Tina Turner's Documentary Directors on How the Legendary Performer Has 'Reclaimed Her Identity' (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
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Tina Turner is opening up like never before, all thanks to acclaimed documentarian duo Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin. The 81-year-old legendary performer teamed up with the directors for her upcoming HBO documentary, TINA. As the duo told ET's Nischelle Turner, the project will showcase how the icon "reclaims her identity."
The two-hour documentary gives an intimate look at Turner's life and career, from her improbable rise to early fame, to her personal and professional struggles and her resurgence as a global phenomenon in the 1980s. The film also touches on her tumultuous relationship with her ex-husband, Ike Turner, and how she found love again with now-husband Erwin Bach.
"I think this film is just scratching the surface of the depths of the trauma and also the heroic deeds that she did to take herself out of [a bad partnership]," Martin tells ET, with Lindsay adding, "In meeting Tina there's definitely a difference between the Tina onstage and the Tina offstage, just like any performer, right? But there is definitely a command of her space and herself. You feel the fact that a star has walked into the room, but at the same time, she is very down to earth."
First announced at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Lindsay and Martin joined the project after producers Jonathan Chinn and Simon Chinn developed a relationship with Turner and Bach through Tina - The Tina Turner Musical.The duo admitted to ET that while Turner was onboard for the doc, she still had certain feelings about doing an interview.
"I don't know if it was a struggle, but to put it this way, the first thing that she said when we were sitting down to do the interview was, 'I don't want to do this,'" Lindsay shared. "This was kind of when we were getting ready and setting some lights and stuff up. And she didn't mean the documentary as a whole -- she was just specifically talking about the interview. And so I was like, 'OK, let's start there. Why? Why don't you?' That's where near the end of the film she says, 'How do you bow out slowly? Just go away.' That's how that came out, just through the first few questions we were asking."
Lindsay added that Turner "understood" that there would be an interview component to the film. "I think one of the ways we were able to build some trust with her is to prove to her that we weren't there to ask the provocative questions, or looking for some sensationalism," he relayed. "We were really trying to understand the story from her point of view and how she, nearing 80 years old [at the time], looks back at her career. She'd have to tell you if that was an enjoyable experience or not to talk with us. But I think ultimately we were all very happy with how that came out."
While Turner's story has been talked about over the last decades, Lindsay and Martin's intention with TINA was to "make sure that we are looking at the film through the lens of Tina Turner."
"We had to take into account when making this in association with Tina, and I think a lot of people think about Tina as this symbol of resilience and strength, which she is," Martin explained. "But Tina, herself, wouldn't categorize herself as an icon or an activist, right? She does not push it. But what partly is amazing about that, and almost more admirable -- [and] what we love about her -- are the actions she took."
In the documentary, Turner also gets candid about what it was like meeting Ike. The project takes a look at everything from the ups and downs of their marriage to their highly-publicized divorce, which left Turner with nothing but inspired her to make a new name for herself. As for how that journey of recounting her past felt for the directors, they couldn't have been more grateful to have her open up.
"We're really grateful for the fact that she continues to have the courage to make herself vulnerable and share that story. A big part of the film is making sure that what the audience is experiencing is Tina looking at the narrative of what became Tina," Martin expressed. "Symbols of strength and resilience is very much a part of the fabric of Tina Turner, but I think we lost sight of the fact that at the center of that is still a survivor."
"Going back in time and going on that journey with her, you start to actually realize how it just underscores the power and the mental fortitude that she has, and the spiritual fortitude that she has to overcome all that," Martin continued. "And in the middle of it, what we came to realize going on that journey is probably one of the bigger themes in the film, is this notion of ownership. The first band she's ever seen is Ike Turner, she ends up playing with that band, this man ends up kind of imprisoning her mentally, spiritually and emotionally. And her whole journey is to make her way out of that, to reclaim her voice, reclaim her identity. And Ike names her Tina and she even re-appropriates that name, all in the vision of reclaiming her own identity. So if anything, going down the journey with her is very much a lesson in appreciation of how in depth and deep the struggle was for her."
"In her mind coming forward with this story, part of the intention was to liberate herself and disassociate herself from Ike," Martin added. "Not realizing that the narrative would have so much resonance with people that it did the opposite, it cemented herself with Ike from a storytelling standpoint and now when we think of Tina Turner we can't help but think about the struggles she endured with Ike."
Now, Turner is happily married to Bach and has been with him for over 30 years. The "What's Love Got to Do With It" songstress has admitted that she didn't feel truly loved until she met the German music executive.
"[Tina] says that when she saw him, her heart started fluttering, and she even says that's when you know a soul is met. And there's something really intangible and something magical about that," Martin relayed. "The process of them starting to fall in love, and realizing that she found someone that she could trust, that she could open herself up to, and that person was going to handle her story and her emotions and her well-being with care, it's very evident when you see them together how much appreciation and respect they have for each other, which I think is a fundamental part of why that love is so palpable and so strong."
As the icon shares her story, ET had to ask: do the directors believe fans have seen the last of Tina as a performer?
"It's Tina Turner, you can never count her out. Performance, I think, is her first love," Martin expressed. "Having said that, I, from our experience with her, in going to and attending the Broadway premiere with her, she did share, up until that very last moment, the kind of anxiety she has of being in the public eye again, and having to talk about her story again."
"So for her, this idea of bowing out is not just bowing out from the stage, but also bowing out from the story of Tina Turner," he continued. "Her participation in the narrative of Tina Turner. And the honest truth is, she's earned it. She's been in the limelight and has performed and worked really hard for six decades. She'll say herself, 'I think I've finally come to the place where I feel like I deserve some rest.' And I think she's really appreciating her time and finding peace at her home, and finding a lot of comfort in her home. I think now is the time where she can actually reflect back on her career and start to appreciate aspects of it. Having said that, it is Tina and she is a force to be reckoned with."
Lindsay added, "Now she is living in a castle by a lake in Zurich. And I think she's kind of like, 'I did it. I don't know if I need to do more.'"