Bitch Magazine Number 13 interviews Guin Turner Winter 2000
Murder, She Wrote—A chat with actress and Psycho scribe Guin Turner by Ron Hogan
“Guinevere Turner is a bit shaken up when I meet her in the lobby of West Hollywood´s The Standard for our interview. She´s been cussed out by a passing motorist for trying to make a left turn from Sunset Boulevard into the hotel´s driveway.
As we walk out to the pool, where we grab a table and order iced teas, she grows calmer, and soon we´re ready to talk about the controversy surrounding ´American Psycho´, for which she cowrote the script with director Mary Harron. We´re meeting just a few weeks after its release, when arguments about the violence titular madman Patrick Bateman perpetrates on women throughout the film (even though sharply toned down Bret Easton Ellis´ novel) are still actively taking place. Although both Harron and Turner have spoken of the film as a distinctly feminist take on the much-criticized novel, some detractors have called the film´s feminist credentials into question.
“I understand what Ellis was trying to do with the violence in the book,” Turner responds. “But he went too far, and the violence overshadowed his whole point: This is a monster that our society created. To me, he´s really making fun of men. Look how they preen, how they compete. Look how little they value women. They´re all monsters, they´re beasts. That´s what I saw, that´s what Mary saw, so we decided that if we take the violence away, and take the humanity away from him, we´d let him, as a man, dig hid own grave by just letting him talk.”
Turner became a lesbian film icon in 1994 when she starred in ´Go Fish´, a film that she cowrote and coproduced with her then-girlfriend Rose Troche, who directed. Although making the film proved to be a long, difficult struggle – and matters weren´t helped when the two broke up in the middle of production – they were rewarded beyond their wildest imaginations. Turner recalls, “I told Rose once, ´If this film gets into any festivals, you have to insist that they fly both of us out, or neither of us goes.´ Cut to us in Tokyo, mobbed in London…limousines and hotels…I just spoke at a film festival in Boston few weeks ago, and the girls who came up to me afterwards…they were shaking, they were so excited to meet me. I had to tell one women, ´It´s ok, it´s ok´; she was shaking so hard she couldn´t speak. And I´m thinking. ´What did I do to deserve this?´”
It was the London Film Festival that she first met Harron when the director was at a restaurant with Christine Vachon, the independent film producer who´d executive produced ´Go Fish´ and was working with Harron on her first film, ´I Shot Andy Warhol´. Vachon and Harron were discussing a proposed film about the life of 40´s pin-up legend Bettie Page when Harron turned to Turner and said, “You look so much like Bettie. Do you know who she is?” Although Turner had never heard of Page, she soon found herself cast as the star of the project and cowriter of the screenplay.”
So how did the two of you end up on American Psycho?
GT: We were working on the screenplay for the Bettie Page film when the producers asked Mary if she was interested in American Psycho. She had read the book when it had come out, and had felt that people were criticizing it who hadn´t really read it. She told me it was really grisly, but to keep an open mind as I read it, that there was something there. And I agreed with her.
How did you decide what violent scenes to cut? is it a question of certain things being too gross…?
GT: Definitely. I think there´s maybe an eighth of the violence in the book that´s in the film. We knew we didn´t want the rat. (Trust me, if you don´t know what the rat did, you don´t want to know-R.H.). We didn´t want it to be a slasher movie-but of course there has to be some violence in it. He´s a serial killer, after all.
We knew we had to have at least one gnarly horror scene. We picked the scene where, after he kills my character, he chases the hooker with the chainsaw because a) the chainsaw is a classic horror weapon, and b) it´s almost a nightmare sequence. The idea that you´d be running down the hall banging on doors, screaming, and nobody would answer – that chills you on a primal level. It was a nightmare that anyone could have.
How do you distinguish the violence against women in American Psycho from that in films like Copycat and Kiss the Girls? How do you get your satirical intent across, and distinguish yourself from the films you´re trying to parody?
GT: I don´t know…I guess there´s so much comedy in the movie. And the book also has a lot of comedy. So that´s part of it, to remind the audience that the film is self-aware. It´s working on a bunch of levels. It´s a tone thing, too. The way (Harron) shot it…it´s so slick, so perfect, that it draws your attention to the fact that the film is saying something, not just celebrating violence.
I saw Mary just last week, and I told her, “You realize we´ve actually failed miserably in what we set out to do?” When we wrote the script, we wanted it to be absolutely clear that he is actually killing people. The book doesn´t make it that clear, but we wanted it to be real. And that´s now what people are coming away with. They think it´s all a dream, or all a fantasy. I was doing a roundtable discussion with a bunch of journalists, and this guy´s first question was, “So did he do it or didn´t he?” And I said he was really doing it, so he turns to the woman next to him and says, “See?”
Apart from people not getting the “did he or didn´t he” question, do you think that your other intentions are coming across?
GT: There´s people out there who just don´t get it, and that makes them hostile, because they think they´re not in on the joke. I´ve seen reviews where people complain that the acting is flat, not getting that that´s international, that it´s highly stylized. Or they say, “What does it all mean in the end? It´s just glib and shallow.”
Women critics have loved it, and women that I know, women in film. It´s really exciting to have somebody you know tell you that they hated the book, but you´ve managed to turn it around and make it into a feminist movie. That was the goal, and at least in a lot of women´s eyes, we did it.
It´s a hard challange, because the story is relentlessly centered on violence and abuse.
GT: There´s a whole conversation we could have about violence against women in film. There´s a kneejerk reaction against it, and to me, violence against women is a very real thing that happens all the time. Just because we don´t want it to-the logic of therefore not wanting to see it on the screen is lost on me. It´s real. It really happens. Women are raped and killed all the time. They´re treated badly by men all the time. So it all belongs there.
You had one controversial brush with the ratings board about the R rating. But did you and Mary hear from the producers any other times?
GT: No, amazingly. Mary got to make the make exact film she wanted to make, except for having the word “hole” taken out of “asshole” and losing a few shots of Christian looking at himself in the mirror. Initially, before the Leonardo thing happened, everybody was telling Mary the film was just too controversial, period, that they couldn´t make the movie. Then Leonardo (Di Caprio) was attached for a while and suddenly it was the coolest film ever.
I hate that cut from “asshole” to “ass.” It completely deflates the line. But if it means teenagers can see my film, I´m all for it (laughs).
You appear briefly as on old acquaitance of Bateman´s. Did you know from the beginning that you wanted a part in the film?
GT: No. When we were writing a script, we got to that scene, and we both thought it was so hilarious, I just begged Mary for it. And she had to fight the producers, because they wanted it to-go to a name, somebody who could be a box-office draw.
And it´s ironic to have a lesbian film icon playing a woman who has to be dosed with Ecstasy in order to get her to have sex with a woman
GT: I just love saying the word “lesbian” and having it drip with sarcasm like that. “I´m not a lesbian.” It just seemed too perfect.
People don´t recognize me from the film, though. They´ll tell me that they loved the script, and then when I asked them if they liked my part, they didn´t see me. It´s amazing what shoulder pads can do for you. And big hair and big earrings.
As you get involved in bigger projects…you´re still indie, but you´re mainstreaming a bit, too. What´s the response from your core fans, your lesbian audience?
GT: It feels supportive. The lesbians who follow my career seem very happy when I do anything. Sure, they want me to do another lesbian film, a film about lesbians, where I play a lesbian. And it´s fully my intention to do that. But I feel like it´s important for me to prove that I can do other things. If I made two lesbians films in a row, that´s all I´d be allowed to do. I have to prove I can play a straight woman, I can write a movie about a serial killer that´s full of men.
My career was summed up for me in a somewhat tragic way when they were casting High Art. I know the director and auditioned for Radha Mitchell´s part. Then they called me up and asked if I´d be willing to play a waitress in a restaurant who comes on to Ally Sheedy. I thought that was fine, kind of cute, but then they called two hours later and said they thought it´d be a cliché to have Guin Turner to do a lesbian cameo. And I thought, “That´s my career in a nutshell. ´Oh, we need a lesbian? Let´s call Guin, she´ll do a walk-on! No, wait, everybody´s done that. I saw Kiss Me Guido, I saw Chasing Amy. She´s always walking on, being the lesbian.´”
You´ve been in Hollywood two years now. What´s it been like?
GT: It´s been interesting. It´s funny for me to be around this movie-ness. I go to auditions where there´s so many perfect looking women, where´s I´m butchy. It´s challenging at times. I have to remind myself that I don´t want to be perfect, that I want to be an individual, a distinct person. And, you know, as soon as I get rich I´ll move back to New York. I don´t love L.A., but I´m also a big fan of not complaining about it. One of my biggest peeves is East Coast people who get together to complain about L.A. I say shut up or move. Deal with it.
Any problems being out?
GT: Casting people here don´t know from Go Fish. I´m just another actress. I really don´t think it´s made any difference whatsoever. I´d love to be able to bitch that if I were straight I´d be rich and famous, but maybe I´m just a crappy actress, know what I mean (laughs)? Maybe I´m just no good at auditions. Nobodt knows who I am. The only thing on my résume anybody´s heard of is my three seconds in Chasing Amy.
The Bettie Page film should give your lesbian fans something to look forward to:
GT: They can watch me spank a few girls. It´s a good thing Bettie was about 32 and had crow´s feet at the height of her career, because I will by the time we shoot this movie (laughs). People don´t realize how old she is, or that she´s always sucking her stomach in those shots. Always stand on your toes so that your calves are flexed, suck your stomach in, stick your tits out, and smile, smile, smile, smile.
Thanks to Kent for this interview
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