Acclaimed actress, radio host and political activist Janine Turner talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about her passion for the U.S. Constitution, her latest film projects and her (and her daughter’s) upcoming books.
Janine Turner is perhaps best known for her high-profile acting roles. For six seasons her portrayal of tomboyish Maggie O’Connell on the hit ‘90s series “Northern Exposure” captivated TV audiences. Besides being pivotal to her career—she earned an Emmy nomination and three consecutive Golden Globe nominations—the role marked a personal breakthrough for her because she had fought for years against being typecast as the perennial damsel in distress. “I loved that Maggie O’Connell was strong and quirky, and a pilot like my dad,” she says. “I believe there was something inherent to getting that role and I treasured the experience. I had waited for it and wanted it. Roles for women in the‘70s and ‘80s were typically one-dimensional. Mary Tyler Moore was one of the few strong female leads. ‘Northern Exposure’ was such an intelligent show.”
Raised by a West Point graduate father and former beauty queen mother in Euless, Texas, a small town on the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Turner credits her parents with instilling a deep sense of patriotism and an appreciation for the arts. “My dad was a very heroic man. He was one of the first to fly the dangerous B-58 Hustler at Mach 2—twice the speed of sound—and had quite the Air Force career before becoming a pilot for Braniff International.” Her mother got her involved in ballet, tap dancing, singing, theater and modeling. “I was a little bit of both my parents,” Turner adds. “It was a beautiful, wonderful upbringing.”
Today, Turner is on a mission to encourage Americans to embrace their Constitution. Together with her teenage daughter, Juliette, she formed Constituting America, an organization that utilizes today’s pop culture—song, film, social media and the Internet—to inspire students and adults to understand not only the importance of the U.S. Constitution but also the fact that it is the very foundation of their freedoms and rights.
Opportunist: Why are you so passionate about the Constitution?
Janine Turner: I really believe in the relevancy and nonpartisanship of the document and how it is absolutely vital to protecting us from tyranny—even the tyranny of big government.
Opportunist: Why did you found Constituting America and how does it reach out to today’s youth?
Janine Turner: It’s interesting because I wanted to spread the word about the relevancy of the Constitution, but I also have this incredible thirst to learn more myself. So I decided to merge my experience in Hollywood, which was such a big part of my life, with my passion for politics and history. Co-Chair Cathy Gillespie and I thought how do we reach these kids? They’re not going to sit around and read a bunch of history books. [Laughs] They love ‘American Idol’ and movies and YouTube videos. So we thought well, OK, let’s get them to direct short films and commercials and write public service announcements and essays and songs about why the Constitution is relevant.
Opportunist: How do you get them to do that?
Janine Turner: We have contests, a school speakers series, academic forums with Constitutional Scholars and Patriot Clubs. This year we are awarding a $4,000 scholarship in my father’s name, the Turner Maurice Gauntt Jr. Exemplary Citizen Scholarship, to a student who exemplifies my dad’s character and citizenship. We are starting a wonderful speakers series called Interactive Constitution LIVE that will bring representatives of federal, legislative, executive and judicial branches together on a panel to interact with kids this fall. In the spring representatives from state, local and community branches of government will speak at the same schools. This will be sort of a Q&A session with Juliette—as the National Youth Director my daughter reaches out to other kids through her motivational speeches, videos and media interviews—and she will open it up for debate so the kids can ask questions of our leaders. It’s a great way for them to interact and learn. Another tier is our adult speakers series that will be videotaped, with our great scholars, and available online. Our main mission of the year is the release of our first album with all of our songwriting winners.
Opportunist: Are the students receptive to your contests and programs?
Janine Turner: It’s fabulous to see what these kids do! We are now in our fifth year of the contest and it’s been so exciting. We dote over these winners. We take them on mentoring trips to Philadelphia and put them in documentaries. This year we are making it more one-on-one and divvying it out a little bit and taking the winners of our short films to Hollywood, where they can spend the day with a mentor like Gary Sinise, we hope, and visit sets and analyze their work and have a private dinner with a Constitutional Scholar. The kids who win the songwriting contest will go to Nashville to record their song and their music video. The public service announcement winners and the essayists are going to FOX to spend time with Brit Hume and Bret Baier. They all will have private dinners with Constitutional scholars.
Opportunist: Will your album be available on iTunes?
Janine Turner: Yes, iTunes and everywhere. First year winner Jacob Wood’s song ‘These Precious Words (What the Constitution Means to Me)’ is on iTunes at this moment.
Opportunist: You have described yourself as ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative.’ Was that ever a challenge for you in Hollywood?
Janine Turner: I think it’s a challenge for me now. You sort of get shunned. I wrote a piece on this, which led to a year’s worth of Friday night appearances on the ‘O’Reilly Factor.’ [Laughs] People think because I believe in the Constitution—a nonpartisan document—and have certain conservative values that I’m conservative across the board. Hollywood is full of capitalists who believe in free enterprise. That is so ironic to me because they’re out there living the life of glamour, glamour, glamour and money, money, money. They want the biggest jets, the biggest hotel rooms, the highest-grossing films and don’t realize that limited government is what gives everyone in Hollywood freedom of speech. Limited government is what preserves our rights. We lose those rights with big government. It’s hard to explain to people, which is why I’m on this mission here. Conservatives come off as judgmental or narrow-minded, but my passions lie on both ends of the spectrum. I find myself a little Libertarian, a little Independent, a little Republican and a little Tea Party. I’m pro-life, but when it comes to other issues I’m more socially liberal because I believe God is the only judge.
Opportunist: We understand you revisited the location where ‘Northern Exposure’ was filmed. What was it like to go back?
Janine Turner: Surreal. I took my daughter with me and it was so much fun to show her around. And yet it felt like my time there was another lifetime. I couldn’t find the sound stage. The town had changed and Seattle had changed so much. Those were wonderful, wonderful memories.
Opportunist: What was the best part about playing Maggie O’Connell?
Janine Turner: The great thing about playing Maggie is that I didn’t give up before the miracle. I persevered through 12 years of hearing ‘no’ over and over and over again, and being humiliated over and over again. Right before ‘Northern Exposure’ I had $8 dollars left and I was devastated. I auditioned for a role in a film Tom Selleck was producing that I just knew was my role. I was going to play a lawyer. I moved back to New York City and then I didn’t get the role and I thought my life was over. I was pretty exhausted, and Mom called and was like ‘Come on to Texas’ and I was like ‘No, no, no! I’ve come too far.’ When I got the call for ‘Northern Exposure’ I was literally so depressed I had to roll out of bed for my last audition. A few days before that call I packed up all my things and was going to return to Texas and hide out, change my name and run away from all my creditors. I got in the car and started driving away from Manhattan and got really lost. It’s not like Texas where you can pull over and find a Holiday Inn. [Laughs] Then I looked back and saw Manhattan in the rearview mirror, through my tears, and I just drove back to face my problems. There was something really symbolic about facing my problems and not running away. Then ‘Northern Exposure’ happened and even that was a story in itself. What was amazing was the Tom Selleck pilot that I thought I had to have didn’t even get picked up. When I look back on that I see God’s perspective and understand that when we are seeing no it’s God’s way of redirecting our lives.
Opportunist: Do you and your ‘Northern Exposure’ cast mates stay in touch?
Janine Turner: We do. It hasn’t been effusive, but I saw Rob Morrow for a photo shoot a couple of years ago. Darren Burrows flew in for a documentary. I have seen Barry Corbin and everybody else except for poor Peg Phillips, who passed away.
Opportunist: Apart from ‘Northern Exposure,’ which of your other acting roles were special to you?
Janine Turner: ‘Cliffhanger’ with Sylvester Stallone. I was incredibly homesick but it was quite the adventure because we filmed in the Italian Alps. Working with Robert Altman in ‘Dr. T and the Women’ was a real treasure.
Opportunist: Is there a scarcity of good acting roles for women?
Janine Turner: I think there are a lot of great roles for women today, although I think it’s still tough for women to go to Hollywood as writers and directors. Ten years ago I had the opportunity to direct my own short film, ‘Trip in a Summer Dress,’ and I have been offered another really cool as-yet-untitled documentary for this summer. It is a dual project where a famous choreographer and a director create a ballet in a sort of cinematic scope.
Opportunist: Does it bother you that show business is so fixated on youth?
Janine Turner: Sure. I think it’s better today than it was a few decades ago, but only when we cross the threshold that allows us to age gracefully like British leading ladies Judi Dench and Maggie Smith will I feel better about it. It makes me sad to see so many women choosing to cut their faces and get plastic surgery. I won’t do it. It saddens me that there is so much focus on looks and external aspects instead of what really matters, which in my opinion is the heart. That’s why Maggie O’Connell was such a great character. I got to portray the essence of who she was a person. I was on TV in a parka with snow boots and ironically I was picked as one of the 10 sexiest and Most Beautiful in People magazine. [Laughs]
Biblically, God says—and I’m paraphrasing here—that we care about the appearance but he cares about the heart. My daughter and I read the Bible to each other in the car on the way to school every day and we read that in the Old Testament. So there you have it. It says that what is eternal, truly, is the spirit and the love.
Opportunist: Are there any upcoming films we can look forward to seeing you in?
Janine Turner: I just finished a film with Anthony Hopkins called ‘Solace’ that will be released sometime this year. It was an absolute joy to participate in. I portray his wife. It’s a small role but very worthwhile. I have a role in the movie ‘Occupy Texas’ this summer. I don’t know when that will be out. Probably next year.
Opportunist: What are your conditions for accepting a role?
Janine Turner: I remember hearing Dustin Hoffman say he picked roles based on where they were being filmed and thinking Wow … really? But now that everything is about my daughter that does have a lot to do with it. When she was a baby we could travel and spend weeks in Los Angeles, Canada, Ireland or Venice. Now I just want her to stay home and finish high school. That’s why I choose roles like my 10-episode run on the third season of ’Friday Night Lights’ and another little movie I am doing here locally this summer.
Sometimes there is a fine line between roles that are acceptable to me and those that are really radical—I don’t want to say immoral—that I just don’t agree with. But then I’m not a prude about it either. This role coming up this summer walks a fine line because she’s a villain and a little tart. I straddle the middle, so it’s not me—it’s acting. [Laughs]
Janine Turner: I’m a single mom and I think I was trying to find a way to express support for other single moms. Single mothers and blended families have been around for years. I found 12 exceptional women spanning 17 centuries who were left alone for whatever reason to raise their children. Some were widowed and some never married, but each one went through devastation and loss and heartbreak and pulled themselves up with the hand of God. I tried to share their experience of strength and hope. Some even became great leaders.
Opportunist: Who are some of these remarkable single mothers you profiled?
Janine Turner: Constantine’s mother, Helena Augusta. Belva Lockwood, who in 1884 became the first woman to run for President of the United States and officially make it on the ballot. Alexander Hamilton’s single mother, Rachel Laveine Fawcett. Wartime widow Abigail Adams. Harriet Jacobs, an unwed mother of slavery whose autobiography was published at the start of the Civil War. Isabella Graham, the first woman to incorporate philanthropy. One of the first female professional writers, Christine DePizan, from the Middle Ages.
Opportunist: How long did the project take you?
Janine Turner: Over a year. It was a long journey.
Opportunist: As you wrote the book, what did you learn?
Janine Turner: That our darkest and most challenging times etch our character and force us, in a way, to become what we are to become. I was encouraged when I looked at families back then—especially with all the talk today from conservatives, which drives me crazy. On one hand they encourage women to be pro-life and have their babies but then they attack the single moms. I find it to be detrimental to the pro-life cause. Throughout history husbands died and mothers died and children had all these step-brothers and step-sisters. The press paints a picture of how horrible divorce is and assumes that children raised by single moms will become strippers or drug addicts. But with a parent’s love and guidance intertwined with faith, and sobriety in my case, you can raise a great child.
Opportunist: Is another book in your future?
Janine Turner: Yes! My new book A Little Bit Vulnerable is coming out this September. It includes my personal poetry that begins when I’m in my 20s and walks through two different heartbreaks and covers Hollywood, God, sobriety and politics. I journey into Constituting America and my essays on the Federalist Papers as well as a bevy of my political opinion editorials. It’s a very personal book because I talk about my sobriety and the death of my father. He just passed away in January of this year.
Opportunist: When will it be out?
Janine Turner: It will be released in September and available on Amazon soon. Ironically, my daughter’s second book Our Presidents Rock is also being released in September. Her first book Our Constitution Rocks, published by Zondervan [Christian media and publishing company] when she was 12 years old, sold so well that Barnes & Noble requested two more books from her. So we both have new books!
Opportunist: As a supporter of Sarah Palin’s bid for the vice-presidency, do you hope a woman will occupy the White House in your lifetime?
Janine Turner: I hope so. I think we are definitely due, and I look forward to that day. But I don’t want it to just be a vote because she’s a woman. It should be because she’s the right person who can take the country in the right direction. We have to be careful.
Opportunist: Have you ever considered running for public office?
Janine Turner: It’s funny because somebody recently asked me if I’d run for governor and I said I might. Then I thought I cannot believe I said that! [Laughs] I love our country and want to be of service, so maybe when my daughter goes off to college. The direction of the country is really of paramount importance to me, but my daughter is more suited for the job. She has wonderful charisma but she is very stoic, strong and brave and determined. She won’t take any slack from anybody. [Laughs]
Opportunist: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Janine Turner: My beautiful daughter—my gift from God. My faith is also paramount in my life. It’s everything to me. My greatest coping skill is God.
Opportunist: What’s next for you, Janine?
Janine Turner: Right now my life is about continuing with Constituting America and accomplishing our speakers series, getting our album out, and selecting the new contest winners this year and every year. I’m excited about my new book, and I will continue to do a little dabbling with acting here and there.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @lescstone.
Janine Turner - http://www.janineturner.com/
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