DIVA UK magazine interview with Guin Turner Aug 1996
DIVA – UK Magazine August / September 1996
Sitting in her cosy apartment in New York’s East Village, 28-year-old Guinevere Turner puffs on a roll-up and checks her messages. Judging by the voluminous, hand scrawled pages of her message book, she appears to be a very busy and sought-after girl.
That’s because in the two years since the phenomenal success of GO FISH – the low budget smash-hit dyke movie that Turner co-wrote and starred in – she’s become just that.
National magazines such as the Advocate and Ms. magazine are clambering for her opinions, so much so that she jokingly describes herself as the ‘lesbian in residence’. Gaytime TV did a ‘Guin at home’ slot for their recent series while she’s soon to be on channel 4’s Dyke TV giving advice on hot to make a lesbian film on a non-existent budget and her views on Jodie Foster as a dyke icon.
As if that weren’t enough, she’s also rubbing shoulders with other lesbian celebrities in townn, working with Melisa Etheridge and denying rumours about herself and k.d. She refutes suggestions of sightings of her and lang at the East Villages trendy dyke club Meow Mix. They are, she insists “just friends”.
But despite her sudden thrust into the limelight, Guin Turner still has her feet firmly planted on the ground. She’s philosophical about her future career, insisting that she’s still just as much a writer as she is an aspiring actress. “I’m a writer more than anything else. My ideal gig is when I write the script and then write a part for myself”. Happily Turner’s ‘ideal gig’ is actually already bubbling up: she is co-writing a script with the director Mary Harron. It’ll be about the life of 50’s pin-up girl Bettie Page, and Guin will play the leggy, dark haired vixen, whose notorious bondage and spanking photos and films catapulted the Nashville native into instant fame and sudden controversy.
Page was discovered in Coney Island and soon became photographers Irving and Paula Klaw’s top model and everyone’s favourite ‘naughty girl’. In January 1955, Hugh Hefner recruited her for the Playboy centrefold. In 1958 she had mysteriously disappeared without trace, some say due to obsenity charges brought against the Klaws in the US Senate.
Turner is relishing the chance to extend her acting abilities as well as challenge the public’s perception of her as an actress. “I’ll be an out lesbian playing a heterosexual women, a celebrity, an icon..it will be interesting to see how people react to that”. She can’t wait, she says, to be asked by purient journalists “what it was like to kiss a man on screen”, reversing all the usual assumptions about how brave straight actresses are to play upfront lesbian roles.
Turner’s most recent screen performance however was as a wealthy white woman with a fetish for black women in Cheryl Dunye’s debut feature, The Watermlon Woman. Guin described the role as fun and simple. “It was a really easy character for me to play because it wasn’t terribly deep. I play a type, a symbol, like a snake in the grass”. Screened at this years Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in London the movie follows the story of filmmaker Cheryl (played by Dunye) who is making a documentary of a long lost African-American star of the 40’s known only as the Watermelon Woman.
Turner plays Cheryl’s love interest, Diana, and their relationship mirrors that of the Watermelon Womans own affairs d’amour with her white director. As a fiction within a fiction exploring the silencing of African_American lesbian history, the premise is great. Unfortunately the film lacks the cohesive structure to make it entirely successful, and many of the characters (including Guins) are rendered superfluous by Dunye’s constant into-the camera plot explanations. Nevertheless, as one of the few lesbian films to emerge this year – and the only African-American lesbian feature to date – The Watermelon Woman is receiving much critical attention.
The film looks set to get even more media attention as it was at the center of a controversy in the US Congress when it was revealed that the movie was given a $31,500 grant from the US National Endowment for the Arts Fund.
Guin, however, is no stranger to controversy. Last year she found out theres ‘no such thing as bad publicity’. A year after Go Fish was released, she appeared in Taxicab Stories, a television show designed to capture gays and other ‘freaks’ in “real life vignettes” by filming them unawares in the backs of cabs. In what amounted to nothing more than flagrant flame-baiting the show ensured, says Guin, that queers were portrayed as “the scum of the earth”. “But” she adds with a laugh, “With me they got a real live one”.
“It’s a great compliment that people think I’m acting”, she says when asked whether or not the show was set up. “I’m so flattered that they think I’m such a good actress that I can act that drunk! It happened when Go Fish came out, and that summer me in a dyke bar equalled a lot of free drinks”. After sampling plenty of those free drinks one night at the West Village dyke bar, Crazy Nannies, she stumbled into a waiting cab – the woman cab driver standing out as a rare sight in New York.
Turner laughs ironically as she settles in to recount the story. “She’s asking me all these questions, like, ‘why don’t you go out with men?’, ‘did some break your heart?’, ‘was that your girlfriend you just said goodbye to?’, blah blah blah, so I’m like well, whats up with you? And she says ‘I’m married, I live in New Jersey..’ And I’m thinking, this woman, she’s parked outside a dyke bar at four in the morning, shes married, shes driving a cab and looking really butchy….she’s looking for a fling” After circling her house, but never quite arriving and trying hard to get the cabbie to go home with her, Guin stil didn’t realise what was really taking place. Well, who would? “I was thinking she’s really considering it, not knowing of course that she’s trying to get me on tape saying as much bullshit as possible”.
Guin eventually arrived home solo and dismissed the previous night as a hilarious anecdote for her friends. “Then six months later my friends come up to me in a bar and say Guin, remember that story you told us about the cab driver you tried to pick up, well its on TV. And i’m like what? How? What the fuck? And there I am on TV, wasted and working hard to get this woman to come home with me”.
Turner doesn’t remeber being tole they were filming or signing a release form. Lawyers told Turner that she had no defamation case because she wasn’t famous enough and that pursuing a lawsuit would be too messy. “I thought forget it”, she says. “The unfair thing is we’ve all had moments at four in the morning – drunk or not – when you’re trying to get someone to come home with you and they won’t. But you’re in your own little world and no one gets to see it. But now all my really good friends, and my father, and lots of people I don’t really know have seen me in that moment and that was really embarrassing”.
She says that the most ironic thing about the whole incident is that people recognised her in the streets for Taxicab a lot more than they did for Go Fish. “I spent three years of my life busting my butt to make this positive representation of lesbians and in half an hour in the back of a cab I prove that homosexuals are actually predatory drunken types living on the underbelly of life!”.
After such public voyeurism into a very intimate moment, it’s perhaps no wonder that Turner is coy about discussing her private life. She doesn’t like to talk about her childhood but admits that she was a commune kid and very much a child of the flower children. After college, where she studied writing, she moved to Chicago. Afraid that her “long-haired straight girl look would make it hard to find dykes”, she went along to an Act-Up meeting where she met Rose Troche.
As partners (at first personally but later on a professional basis), they made the film Go Fish and the rest as they say is history. After living in New York for two years, she now considers it hoome. “This is the first apartment I’ve lived in by myself”, she says, waving a hand at the dried flowers and stacks of books. “And I realy love it”. So is Guin a single girl these days? “I’m never single”, she says cautiously, “but nobody is moving in anytime soon”. The phone may never stop ringing but this young woman’s shrewd about which offers to refuse and accept. And these days she can afford to be choosy.