Jones pleased to share the stage with 'elegant' Lansbury

James Earl Jones stars in the play Driving Miss Daisy.
James Earl Jones stars in the play Driving Miss Daisy. Annabel Clark

TWO of the world's most respected stage actors are in the country for the revival of an American classic.

Murder She Wrote's Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones star in Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Driving Miss Daisy.

The production made its Australian debut in Brisbane at QPAC on Sunday February 3 and will continue to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Jones, who has voiced some of cinema's most iconic characters including Star Wars' Darth Vader at Mufasa from  The Lion King, said he has been keen to play chauffer Hoke Colburn ever since he saw Morgan Freeman's Oscar-nominated performance in the acclaimed 1989 film.

"Morgan Freeman and I are both from Mississippi, one of the deep South states, and I think we understand the same kind of people," he said.

"I saw him do that man and I said 'I know that man and I'd love to play that man'."

The play tells the story of the decades-long relationship between an elderly Southern Jewish woman, Daisy Werthan, and her compassionate African-American chauffeur, spanning the years of segregation in the 1940s through the civil rights movement to the '70s.

"Segregation thrived up through the '40s until it was challenged by Martin Luther King," he said.

"This story sits right on top of that little volcano, although not a word is ever spoken of segregation except for Miss Daisy's denial that she is prejudiced."

As Daisy's chauffeur, Hoke has one of the most prestigious jobs in America's segregation-era south.

"Black men in Atlanta felt privileged to get a job as a driver," Jones explained.

"They could go up to the police with great authority because they were in charge of somebody of means.

"It was the only job that had any dignity."

Jones starred opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the play's Broadway and London productions, but for the Australian shows he has the pleasure of sharing the stage with Lansbury.

"Put it this way, they both are very elegant," Jones said.

"They give you an elegant, literary, esteemed woman."

The hours spent in the car together are the catalyst for Daisy and Hoke's eventual friendship.

Jones said he enjoys the educational aspect of their relationship.

"She's formerly a teacher. On the other hand I am totally illiterate. She's got to communicate with this man who doesn't have much English and she has all the English and relishes in it," he said.

"That makes a communication barrier between us. My character uses what language he knows very well, quite inventively and poetically.

"She catches herself trying to teach him. That's the best part of their relationship, the most positive and for that he is the most grateful."

In contrast to some of the more extravagant productions that have played QPAC in recent years, like Wicked and Mary Poppins, Driving Miss Daisy features minimal sets.

"It is spare not in content and not in importance but it is spare in presentation," he said.

"We give you the play in little windows and between each window is just you, the audience.

"This play begs your imagination. The movies give it all to you. If there's a reference to a car then you're going to see a car.

"Film is, I think, these days obliged to show you stuff. Stage is not obliged and cannot and does not."

Driving Miss Daisy runs through February 24.

Tickets start from $99.90. To book go to www.qpac.com.au.


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