How to kill your career in Hollywood

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By Natalie Reilly

Kathleen Turner set the internet ablaze on Wednesday after her diss-filled interview with Vulture went viral. Turner, 64, who is known for her candour, opined on Elizabeth Taylor (“She has a bad voice, badly used”), Nicolas Cage (“yeah, he was that asshole), and TV show Friends (“I didn’t feel very welcomed by the cast”). And she did not mince words.

But it was her response to the question about her “difficult” reputation that resonates with so much of the present climate.

“The ‘difficult’ thing was pure gender crap,” Turner said. “If a man comes on set and says, ‘Here’s how I see this being done’, people go, ‘He’s decisive’. If a woman does it, they say, ‘Oh, f—. There she goes’.”

It’s a well-worn cliche: the double standards of Hollywood. But there’s been so much noise about how the film industry treats women in the last 12 months alone, it’s easy to assume that Turner’s attitude and her determination to not go quietly – in spite of illness, addiction and age – is redundant. Today’s actresses wear black! They organise! They demand equal pay!

They do. It’s true. They also want to keep working.

Turner, at her peak in the 1980s, was known for a particular sexually-fuelled feistiness. It was part of her shtick. The blonde hair, whipping around her flushed face in those tempestuous scenes with Michael Douglas in no less than three movies – all of them, highly physical, some to the point of violence. And then there was her voice, which registers somewhere between Lana Turner and a literal She-Wolf in terms of smouldering intensity.

The closest equivalent in today’s terms might be Jennifer Lawrence, for acting range and candour, with a dash of Scarlett Johansson, for head-turning sexual confidence, and perhaps a pinch of latter-day Reese Witherspoon for sheer, dominant will. But even then, the equivalencies fall short.

Lawrence, who is presently enjoying the sites of Paris with her new art dealer boyfriend, is known and loved for her eye-rolling towards Hollywood. Her confessions about pot smoking at the Oscars, weight gain and pay disparity, her love of red wine and the Kardashians, give her an air of not just ordinariness, but humility.

In part, because the online world, together with the celebrity news cycle, demands it. Act like a princess and someone will soon expose your flaws. But while Lawrence, and Witherspoon, strive for a certain earthiness, Turner has steadfastly demanded to be taken seriously, not just as an actress, but a human being.

It is one thing to tell the truth in a general sense, to admit to your hangover on live television, to spearhead TV shows and #MeToo campaigns, to make speeches at rallies against Trump and other sleazebags, but if you want to hang onto your brand, and the sprawling side gigs that sit neatly within it, you must refrain from discussing your personal experience.

If you name someone, such as Harvey Weinstein, for example (a man whom Lawrence and Witherspoon and Johansson have never spoken about directly), or if you decide to speak candidly about exactly how you’ve been treated on a set by a big-name director or actor, or if you point to something specific that happened to you, as it is happening, you can kiss your job goodbye.

It won’t happen immediately. At first you’ll just be called difficult, or, if you’re no longer considered sexually viable, the words of Tina Fey will prove correct: you’ll be labelled “crazy”.

Then the roles will start drying up. You’ll be out of the game for a year, and then another. Meanwhile, male actors like Johnny Depp and Alec Baldwin and Christian Bale will continue to misbehave on sets. But Turner, who had addiction problems, was given no such clemency.

The #MeToo movement has certainly moved the needle, for those inside and outside of Hollywood. And, the current fashion allows a certain strand of feminism to be felt onscreen. Women are allowed to remake male-dominated movies, and to have a voice, provided that voice never reaches a fever pitch.

Even Michelle Williams, who was paid less than 1 per cent of what her co-star Mark Wahlberg earned for reshoots of the movie All the Money in the World, had to carefully leak her agitation via social media, lest her reputation be soiled by an experience of injustice. But even so, her immediate reaction was not anger. “You feel totally de-valued,” she told Vanity Fair. “But that also chimes in with pretty much every other experience you’ve had in your workplace, so you just learn to swallow it.”

Turner is frank, and she is entertaining, but it should come as no surprise that when she was asked what, aside from luck, has kept her career going, she replied, “rage”.

 

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