditioning more than anything. I´ve always said that auditioning is actually a whole other talent besides acting, and it´s something I´m really, really bad at. I´ve never gotten a part from audition. Every single movie I´ve been in has been from people who have seen me in another movie and asked me to be in their movie. And when I say that I have never gotten a movie from an audition, that is to say that I´ve been on hundreds of auditions and nothing makes me more sick to my stomach than an audition. It´s the most upsetting thing. And it´s so stressful. It´s my theory that the reason actors are such as*holes is because their egos have been crushed so, much for them to get the place that they´re at. Who wouldn´t be an as*hole? It´s an egocrushing experience to be an actor.
Have you been out since the beginning of your career?
Out-you mean gay-wise? Yeah. It´s so funny because, looking back, after Go Fish came out, we had no idea what it would become, what a big audience it would have. And people always ask me the question you just asked me, and I didn´t even think twice-I never even thought about being out or not being out. I was just gay and I made this movie. And I was just going everywhere with it, and then people would ask me, “how has your career been affected?” I would be like, ” I have no idea. I was just out from the beginning.” For all I know, I´m either just a bad actress or gay and no one wants to hire me. I just got a call three days ago when I was in England that these people want me to do a film in Spain. I was really excited and then I found out from my manager that it´s a film about a nudist colony. Which means, chances are, I have to be naked for the entire movie, which I´m really just not in the mood for. I´ve been naked enough in movies. Unless I play the lawyer who shows up and refuses to take her clothes off, I´m just not in the mood. Once you do a certain amount of movies and take your clothes off, you´re pretty much pegged as, “The girl who will.” But I actually really, really hate doing nudity, and I hate doing sex scenes. I just do it for the good of the people.
What do you hate about doing sex scenes or love scenes?
Any of it. Kissing someone, much less pretending to have sex with them on film, is just really hard. You´re in a room, naked, with at least three or four people on the other side of camera, if not more. Representing lesbian sex is just so hard. I did it in Go Fish, I did it in Watermelon Woman-it´s just hard. It´s the most pro-foundly unsexy thing that you´ve ever done.
Because it´s hard to act romantic when there are all those other people around?
Yeah, and also to act romantic and act sexy when you´re working with an actor, not someone you actually feel romantic or sexy towards.
Is it harder to do love scenes with women than men?
For me the most part, it´s the same difference. It´s actually just like, “Do you find it easier to have sex with this chair or with this chair?” (Laughs) It´s an object that you have no sexual desire toward. So you´re like, all right, just get naked and get on that chair.
Many gay women get upset when non-lesbians are cast in lesbian roles. What are your views on that?
The fact is, there are no famous (out) lesbians who are actresses, except for Ellen DeGenered. So, you can cast Ellen DeGeneres in every part or you can cast people like me who aren´t half as famous. I think it´s really important to remember that we´re all acting. I mean, look at someone like Hilary Swank, who did such an amazing job in Boys Don´t Cry. It´s kind of overwhelming and a little bit concerning to say that you have to cast lesbians in lesbian roles. You have to cast good actors in roles that they can hopefully do.
Do you think that it´s getting at all easier for actress to be out?
It is a little bit. I mean, Rosie O´Donnell came out, and that was significantly less dramatic than when Ellen DeGeneres came out. But it´s really not getting easier at all. Nobody in their right mind, who had an eye towards an Academy Awards, would say that they´re gay at this point in history.
Do you think being out pigeonholes you in some ways?
I´ll never know, or, I should say, I´ll know when I´m 60, when you look back and say, “Those were really f*cked up times.” Or I´ll be like, “Thank God I just quit acting and kept writing, because I was just such a bad actress.” I just don´t know, and there are so few out lesbians actresses-if fact none-that you just don´t know. But I have to say that you go into the average audition and the average casting director looks at my résumé and they´ve never heard of Go Fish. The thing they´ve heard of the most is Chasing Amy, in which I have a two-minute scene and my role is ambiguous as to whether it´s gay or straight, and I don´t think they actually know. I think that I am very much under the radar, as are most lesbian films.
You´ve worked both in front and behind the camera. Do you have a preference?
I don´t know if there´s a preference. I´d say it´s a nice thing to be able to do both because on the one hand, I´m a very social person and being in front of the camera is a very social experience. It is very much about people and interacting and being on the set. And then, after three weeks of that, I´m like, “Leave me alone.” Actually, normally it´s not like three weeks. I say, “Leave me alone”, and then I have about three more weeks of shooting, and then I really like to be left alone to go and write.
I´ve been looking at your fan site. How does it feel to be dubbed “The Goddess Guinevere Turner”?
First of all, it comes from Finland, so it feels interesting to be dubbed, “The Goddess,” from Finland. Someone called my attention to it and I went and looked at it and I was like, “No way, oh my God, there are pictures of me on that website that I´ve actually never seen!” I have no idea how they were acquired. But, there are people who pay tons of money to do what that woman is doing for me for free.
So, how did Stray Dogs come about for you?
The producer, Yvonne Welbon, was an old friend from Chicago who helped us with Go Fish. It was her girlfriend who directed the film, Catherine Crouch girlfriend at the time. She called me and said, “You have to read this.” I read it and I thought, “I am so sick of getting naked in front of the camera, I would really like to play this part where I play a mother and it all takes place in one day, and it´s a chance to sink my theeth into some real acting.” I talked to Catherine Crouch, the director, and I was just thrilled that she wanted me to play the part.
What did you like best about your character?
She´s really, really tough. There´s so much going on with the character. I think she´s a completely straight character who´s subconsciously aware that there´s this huge woman who´s taking care of her and is in love with her. She goes through this really complicated arc of emotions through one given day. Who wouldn´t want that kind of acting challenge?
It´s a very tense movie. What was it like to make?
Making the film was great. It was like, no money, wonderful people, everyone working for nothing or for really cheap-the usual independent film saga. There´s a scene in the movie where I´m talking about when I first met my husband-a four-minute scene-it was 17 degrees outside, and I was wearing this dress. In between takes, I was running into the car and sitting in the heat thinking, “How can I tell them I can´t do this anymore? I can´t do this. I´m going to die. I´m going to get pneumonia.” And Catherine, the director, is like, “Just remember, it´s a warm southern day, and you´re really relaxed telling this story.” And I´m like, “I´m gonna f*cking die.” And Dottie, (Dot Jones) the woman who played opposite me, she was wearing thermal underwear and tons of clothes, and she was like, “Come on, come on, let´s just do it, let´s just do it.” And I was like, No, no, I´m gonna die, it´s too f*cking cold.” Dottie is a 15-time arm wrestling champion of the world-women´s. This was really funny, while working on the movie, because when we were hanging out, the guys would have a couple of beers and then be like, “Okay, Dottie, let´s go, let´s do it.” And she would just slam them, every time. Or for a minute, she´d hold their arm and be like, “Okay, any time you´re ready,” and then slam them down. She was really funny.
Her character is very interesting.
Yeah, she´s a very tragic dyke figure. When we were making the movie, Catherine Crouch said to me, “The lesbians are gonna hate us.” And I said, “No, but it´s the 1950´s, and Appalachia, and this is a real woman´s life. This is how dykes lived. They had unrequited loves.” And she said, “Well, it´s not a happy gay movie.” And I said, “It´s not a happy gay movie, but it´s a real gay movie.”
Much of your work has been in supporting roles, but in Stray Dogs, you were the lead and the star. Was that a really different experience for you?
Yeah, it was great, but I have to say that when you´re working on that level of budget, no one´s the star of anything. I was cooking dinner for them when I wasn´t on the set and we were very much a big team of 35 people. I had an amazing time making the movie. I had so much fun, and it was so hard, and I just loved everyone I worked with.
Do you still feel you have a lot of things to prove outside of the independent film, lesbian community?
Well, I did American Psycho, which was controversial-very controversial with women-and I also acted in it. So, I proved, at least to the straight world, that my talents are not just about writing about lesbians. But I don´t know. It remains to be seen. I´ve gotten a lot of work from doing American Psycho just because it made money, just because it was mainstream, just because it wasn´t lesbian. In the world of Hollywood studios, I have a real street credibility now as an edgy screenwriter. But we´ll see what happens. The short answer is: I still have more to prove, I think.
Is it a conscious decision sometimes, making mainstream movies as opposed to lesbian movies?
Well, it´s about money, you know? In order to have the privilege to sit down and write the movie I want to write, I need to make dough and make other movies. I´m steps away from finishing a script that is about lesbians and gay men. It´s about a group of friend in the East Village in New York, just being gay and dysfunctional and whatever. But it (making mainstream movies) is about what pays the rent and then how you can find little pockets of time to do what you want to do rather than do what you have to do in order to make money. I mean, I suppose I could be a waitress or whatever, but I really like to sleep late.
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Thanks to Kent for this interview
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