Actress Kathleen Turner and the Importance of Being Irreverent

Actress discusses irreverence, celebrities' politics, and late Texas columnist Molly Ivins.

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Kathleen Turner attends the Friars Club Roast of Betty White on May 26,2012, in New York.
Kathleen Turner attends the Friars Club Roast of Betty White on May 26,2012, in New York.

I had the distinct pleasure of talking with actress Kathleen Turner at the Smithsonian Monday before an appreciative standing-room-only crowd of more than 300 people, showing how the worlds of entertainment and politics have intersected.

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Turner is in Washington as the lead in "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins," a play about the late liberal Texas columnist known for skewering politicians and taking an irreverent approach to life in general. Turner shares many of Ivins's views. The actress has also appeared in many films, including the iconic "Body Heat," in which she played the ultimate femme fatale, and "Romancing the Stone," an action-adventure flick. But what struck me about Turner and her portrayal of Ivins was how illuminating and funny irreverence can be, if it is sharp, but not nasty, and how much it is under-valued in our current politics.

Of course, Ivins had some great material to work with--notably the Texas legislature and the Lone Star State's amazing cast of larger-than-life characters. One of the luminous figures of Ivins' era was Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who was known for her way with words. It was Richards who skewered George H.W. Bush by saying he was "born with a silver foot in his mouth." And in the Turner recounting, when critics once objected to a Nativity scene at the state capital, Richards said, "Let it be, it's the closest that three wise men have ever gotten to the legislature." Priceless.

Ivins was a harsh critic of politicians and people, but she loved the United States, Turner said, and was proud of its potential. Turner, a public advocate for women's rights and other causes in her personal life, feels the same way. She said she is, at heart, an optimist.

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I asked Turner about the role that actors and other celebrities play in politics, mentioning former President Ronald Reagan, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former Carmel, Calif. Mayor Clint Eastwood, and wondered why voters should care what celebrities say about the issues facing the country. She replied that many actors study the issues and care deeply about them, and their notoriety gives them the opportunity to call attention to their concerns, which she felt was perfectly appropriate.

When I mentioned the recent fuss over Eastwood's debate with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, Turner burst into laughter. She wasn't sure what Clint was up to but she doubted that the Republicans had asked him to clear what he had to say in advance, so it took everyone by surprise and didn't come across well.

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I also asked Turner if she had ever considered running for office herself. She said some people have urged her to do so but she always says no. She is passionately committed to acting, but only on stage and on film.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and at Facebook or Twitter.