Acting royalty on stage together
Acting legends Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones talk about the "great thrill" of playing the lead characters in Driving Miss Daisy which opens in Brisbane Saturday.PT3M30S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2e3bj 620 349 February 8, 2013
Brisbane audiences for Driving Miss Daisy have been "astonishingly receptive" and "absolutely superb", according to stars Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones.
The powerhouse pair faced the media on Friday, before the production's official opening night on Saturday.
The River city scored the Australian premiere of the production, which will tour Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide after it wraps up its run at the Playhouse Theatre QPAC on February 24.
Driving Miss Daisy stars Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones face media in Brisbane. Photo: Natalie Bochenski
Lansbury, 87, said the part of Daisy Werthan, the white Jewish widow in Atlanta who gradually comes to respect her African-American chauffeur, was one she'd discussed with long-time friend Jones over the years.
"It is a role any actress would give her right arm to play," said the Murder, She Wrote veteran.
"The opportunity to work together ... when it came along I just said, 'Yes!'.
"They said 'Are you ready to go to Australia?' I said 'Yes'!".
Jones, 82, has played the role of perceptive driver Hoke Colburn previously in New York and London, but said the play was far from repetitive.
"I'm still discovering it. Not only enjoying it, but it's a new play every time," he said.
Jones's voice – famously used for Darth Vader in Star Wars and Mufasa in The Lion King – was hypnotic as he described the play as a forerunner of The Help and Django Unchained as an examination of segregation in US history.
"Every society has had it, either on a cultural or social level, and society suffers from it," he said.
"People like Hoke 'abide'. They abide, they get through, they make do - not liking it, but they don't check out because of it."
Fellow actor Boyd Gaines, himself raised in Atlanta, said playwright Arthur Uhry's genius was filtering the broader issue of segregation through a personal tale.
"It's not a political play, it's about a family, about relationships that evolve despite racism, despite inequality, and all of the characters grow in spite of these restrictions and injustices," said the multiple Tony Award winner.
Born in England, Lansbury said she only became aware of how "shocking" separating whites and blacks was when she filmed The Long, Hot Summer with Paul Newman in Louisiana in 1958.
"I didn't really know how to deal with it, but of course, I did. There was a whole atmosphere I was very uncomfortable in," she said.
The play stretches across 25 years in the lives of Daisy and Hoke, and while it covers enormous social upheaval, it also highlights the disappointment, fear and change that come with ageing.
"How do you grow old?" Jones asked.
"It's something we don't discuss. In our country, youth is so worshipped, it's almost as if age doesn't happen, but it does, and we all go through it - and here you have two people going deep into it."
These octogenarians are, however, proving a huge drawcard, with Driving Miss Daisy's Brisbane run almost sold out.
With an easy rapport and ability to make each other laugh, the pair appeared happy with the touring lifestyle.
"We have no idea how we're going to get through each performance, but we get out there and oddly enough we gain energy from the play, from the experience, from the audience," Jones said.
Lansbury said the creative direction of David Esbjornson forced her to keep upping her acting game.
"You never stop learning. You can't bring out the old tricks, not in a play like this," said Lansbury.
"This is the real thing, this is not fooling around."
Driving Miss Daisy runs until February 24 at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC.