Index Magazine interviews Guin Turner September 1997
INDEX Magazine – September / October 1997
In case anyone forgot, there would be no BOUND and probably not even an out Ellen without the movie GO FISH. And there would be no Go Fish without its co-writer, Guinevere Turner, who also managed to win audiences over as ‘Max’, the cute girl with the baseball cap. I remember thinking when I first saw Go Fish that Guinevere Turner would be or at least should be, a movie star. Little did I know that a few years later whether I liked it or not, she would be part of the package that came with my boyfriend – like an inlaw – since she and he have been partners in crime for over ten years. In real life, Guinevere has even more moxie than she did in Go Fish. She’s got that classic movie star beauty from the Golden Age of Film, and an acerbic wit that Dorothy Parker would be proud of.
Guin was in Cheryl Dunye’s film The Watermelon Woman, had a cameo in the hit Chasing Amy and can next be seen in Preaching To The Perverted and Latin Boys Go To Hell. She’s slated to star in Manicure directed by Sasha Levinson in which she plays a porn writer who gets involved in a mystery. She also just completed writing the script for the film adaptations of American Psycho, based on the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, with Mary Harron, who directed I Shot Andy Warhol. And she is co-writing the script of ’50’s pin-up Betty Page’s life, also with Harron, as well as playing Betty in the film.
I always enjoy talking to Guin because just when you think she’s going to dish out another funny one-liner, she surprises you with a very thoughtful and thought-provoking response. She projects that strange mix of self-confidence, self-awareness and self-consciousness all happening at the same time. While always hesitant about giving interviews, she admitted that many times during our conversation she forgot that it was going to be in print, which of course means that she was particularly candid.
Ari Gold (Interviewer):We could probably sit here and have one of our infamous chat-downs but I’m thinking I should ask some interviewy type questions, like, “Do you consider yourself more a writer or an actress?”
Guinevere:Let’s do both. Are you asking me that?
GT:I would say that I’m trying to be both. Writing is something that I would do regardless of whether or not I was getting paid. I’ve kept journals since I was nine years old. It’s just an automatic extension. It’s therapeutic. It’s what I do, it’s how I think. I express myself better in the written word than in the spoken word. I have less Tourettes in writing than I do in the spoken word!
AG: You’re nicer in writing
GT:I mean it more. I’m kind of a control freak and there’s so much control that you have in writing. Every word is yours and you can go back and think about what you’ve written. With acting, I feel much less in control, A) because of editing and B) because of what comes out at any given moment and how the camera is making you look… it can totally affect how someone reacts to you. I’m new at it. Everytime I do it I feel like I take leaps and bounds of learning. As it stands now, since Go Fish came out I’ve really made a living off of writing. Besides the two scripts I wrote with Mary, I’ve written for The Advocate and Glamor. But you get so much more attention for acting. I dont know what I feel about that – except I love the attention! People to this day don’t know that I wrote Go Fish with Rose Troche. I mean that was the hard part!
AG: What was doing ‘Latin Boys Go To Hell’ like?
GT:I love Ella Troyano’s work. She’s a great director and she got me to do something that I had never done on film which is to just freak out. The character I play is all about being over the top. So it was really fun, because if I have a failing as an actress, it’s never being over the top. I’m always seeing myself in film after I do something and being amazed that that’s what I did. I realize that what I thought I was giving is so much less that what I was actually giving. It’s difficult for me because in real life I’m kind of a reserved person. And so I don’t know what makes me think that once a camera is turned on, that’s just going to go away.
AG:Acting is a very vulnerable-making experience.
GT: My theory about why famous actors notoriously have such huge egos is because to be and actor is about humiliating yourself and being rejected over and over. I was having a meeting with a casting director recently and I was watching her assistant open manila envelopes, take out a stack of head shots, look at them for two seconds and throw them in the garbage. But then she goes “I really shouldn’t do this, but would you look at this head shot?” And shes like, “What was this girl thinking?” And I’m thinking, “Who’s laughing at my head shot, Who’s got it up on the walls with a mustache drawn on it?” [laughter]
AG:What was it like interviewing actors for American Psycho?
GT:There were actors and actresses who refused to be a part of the reading of the script because they thought it was misogynist. There were three or four women who were like “No way am I touching this!” And maybe a couple of men, but the men who did want to be involved did need to have conversations with us about whether it was woman-hating. And I, of course, said that I think it’s profoundly man-hating, which they laughed uncomfortably at.
But that project is interesting in terms of how Mary and I had been asked to write it together and her to direct it. It gets a lot of people off the hook because Mary made a movie about a killing lesbian and I am a killing lesbian! [laughs]. But now we’re going to be in the weird position of defending what so many feminists believe to be a really misogynist book.
AG:Do you see the film that you’re writing as a departure from the book?
GT:It definately is because we took out so much of the violence. The book gets really grisly. We tried to slant it more towards satire and making fun of the men that it’s about – in particular, the main character who’s a serial killer who predominately kills women. He also kills homeless people. He just preys on the weak. But I think there’s a whole irony to the book that you can get or not get.
AG:Will that also be true of the film?
GT:Yes. There’s always a fine line in representing anything – especially something controversial like killing women – whether you’re celebrating whats you’re representing or showing it to be the horrible thing that it is. We already did one television interview about the film and people were saying “Don’t you think that this story is hateful towards women?” And I just freaked out and said, “Whens the last time somebody asked Quentin Tarantino why he has to say”nigger” every two minutes? He especially doesn’t have to defend anything when it comes to women. Are we more responsible for women than he is?” I think I’m going to end up sounding really insane, because I get so mad at even the position of defending women across the nation. I end up spending so much time talking about feminist issues rather than talking about how we made this movie.
AG: That happened with Go Fish too
GT:That’s right. So much time talking about lesbians in general “as a people!”. Not the five that we intended to represent in the story – that we made up! That’s what you get for calling yourself a feminist. Meanwhile, I do get my head sawed off with a chainsaw in the part that I play in the movie. And I do play a total bimbo. So I have to defend acting in this role as well as writing it!
AG:Speaking about defending, do you want to say anything about your role in Chasing Amy, both in the movie and behind the scenes?
GT:One of the interesting things about Chasing Amy is that it came out at the same time as All Over Me. To me, All Over Me, while not a flawless movie, does capture something so real about being so young and queer and being outside whatever is around you, trying to understand that and get power from it, and be strong enough to accept it and stand up with it and for it. And at the same time, Chasing Amy comes out, which is, no matter what you want to say about the movie, one heterosexual man’s idea of what lesbian sexuality is. And it’s so ironic, but the world has embraced Chasing Amy as emotional truth.
AG: Yeah, the reviews are all like “the most truthful romantic comedy of the 90’s”
GT:janet Maslin, in The New York Times said that All Over Me was self-indulgent, emotional tripe but that Chasing Amy really gets somewhere – like how people interact with each other in emotions and relationships. But it’s just unfair to compare them. Call me angry and PC but nobody even brings up the fact that one directors a lesbian representing lesbians and ones a straight man representing lesbians. And also the tricky thing is that a lot of lesbians like it, people whose opinions I respect. And I actually think that the relationship that rings true is between the two men. It’s very daring in the way that it shows two really good male friends, and one bring jealous of the other one having a girlfriend. That really has gone unrepresented in film. Actually I think it would have been a really interesting story if she was just a slut.
AG: Well the movie often conflates the two.
GT:Exactly. Which is a little bit problematic! I mean, I know some lesbian sluts but…
AG:Actually I wanted to know how you felt about being used to legitimize this movie?
GT:It puts me in a weird situation. I don’t need to love somebody’s art to continue to be friends with them. I don’t need to take this movie personally against Kevin and Scott, or blame then for the way my name always comes up. People just know that I know them. But I’ve been asked if I had an affair with one of them. And I’m like, “I am a slut, but I am actually a lesbian to!” I become the character in the film.
AG:…who finds it very easy to just give up her sexual identity for a man.
GT: My defence for anyone who would say “How could you be in that movie?” is; have you ever not had a dime to your name, walked to the set of a movie and had someone say “Do you want to get paid to say this monologue?” And what are you going to say? There are ongoing moral/political dilemmas that one faces being an actor and honestly, I’ve auditioned for way more offensive parts than that tiny part in Chasing Amy. And I would have done them if I had gotten them, because I wanted the job and because reading a script in which parts for women aren’t offensive in some way, is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve actually gone to auditions thinking “What am I going to do if I get this part? How much am I going to get paid to do this?” It’s going to come down to that. Like if its only $15,000 forget it. But if they’re going to give me $50,000 maybe I should put that whole fucking political thing aside and get paid.
AG:…for a change
GT:Yeah, for a change. Part of being who I am is to wonder, “Is my career where it is and not much huger because I’m just a lesbian to so many people?”
AG:Didn’t Paper Magazine call you the lesbian parker posey of the indie film world?
GT:The question was raised if I could be the lesbian parker posey! They’re not sure. It might be someone else who’s a lesbian Parker Posey. I didn’t even get the title officially!
There’s a way in which we’re always deciding if a lesser compromise will yield a greater gain. For me to do a bunch of movies that are slightly offensive, then maybe I’ll be a famous actress, instead of a fakely famous actress who’s an out lesbian. That has so much more power then me being my broke little ranting self who won’t do any movies. The whole Ellen thing weirded me out because it seems like the longer someone stays in the closet, the more credit and kudos they get when they come out. Nobody ever says “Well why didn’t she come out years ago?” On the other hand, her coming out now means so much more and so many more people start to talk about lesbians and representation. So I can’t really fault her because even it was out of accidental cowardice, she did actually do something momentous by virtue of being closeted for so long.
AG:I remember you telling me, “Maybe I should go back into the closet so I can have a big, splashy coming out when I’m more famous!”
GT:The thing is that you can be so lamely half-assedly in the closet for so long. But once you’re out..nobody’s going to go back in.
GT:Well, it’s true for men more than it is for women. I suppose, if I really wanted to make a show of it and marry a man, everyone would be happy to believe it. It’s got to be well-orchestrated with the publicist.
AG:If you go back into the closet right now, by the time the next batch of films come out, the interview would open with: “Guinevere Turner and her husband were sipping iced teas in the backyard of their estate in Connecticut;Guin, who first broke into movies by playing a lesbian in the controversial film Go Fish, was rumored to have an affair or two in her day..!”
GT:Then there was that Chasing Amy thing and that really confirmed it!
AG:I can’t believe we’re sitting here plotting your career path to go back in the closet! Do you want to say anything about the Betty Page film you’ve co-written and will star in?
GT:Poor Betty Page, who is now 74, 75. She had such outrageous trouble with who represents her and people tricking her. And she’s not particularly into getting re-famous. What she says all the time is “I don’t understand, whats the big deal?” So the reason our project is stalled is because we’ve continually dealt with new representatives of hers who have different issues about what they want, how they want her to be represented, and how they want to make money off how shes represented.
It’s very complicated because there’s a lot of things that shes only recently talked about in her life. Like, she was gang-raped in Times Square. She was sexually abused by her father. But we certainly don’t want to turn her into a tragic figure. We totally celebrate her. She’s an amazing character. her life story is amazing because she was brave enough, even after being gang-raped in Times Square to still live in New York on her own, get married, have boyfriends, be a dominatrix, pin-up model, and feel fine about it and walk down the streets as this gorgeous American beauty while being constantly harassed. That was unheard of.
GT:Definitely heroic. The horrible thing is that she has never made any money off of anything shes done. And she just becomes a bigger and bigger icon.
AG:And more and more exploited
GT:She’s exploited more now than when she was allegedly being exploited by getting photographed naked.
AG:Do you want to meet her?
GT: Oh I’d love to meet her. I’ve spent two years of my life researching this woman.
AG:You can’t just go and find her?
GT:We know she’s in California, but she’s only been “found” in the last six years. I have met and spoken with her brother. But we have already been so misrepresented to him about what we’re doing.
AG:You probably just sound like everyone else who says they’ve “got her best interests at heart”.
GT:Well, think about how terrifying interviews are. However you want to interpret what I say and whatever context you want to put it in, is out of my control. But whoever reads it will believe it.
AG:What was said in a bout of sarcasm could end up sounding totally sincere
GT:I just recently did an interview where almost the entire thing was printed with me speaking in quotes, which is just outrageous because the woman didn’t tape record our conversation and we talked for an hour and a half. She put an exlamation point at the end of almost everything that she pretended I said and it was horrible!!!
The funny thing is that the woman who interviewed me was Irish and there are quotes where she actually attributes really Irish expressions to me. She had me saying “So I thought I’d have a go!”, I never say “I thought I’d have a go!”. And she also quoted me saying something negative about someone I know who avidly reads the magazine, and who did a huge favour for me. It was my story of going to the dominatrix at The Nutcracker Suite when I was doing Preaching To The Perverted. I told this interviewer that at the end of the whole experience at this S&M dungeon, the dominatrix asked me “So, do you have a boyfriend?” And I said “No, I’m gay” – thinking, “Now that I’ve whipped your slaves penis, my gayness will be no big deal to you”. And she and her slave seemed weirded out by that! And that’s kind of how I told the story. But the way this writer quoted me made me sound like I thought they were really homophobic.
AG:Because you’re just talking about an irony.
GT:Right. I wasn’t bad-mouthing her. It’s the funny punchline to the story. But that was an interesting case because I realized that since I had been in this semi-sexual context with these two people, very oddly removed but sexual, that somehow something about me being gay just made them feel tricked a little bit. Like, maybe this man doesn’t get off on lesbians whipping him, only straight women whipping him. He doesn’t want what he perceives to be real man-hating, just pretend man-hating.
AG:I know that you’ve said you don’t want to talk about the fact that you grew up in a cult.
GT:When people ask me if I grew up in a cult I lie and say “I didn’t grow up in a cult”. I started out lying, then I got bored of lying so I started telling the truth. And now I’m back to lying.
AG:So do you not even want me to mention this?
GT:Okay, you can mention that I grew up in a cult but you can also mention that I don’t like to talk about it. I stopped talking about it because it’s always misrepresented and its always sensationalized in a way that makes me feel cheap. You just feel embarrassed. I think about my mom. That was her life, that was me life. That’s not just a cute little fact about me. That’s a whole deep other story.
AG:One last thing, Miss Turner, weren’t you reportedly dating k.d.lang?
GT:You’re an asshole, who’s reporting that?
AG:Me. Your friends
GT:Did you make a list of all the things that I decided I don’t want to talk about? kd.lang, the cult, Chasing Amy…
GT:No, I’m not going to say anything.
GT:You can say that I said “No comment”.
AG:Can I say that you said I could say “No comment”?