As the impressive cast of the play Driving Miss Daisy came together for a photo-call in Sydney on Monday, the attention of the press was not surprisingly focused on 81-year-old James Earl Jones and his new co-star, 87-year-old Angela Lansbury.
With a script focused on ageing combined with two octogenarian cast members, the topic of age played on the mind. Yet when one journalist attempted an overly polite query as to how Ms Lansbury prepares for such a role ''at that vintage,'' the answer delivered with a fixed stare was short, sharp and direct.
Driving Miss Daisy down under
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Driving Miss Daisy down under
Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones on acting your age.
''It's called acting,'' Lansbury said.
Lansbury was also quick to trip up the producer, John Frost, as he introduced hers and Jones's co-star in the three-hander, Boyd Gaines, who plays the son of Daisy, insisting she gets a driver. In his own words, Gaines is ''the one nobody knows. In this cast I'm the 'who?' '' Frost endeavoured to appropriately acknowledge the acclaimed Broadway actor by pointing out that Gaines is one of only a few actors to have won four Tony Awards.
''I've won five,'' Lansbury chirped up with a grin.
Such is the style of the actor one might be tempted to describe as a grand old dame of theatre were it not for fear of the response; honest, confident and possessed of a stylish but razor-sharp wit that keeps interviewers amused and on their best behaviour.
There are no empty platitudes to explain why she is doing a show in Australia: ''I wanted to work with James and I wanted to play the part. It happened to be that we were going to come to Australia. What a nice happenstance.''
She is frank about nerves. Yes, she still gets them ''to a degree. I don't get stupidly nervous like I did when I was a kid. I don't feel like I'm going to throw up.'' But she relishes stepping into the shoes of Vanessa Redgrave, who played the role of Daisy alongside Jones and Gaines on the West End last year. ''It's very, very daunting. We're totally different styles of actors and I think that what I will bring to it is quite different from her.
''I hope I will surprise you and shock you.''
''A new Daisy means a new play,'' Jones said. With Lansbury and Gaines, he commenced a three-week rehearsal process in Sydney on Monday afternoon. They will then relocate to Brisbane for the production's Australian debut.
While his co-stars mockingly bicker over the Tony bragging honours (he ''only'' has two), Jones trumps them both as he was presented with his honorary lifetime achievement Academy Award last year on the Driving Miss Daisy stage following a performance. He laughs at the suggestion he signed on for another season in the hope of being presented with more awards. ''Could you arrange that?'' he asks. Would he accept a Logie? ''What's that? I'll take it. Just throw them at me.''
Lansbury last visited Australia in 1959 for 12 weeks to film Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, a time she remembers for her excursions to drive her children in the Hillman down to Bondi Beach to play with their family, including four-year-old cousin Malcolm Turnbull.
Despite his role as the chauffeur in the play, Jones will not be emulating Lansbury's jaunts around Sydney. ''On the wrong side of the road? No, nooo, I tried that in London.''
In this Jones's life imitates art. ''I'm 82 in a few days and I know it's coming - they'll take the keys away from me and break my heart. That's what happens to Miss Daisy in this play. Keys mean independence, freedom. You've got to fight it. She fights it like crazy. They're breaking me in.''
Driving Miss Daisy is at the Theatre Royal from March 1.