Guinevere Turner [Interview]

Today’s interview is about 5 years in the making, folks! Actually, it might be more reasonable to say about 20 years in the making. I first new about Guinevere Turner when I was just a young teenage lad who was obsessed with independent films in the 90’s and was DEFINITELY going to go to film school. I studied the works of Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, and more during these internet free days, in the hopes of discovering more of these indie gems. And I found one in Turner. Her 1994 film Go Fish is still hands down one of the finest films to come from this period, and one of the finest period.

And in the decades to follow, Guinevere has proven herself to be one of the best in the game. Whether she is on screen, behind the camera, or penning the next great screen story, she is a mesmerizing figure in the world of cinema and beyond. I learned in this interview that it took 6 attempts to get the now classic 2000 film American Psycho a workable adaptation, and I dare say that the landing was perfectly stuck with Turner and her reoccurring working partner Mary Holland penning this amazing story.

I had reached out to Turner about 5 years ago to have the honor of having her on the site, but schedules conflicted and it just hadn’t happened. But, being the persistent and adoring fan that I am first, I never wanted to give up. And it almost seems fateful that we were able to talk to her now, after quite a bit has “changed” in the world of women in the film world. I parenthesis change because, I’m not certain that real change has occurred, and that more needs to be done. But nevertheless, I have known since my youth that Guinevere Turner was a strong woman working in the man’s world that is filmmaking. Although, I never though of her work in such a way, as I believe I was simply ignorant to the facts and entirely unaware of what was happening. But, what I do know is that Guinevere Turner was and is an amazingly talented individual who has been empowering and showcasing women in film for the last three decades. It’s not new to her. This is and has been what she does. And she does it damn well.

So after all this time, I finally got to get some words from the amazing Guinevere Turner. We discuss a lot of the things I’ve already mentioned, but obviously far more eloquently and in depth than I can really explain. We are so proud and fortunate to have this amazing filmmaker with us today, in an interview that will always be a highlight not only in the TWS world, but in my own as well.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, please enjoy some amazing words from the brilliant Guinevere Turner!

When did you first realize that you had a passion for the world of film, both behind and in front of the camera? Did it come from an early age, or did you just sort of find yourself in this world one day?

I’ve always loved film – grew up watching a lot of old movies from the 40’s and 50’s and fell in love with soft focus close ups of divas like Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall. But I didn’t think I would make films, I just wanted to be a movie star. When we made my first film Go Fish, it was out of a need for representation rather than an urge to make film (or to act).  I just recognized it as a medium people pay attention to. And then… I was off and running in a world I never thought I’d be in. I thought I was going to write novels! (I still will, just you wait.)

Your project with frequent collaborator and fellow genius of the cinema, Mary Harron, American Psycho, is absolutely one of my all time favorite films of all time. It has been 18 years since the film was released, and it is absolutely insane how relevant it remains to this very day. When you were working on adapting Bret Easton Ellis’s novel for the screen, what would you say was your biggest concern? What did you feel you absolutely needed to accomplish to turn this story into a visual medium?

Mary and I were the 6th writers to tackle the adaptation of the book and as such we felt immense pressure to be the ones who got it right. Our concerns/challenges were that the book is so internal, and he doesn’t ever really tell anyone what’s going on in his head. We fought against the use of voice over for a while, and then gave in (I think it works!), and we loved the music chapters in the book but couldn’t figure out how to get them into the movie. (In the book they function more as straight music reviews and are devoid of any plot). It was a good day when we figured out that we’d have him start to go on a tear about a particular record when he was in a killing mood. By the time you get to the scene where he kills my character (Whitney Houston is his subject), you should be thinking “OH shit, they are going to die.”

Guinevere Turner & Mary Holland on the set of Charlie Says…coming soon!

Regular readers here at TWS know that we are obsessed with the world that filmmaker Kevin Smith has created, known as the View Askewinverse. And true fans know that you have had a MAJOR influence on the that world. For those who are un aware, can you tell us about your involvement in such works like Chasing Amy and Dogma? How did this come about?

I met Kevin and his producer Scott Mosier at Sundance in 1994 – they were there with Clerks and I was there with Go Fish. We had the same film rep, John Pierson, and we had weirdly similar movies – black and white super talky movies with their own little universe. We became fast friends and Kevin being Kevin he asked a lot of bold and direct questions about lesbians. Rumor has it that Scott had a crush on me and Kevin thought that would make a great movie. I read his first draft of Chasing Amy and I laughed but I said Oh Boy lesbians are going to hate this. I was wrong! Chasing Amy was a hit with lesbians and non-lesbians a like, and Dogma was his next up so he put me in it. That was when Matt and Ben had just skyrocketed to fame – it was a trip to see hordes of screaming fans behind barriers on the set.

Throughout your extremely impressive career, you have manage to wear a plethora of proverbial hats in the world of film and television. So, in your personal opinion, what do you find to be your favorite duty in your chosen profession?

Well here’s the thing: I’m best at writing (so far). It’s the thing I am most confident about my abilities in. So that comes naturally, and I don’t get nervous. But I do get bored with the solitary life, and so its great that I get to act now and then. I am less confident about my acting, and I do get nervous (though less so as I get older), but I love it, and I love being on sets, and learning from other actors, and just being challenged in that way in general. As for directing, I am learning! The intensity and pressure of it I also adore. It’s exciting, energizing, high stakes in the sense that you have to keep making decisions and problem solving non stop. I live for that shit!

There has been a lot of focus on women in the world of filmmaking, with a push to get more women behind the camera, in writing rooms, etc. And for an outsider looking in, I really have no way of knowing if the movement has been working, or are the main predatory like players in the game just lying low for the moment and putting out a feel good story in the news every once in a while? I’ve honestly been wondering what your take on the entire situation has been since things really got kicked into gear?

“Judge” Guinevere Turner on the set of Charlie Says, setting up shop in the Judge’s Chambers.

It’s intense! I mean I am so happy that people are coming forward, that consequences are being felt, that women like Ava Duvernay are giving all kinds of women a chance, that Asia Argento is not afraid to talk openly at Cannes about being raped. I can’t say that “happy” is the right word. There are a lot of painful truths coming out, and things that can’t be undone, lives that can’t be un-ruined. As much as its a good moment for women, it can be exhaustingly sad to witness on a daily basis. Especially knowing that this avalanche means there is so much more. (I always knew that.) Its funny to me when people say about me and Mary “Oh its a really smart move for you two to be making [Charlie Says] right now. A woman writer and a woman director, a story about women…” and I’m thinking “WTF?! We’ve always been women making stories about women or relevant to women – this isn’t some strategic move. Listen to this:  we actually care.”

When you look back on your brilliant career in both independent and mainstream cinema and television, what would you say you are most proud of? What would you want people to look back and think about your body of work, say, 100 years from now?

Oh shit I don’t know. I’m proud of it all and I’m not even halfway done! This new one, Charlie Says, outta be one for the books! Ask me this again when I’m 80.

I am intrigued by a web series you are currently involved in that sounds very compelling, called “Fuck, Yes”. What can you tell us about this series, and how can our readers find it?

You can watch it, and the other films in the series, here:

It’s a great little series about consent in a sexual context, and playful and sexy about different scenarios in which we ask for consent, and how we ask. Mine is me with a a much younger girlfriend who has a “sexual bucket list”. Its funny.

What else does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to share with our readers?

The future holds:  Charlie Says, a film about the women who killed for Charles Manson and their time in prison:

Should be done by end of summer.  (I wrote it, Mary Harron directed it)

I wrote a comedic horror script called “Don’t Come Over with me as a romance novelist with writer’s block going nuts in her apartment. We are looking for financing (anyone out there?).

I have several TV show ideas I’d like to see happen – I’m honing those ideas, deciding what I think will work. The plan: create TV show, run TV show, direct on TV show, have cred as more than a short film director, direct features, live happily ever after.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

This morning I was thinking about how I love the word ruminate, and the act of rumination, but that when I learned the word origin, from this, a “ruminant” animal:

“an even-toed ungulate mammal that chews the cud regurgitated from its rumen. The ruminants comprise the cattle, sheep, antelopes, deer, giraffes, and their relatives.”

I felt disappointed because chewing regurgitated cud is just kind of gross. I thought to myself, “Why does this bother me?” and then I thought “I guess it’s because cows aren’t known as sexy thinkers.” This made me laugh out loud for some reason. Yes, I live alone, and this is why – so my uninterrupted thoughts can be free to wander to such places.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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