Tina Turner musical at Fox Theatre features Emory grad in complex role of Ike Turner
LISTEN: Tina Turner is the Queen of Rock and Roll music. Her rise to fame included the genius of her then-husband Ike Turner, but he was abusive. GPB's Leah Fleming talks with actor Garrett Turner about playing the role.
If I say song titles like “What's Love Got to Do with It” and “The Best,” you probably already know who I'm talking about. And of course, if I say “Proud Mary” then, you know I am talking about the Queen of Rock and Roll: Tina Turner.
Tina Turner has told her own story in several ways: through her music, of course — a book, documentary and interviews. Now a musical on her life comes to Georgia. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical runs Feb. 21 through Feb. 26, 2023 at Atlanta's Fox Theatre.
The Tina Turner story cannot be told without including Isaiah Luster Turner Jr, also known as Ike. Garrett Turner — no relation — plays Ike Turner in the musical. He's a graduate of Emory University in Georgia and a Marshall Scholar, among so many other achievements. I spoke with him recently.
Leah Fleming: So, I want to talk to you about Ike as a musician. But first, address the issue that, quite honestly, Ike is most known for: He was abusive to Tina, and in her memoir, she talked about how he beat her with a shoe stretcher while she was pregnant, and burned her with scalding coffee. He also had a cocaine addiction. So I'm wondering, how do you, as an actor, first come to terms with who this man was, and what is it like to portray this man for you?
Garrett Turner: Yeah, let's talk about it. You know what? Not only in Tina's memoir did she say he beat her. But in Ike's autobiography, he said he beat her. And so it speaks to the man, you know? He went through so much himself in his own life, born into poverty in small-town Mississippi. His father was essentially lynched. He was sexually abused when he was young. And so he was filled with trauma. And yet throughout his life, you know, had decisions to make about the man he wanted to be. And so as an actor, that is really what I was diving into: The research of this man is like, "How and why did he make the choices that he made?" You know, I sometimes refer to his arc as a spiritual tragedy because in relation to the abuse that he meted out, along with like the incredible kind of commercial success that the Ike and Tina Turner Revue had, it's not that he was incapable of knowing or understanding the harm he was bringing against other people, you know? It was just that he didn't have the will to admit the wrong that he was doing. And you can see that in interviews with him, you know, later on in his life, after Tina had left him. And, yeah. I think it’s a sad trajectory, but it's still like a really powerful human story to tell.
Leah Fleming: So, when you were thinking about all of this, I mean, did you actually want to play Ike when you first thought about all of that? Or were you thinking, "Yeah, let me try this."
Garrett Turner: I love that question! So, what had happened was my manager reached out and he was like, "Yo, TLC casting wonders if they can see you for Ike for the first national tour of Tina." And my response was, "I think I'm more of a Raymond." And so Raymond is like Tina’s boyfriend, you know, in the first act, and he's much better, let's just say. But then they came back and they were like, "Well, you know, they could see you for Raymond. But it's an ensemble role. And, you know, Ike is a lead and gets paid a lot more." And so I was like, "OK, well, I guess I could come in for Ike," you know, if that's what they're asking to see me for. Let me try it out. And then when I started the audition process, you know, I think there are a lot of things about the way I approached the character that just really clicked.
Leah Fleming: You know, you wrote this, and I think this kind of speaks to what you're talking about. You once wrote, “As actors, we must traverse the full spectrum of human emotions. We must tune our instrument to channel whatever our characters encounter. But my central wavelength, my main frequency, is joy.” That kind of brings me to thinking about going into this role as Ike. Was that — is that — was it like that for you?
Garrett Turner: Yeah. Let me just say this. It is an absolute honor to play this role in night after night, eight shows a week. And, you know, for all of his moral failings, he learned how to play the guitar, e learned how to play the piano, he started a band with his friends, you know, and just had the temerity to keep going. And they gained some semi fame in Saint Louis, which is when, you know, that pivotal moment he met Anna Mae Bullock, who would become Tina Turner, and capitalized off of his and her talent and the talent of that group to spur them on to international fame, literally like traveling the world, playing. And anyone who has the fortitude to do that is a genius. And, you know, it's really a true slice of Black history.
Leah Fleming: That is my conversation with Garret Turner. And during the conversation, at one point, Garrett talked about how he prepares each night to play such a complicated man in Ike. He has a ritual he does before the show.
Garrett Turner: Tina is a Buddhist, and she found that faith along her path. And it was really something that was central to her liberation. And yeah, the show sort of mentions how Ike decried that, you know, he wasn't into it. And so, I decided to use something like adjacent to the faith, if you will, to ground myself before the show. So I just have this this Tibetan singing bowl that I — that I use just as a space of ritual — and for myself, prayer — said, 'Yeah,' just to take that moment of grounding myself in myself, right? And then allowing myself to step into who Ike is.
Leah Fleming: That is Garrett Turner, an actor playing in the role of Ike Turner in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.