The Fabulous Ms Turner’ from Planetout. Interview by Steve Pride.
Guinevere Turner on American Psycho and life as a lesbian icon
Guinevere Turner is a stunningly beautiful woman with a quick wit and mischievous eyes. She was the writer, producer, and star of the classic 1992 lesbian film Go Fish and has acted in such queer fare as The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, Kiss Me Guido, and Treasure Island.
Meanwhile, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is perhaps the most controversial and hotly debated novel of the last decade. The story of Patrick Bateman, a rich handsome, materialistic psychopath who makes a literal killing on Wall Street with his hatchet, butcher knife, nail gun, and chainsaw, has been uniformly slammed by feminists around the world as an unapologetic ode to violence against women.
So how did a nice lesbian like Guinevere Turner end up not only as co-writer (with director Mary Harron) of the new film version of American Psycho, but cast as one of the victims? Inquiring queer minds want to know! So when I caught up with the fabulous Ms. Turner in West Hollywood, I did my best to get the 411.
Steve Pride: Which do you consider yourself first, a writer or an actress?
Guinevere Turner: I consider myself a writer until I get lonely. I consider myself an actress until I don’t like to get up early. So I do both. I’ve been a writer since I was born, it seems. I started writing stuff when I was kid, so I suppose writing is where my heart is. When I need to work something out I don’t go out and act, I write. But I’m a compulsively social person and writing is such a solitary profession that I really need them both to keep myself sane.
SP: Your latest film American Psycho is a departure from the past projects. Is there a pressure to keep your work specifically lesbian?
GT: I don’t feel the pressure, I feel support and I think that people who liked my past work are just happy to see me working. I guess I could be wrong. I certainly don’t feel the same wrath Rose Troche, the director of Go Fish did when she did Bedrooms and Hallways. People came down on her for its lack of lesbian content. I think I get away with it because I’m a writer/actor and not a director. So I can be all over the map without the lesbian community having expectations.
At least I hope that’s true. Maybe everyone is secretely saying I’m a sellout Nazi (laughs). But even if there’s a whole group out there who wishes I’d just do gay- or lesbian -specific work, I personally feel that the real power is in just being myself — to say openly that I am a lesbian while accomplishing any number of other things. That’s more of a statement. Also, it’s less predictable and more fun.
SP: Why aren’t there more lesbian stories making it to the screen?
GT: One thing that’s as free as it’s ever been is that it’s harder for women to get anything done in Hollywood. And I’m sure you’ll agree being a lesbian is… woman-specific.
SP: Back to American Psycho. How did you tackle writing the film version of a book that has been vilified as overly violent?
GT: First, I read the book. The director (Mary Harron) and I agreed that it had to have a lot less violence. Then we just started making the list of scenes we liked, stuff we thought was funny, horror we thought we could film suggestively, rather than showing an axe going into someone’s head. Then we made a list of those things we liked and tried to make it into a coherent narrative. And we decided early on that we wanted it to be clear that Patrick Bateman is really killing people. But talking to people over the last few days I realize that. Because everyone tells me they think it was just a dream that murders didn’t happen.
SP: So you are saying….
GT: All the killings happen in American Psycho are real. Those characters certainly did die. But if they don’t seem real it’s because some of the details exist only in the mind of Patrick Bateman. He glamorizes the murders and it is through his eyes that the story is told.
SP: Was there a concern about two women helming a project like American Psycho?
GT: On the contrary. I think it was a very deliberate choice so that we would bear the brunt of the feminist outcry. The producers wanted to defleet past criticism that the story was misogynist. It’s amusing to me because, if anything our version is anti-male. By toning down the violence and turning up the satire the men just look so foolish or beastly. And then there’s the way the male characters see women as commodities! I think the film ends up a sharp poke at men. And I have to say that so far the reaction from women has been really good. Women who hated the book have told me they love the film.
SP: But very few of the female characters live to see the credits roll. Even the character you play ends up in a number of pieces…
GT: I wasn’t thinking this at the time, but now I think it’s good that I play a woman who gets killed in the film. It shows I’m truly committed.
SP: There was a lot of publicity last year when Leonardo DiCaprio expressed interest in playing the lead in American Psycho and the project almost derailed. Is there a lesson to be learned from that experience?
GT: Money and fame can roll right over you and take anything you have away. I had people stopping me in the streets and asking if I could get a script to Leonardo DiCaprio. The frenzy around it was amazing. People I hadn’t talked to in years were calling me in the middle of the night and I was like “Leonardo DiCaprio? God, this guy is famous!” But he was totally wrong for the role.
SP: American Psycho initally had a rating problem. Tell me about that
GT: There is a sex scene between Patrick Bateman and two prostitutes. He’s looking in the mirror and says, “Christy, bend over so Sabrina can see your asshole,” and we had to take out the word “hole” to avoid an NC-17 rating. There was no problem with the other three way sex scene during which I get killed with a chainsaw. Go figure.
SP:”Go figure” or Go Fish. Ok that’s a horrible segue, but your first film Go Fish is being released for sale on video…
GT: I am gratified that so many people loved that film. It was an intoxicating time in my life. I got laid a lot.
SP: I have no follow-up to that, so I’ll just ask: What’s next?
GT: A film about Bettie Page. She was a pin-up girl in the 50s who did a lot of what at the time were sort of racy, bondage photos, but when you look at them now they are kind of goofy and sweet. She was a maverick of her time. Living alone in New York City doing whatever she wanted, having a good time, and then one day she just disappeared. We are finishing up the script and should start shooting in about six months.
SP: So Guinevere Turner, the ultimate lesbian icon, will be playing an object of heterosexual male lust?
GT: Yes, isn’t life…fun?