A conversation with acclaimed actress Cherry Jones

by David Provost

Staff Writer

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, Sewanee’s Tennessee Williams Center was ecstatic to welcome acclaimed actress, Cherry Jones. Jones sat down with Sewanee’s resident playwright and professor of playwriting, Elyzabeth Wilder to discuss Jones’ career in the entertainment industry. In addition to the TWC discussion, Jones spoke to Prof. Wilder’s Introduction Playwriting class about some of the industry’s tricks and trades from a true insider perspective.

Jones views herself as a Southerner and an actress. Not a Southern actress, nor an actress who occasionally embraces her roots in the south, no. It’s both the same for her. The wonderfully talented actress spent her early days in Paris, Tennessee and found acting to be her passion from an early age. The moment of calling came when Jones was a child, viewing a live performance that left a particular impact on her. She said it was the moment before blackout, where a warm indescribable glow hits the stage perfectly. At that moment Cherry Jones thought, “I wanna’ do that!”

That was the start of what would prove to be Jones’ marvelous career. A young woman who was once nervous about playing Rosalind in Shakespearean theatre would go on to play lead roles in some of the most esteemed entertainment of our time. Gradually, Jones began to find her footing along the way as a young actress, appreciating, what she believes to be, a timeless art. Her moment of breakout-praise occurred when she received the role as Sister Aloysius in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-award winning stage play, Doubt: A Parable. The success wasn’t made the production a miracle in Jones’ life, but rather the story’s potential to allow her to reflect uncertainty in her own life, and in all of our lives.

Soon after, she began to learn more significant values that would carry her through her ongoing professional career. Values such as the invaluable nature of imagination. The realization that she loves to play heroine-type characters; the same ones that make the audience feel less alone. It was this mentality combined with, a close friend of hers’ act of adamant persuasion that led her to accept the role as Amanda in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. The recent production was a transformative and impactful role for Jones as a person. After having the experience of performing in multiple mediums, Jones knows now more than ever that she prefers working in more sedate venues; absent of industry pressures that come with Broadway theatre. As much honor and adoration Jones for this recent part in her acting career; when Wilder asked Jones if she would desire to play another William’s character in the future, she responded with an apt, “Nope!”

Jones formally identifies herself as a child of the Andy Griffith era. She brings this traditional spirit with her as she appears on film and television as well. It was her role as President of the United States for a number of years on the political-thriller, 24, that lead to her winning an Academy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Later in the discussion, Wilder asked Jones what it feels like to win one of the highest accolades a performer can receive. Her response was tied to some of the more negative emotions she felt working in New York, saying she felt like, “a racehorse everyone was betting on.” The acting awards create an air of immeasurable expectations that no actor deserves to be labeled with. All in all, Jones loved to work on the program for allowing her to be more comfortable with film crews.

Jones expressed to her Sewanee audience that she finds herself in an awkward position as an actress currently. She in not old enough to play the grandmother, but also past the age of portraying the streamlined Hollywood “mom” character. When recalling some of her favorite moments on Broadway, meeting Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and discussing Doubt was at the top of the list. Jones does not currently have a decided stage-role at this time and is concerned with the state of popular entertainment and what draws the viewers/audiences of today. She is hoping for a revival of more emotional, and less violent stories to be told, citing the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird as a superb example. The biggest concern Jones has with Broadway may have to do with the sippy-cup esque drink containers adult theater patrons will bring with them filled with liquor on the rocks. Maddening. However, if there’s anything Jones wanted Sewanee to take away from her visit it’s this: we should all pull ourselves out of our cubicles and attend more live theater. To, “… experience something beautiful. Together.”