Screen star Turner finds new lease of life on stage

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The Independent Culture

When Kathleen Turner, the sultry star of Body Heat, began to be offered film roles as grandmothers she knew it was time to fulfil her dream of working in theatre.

Her British stage debut came six years ago as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, where the requirement to shed her clothes made her the talking point of everyone from chat-show hosts to cabbies. And on Tuesday night, the 51-year-old actress returned to the West End to put in a performance in Edward Albee'sWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which was hailed as "a triumph" by The Independent, praise echoed elsewhere.

"Kathleen Turner is sensational as the alcoholic Martha ... I have rarely seen a performance of such raddled and abandoned glory," reported The Daily Telegraph. The London Evening Standard described her as "lethally effective, mesmerising" while The Guardian praised the excellence of the entire "curiously exhilarating" production.

The acclaim followed rave reviews on Broadway last year, from whence the entire production has transferred to the Apollo Theatre in London, and was a glorious vindication of a career strategy that Turner adopted when she was in her thirties.

Driven partly by a long-held love of the stage but also by the knowledge that film roles run out with age, she decided to make theatre her new home. Her first major role was as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway 16 years ago.

"On film you feel chopped up, you can be acting from the neck up, or the hand, there is a lot of close-up. And I figured as I got older, the good roles for women would be in the theatre. So 15 years ago I started building a Broadway career to try and develop the chops to be accepted as a great theatrical actress," she said. "I'd say the cut-off point for leading ladies today is 35/40 [in film], whereas half the men in Hollywood get their start then. It's a terrible double standard."

Turner has also had to battle against poor health - suffering from crippling arthritis which, treated with steroids, caused her to put on weight.

Anthony Page, her director on Broadway and at the Apollo, said Turner had wanted to play the role of Martha since she was at school and from the moment she auditioned for Albee's planned revival, "she just seemed to understand the music of the role". "She is incredibly professional as a stage actress," he said. "For me, she's been wonderful to work with. She doesn't waste time, she has a very clear head for the practicalities.

"She's got a very, very powerful stage presence and a great stage intelligence."

He said he would love to work with her again. And the possibility of more roles in London must be boosted by the actress's plans to set up home in Rome after her theatrical run is over this spring.

Turner believes that Europe is more tolerant of the older female. "I think women of my experience and my body of work are so much more respected there. Look at Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren. They are all working."

Star-studded CV

Kathleen Turner, who studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, was one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the 1980s. With her long legs and husky voice she made a natural leading lady, appearing alongside Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson.

She achieved international fame with her first film, Body Heat, with William Hurt in 1981, above, a steamy tale of sex and murder in the Florida swamplands before switching to comedy in Steve Martin's Man with Two Brains. She had Golden Globe nominations for Romancing the Stone in 1984 and for Prizzi's Honor in 1985. Two years later she received an Oscar nomination for Peggy Sue Got Married but in the Nineties the big roles dried up.