By KRISTEN GELINEAU
They’re starring in a play about a woman reluctant to age and the perils of passing time, but veteran actors James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury say that life in their 80s continues to be exciting thanks to their determination to keep doing what they love.
Jones and Lansbury, in Australia to star in a touring production of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Driving Miss Daisy,” say the thrill of performing has propelled them throughout their decades-long careers and gives them the energy necessary to keep up with their often grueling schedules.
For 87-year-old Lansbury, whose seven-decade career has spanned stage, film and television, performing live gives her a rush that can’t be matched on the screen.
Lansbury, nominated for three Oscars and beloved for her role as amateur detective Jessica Fletcher on the long-running TV series “Murder, She Wrote,” said it was the stage that gave her a jolt of fresh inspiration later in life.
Both actors jumped at the chance to perform in “Driving Miss Daisy,” which began as an off-Broadway play and inspired the Oscar-winning film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. The play follows the evolving friendship of Daisy and her chauffeur Hoke in the American South over 25 years.
Jones was also attracted to the role because of Hoke’s illiteracy. Jones, famous for his distinctive baritone voice, suffered from a debilitating stutter as a child that left him virtually mute until he was 14. An English teacher mentored him until he discovered his voice, which then led to his acting career. Now, he finds particular fulfillment when playing characters who struggle with language.
Lansbury said it was the play’s setting in the American South that helped attract her to the role of Daisy.
The role is a big change from her 12-year run as Jessica Fletcher on “Murder, She Wrote,” and the change is welcome. While Lansbury has a soft spot for the mystery writer, she admits she doesn’t miss her much.