Kathleen Turner has a lot to say—in her signature rasp, of course—about Burt Reynolds. And Nicolas Cage. And the cast of Friends. And, oh, just about every other star shes worked with over the course of her legendary career. In a lengthy interview with Vulture posted Tuesday, the actress shared her unfiltered thoughts about an array of peers, starting with some shots at the late Elizabeth Taylor. In 2005, Turner starred in a Broadway production of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? playing the same role Taylor did in the film adaptation. The part won Taylor a best-actress Oscar. When asked if she watched the film to prepare for her own performance, Turner didnt whiff: “God, no,” she responded.
“For a while I felt like half my life was making her wrongs right,” Turner continued. How so? Well, because Turner played several roles that Taylor had previously performed—with a “bad voice, badly used.” Turner added that she doesnt think the actress “was very skilled,” pinpointing a scene in Virginia Woolf that she thinks Taylor and co-star/husband Richard Burton badly misinterpreted. Shot No. 1, fired.
Shot No. 2: a triptych of Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson, and Warren Beatty, actors Turner characterized as lascivious cads betting to see who could romance her first. “None of them did, by the by,” she added.
But none of those stars were as difficult to work with as Burt Reynolds, according to Turner, whom she acted alongside in the 1988 comedy Switching Channels. “Working with Burt Reynolds was terrible,” she said. “The first day Burt came in he made me cry. He said something about not taking second place to a woman. His behavior was shocking. It never occurred to me that I wasnt someones equal.” At least Reynolds never bit Turner—as another, unnamed actor once did during a scene in a play. (Reader, his character was not supposed to bite her character.) Turner responded by slapping him in the face. The actress didnt name names this time around, leaving us to piece this one together ourselves. Beyoncé-gate, but make it theater.
Turner also erred on the side of discretion while comparing her career to that of an unnamed peer who “has played the same role for many years. She even looks pretty much the same. Shes probably one of the richest women out there, but I would shoot myself if I were like that, only giving people what they expect.” Already, Twitter theories abound about this mysterious unnamed actress. Could it be Diane Keaton, who loves a meta role? Julia Roberts? Jennifer Aniston? The possibilities are endless—though if Turner had been talking about a mystery man, the answer would most definitely be Tom Cruise.
Turner did, however, get specific again when describing her time opposite Nicolas Cage in Peggy Sue Got Married (directed by Cages uncle, Francis Ford Coppola). When she found out Cage was going to speak with a strange, nasally voice throughout the shoot, she went up to Coppola and bluntly asked, “You approved this choice?”
“[Cage] was very difficult on set,” she continued. “But the director allowed what Nicolas wanted to do with his role, so I wasnt in a position to do much except play with what Id been given. If anything, it [Cages portrayal] only further illustrated my characters disillusionment with the past. The way I saw it was, yeah, he was that asshole.”
When asked to clarify whether she meant the actor or the character, Turner replied, “Listen, I made it work, honey.”
If your heart rate is racing right now, thats because this interview is the equivalent of gossip calisthenics. Its a masterpiece in the art of talking shit after earning the right to do so, following a long and distinguished career that took a turn after Turner was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1992. The pain medication and steroids the actress used to treat her condition changed her physical appearance, damaging her self-esteem and her status in a physique-obsessed industry. “I suppose there was a feeling of loss,” she told Vulture, after her film career dried up. “Rheumatoid arthritis hit in my late 30s—the last of my years in which Hollywood would consider me a sexually appealing leading lady. The hardest part was that so much of my confidence was based on my physicality. If I didnt have that, who was I?” Thankfully, Turner dug her heels in and worked to regain her confidence, tabloids be damned—all leading up to this moment, when she could come out swinging without fear of facing consequences for burning bridges.
There are still so many left to be dragged, and such little time! In the interview, Turner also recounted the time she shook hands with Donald Trump—a thing, among many, that hes famously bad at doing. “He goes to shake your hand and with his index finger kind of rubs the inside of your wrist,” she said. “Hes trying to do some kind of seductive intimacy move. You pull your hand away and go yuck.”
And finally, she also recalled her time on the Friends set (she played Chandler Bings father in several episodes), saying she “didnt feel very welcomed by the cast,” mostly because they were such a tight-knit crew. When asked what she thought of their acting skills, she chose, for once, to take an understated approach: “I wont comment on that.”
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:If You Love Old Hollywood Gossip, Put These Books, Films, and Podcasts on Your List
You Must Remember This
Karina Longworths must-listen podcast is a treasure trove of forgotten and secret stories from Hollywoods early decades. In its latest season, Longworth explores Hollywood Babylon, experimental filmmaker Kenneth Angers 1959 book that purportedly had all the juiciest gossip of Hollywoods golden age. In the series, Longworth dives right into the rumors, sussing out Angers wildest stories about figures like Fatty Arbuckle and silent-film star Olive Thomas.Photo: Photograph by Emily Perl. Courtesy of Panoply (cover art).
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
In the upcoming documentary, which opens in New York on August 3, filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer tells the story of Scotty Bowers, a Hollywood pimp who claims he set up old Hollywoods closeted stars with private trysts. His claims are grand and sexy. From Spencer Tracy to Katharine Hepburn to Cary Grant, theres no limit to the stars Scotty alleges he worked with. (Photo: Left, Scotty and friends; Right, Scotty in uniform.)Photo: Photos courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.
Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood
In this 2005 book, author Donald Bogle dives into the history and lore of famous black actors in Hollywoods earliest decades, from Stepin Fetchit to Dorothy Dandridge. Bogle traces what it was really like being a black star at the time, shedding light on the rise of figures like Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr.Photo: Courtesy of One World.
Bring on the Empty Horses
In 1975, Oscar-winning actor David Niven released this book, a collection of his favorite star-studded run-ins in his years in the business. There are detailed passages of his friendships with Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, charming and thrilling anecdotes of his lengthy career and personal life.Photo: Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton.
Tab Hunter Confidential
In his autobiography (later made into a documentary, available on Netflix), actor Tab Hunter spoke freely about his acting and singing career, which began in the 1950s. The actor also shed light on his personal life, revealing his relationships with men like Pyscho star Anthony Perkins and ice-skater Ronnie Robertson. He also dished on what it was like working with studio heads like Jack Warner and getting set up on publicity tours with actresses like Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds. (Photo: Tab Hunter photographed in an LA court during the trial of Confidential magazine in August 1957.)Photo: From Everett Collection.
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
This 2014 book by William Mann is a nifty crossover for old Hollywood and true-crime fans, a deep dive on the 1922 murder of noted director William Desmond Taylor. Tinseltown also folds in rumors and figures of the era, making special note of power players like Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor (whose nickname was simply “Creepy”) and many, many others.Photo: Courtesy of Harper Paperbacks.
The Sewing Circle
Hollywood is the sort of place where actors can win awards for playing members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, but openly gay actors risk possibly being thrust out of the business. Actors largely kept their mouths shut about their sexuality in the days of Old Hollywood, leaving a few clues to history as to how they might have truly identified. In the 1995 book The Sewing Circle, author Axel Madsen writes about the rumored bisexual or lesbian actresses in the industry, from Garbo to Crawford, detailing how they navigated their private lives away from the public eye. The books title is the nickname for the industrys closeted community. (Photo: Greta Garbo in the 1931 film Susan Lenox- Her Fall and Rise.)Photo: BettmannPreviousNext
Yohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.