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If you like James Earl Jones's story, you might also like:
Athol Fugard,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Whoopi Goldberg,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
B.B. King,
John R. Lewis,
George Lucas,
Audra McDonald,
Jessye Norman,
Harold Prince,
Sidney Poitier,
Lloyd Richards
and Hilary Swank

James Earl Jones's recommended reading: The Song of Hiawatha

James Earl Jones also appears in the video:
Perseverance and the American Dream

Related Links:
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James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones
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James Earl Jones Interview (page: 5 / 7)

National Medal of Arts

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  James Earl Jones

Was there someone who gave you the break you needed?

James Earl Jones: That's hard to say. There was not some one, there was a time.

I happened to happened to land in a time, in the middle '60s, that without knowing it, and without being told by the history of theater -- which we now see from a historical point of view was an explosive time. I got out of the Army -- in my world -- I came to New York, for instance, when the civil rights movement was just beginning, and that created a certain energy, a certain rumble, a certain impetus for black actors. And the game was not to get caught up in it, not to get swept away by it, but to keep on track of what you wanted to do. You weren't going to the theater to change the world, but you had a chance to affect the world, the thinking and the feelings of the world.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Athol Fugard was one of the playwrights I encountered in those days. Talking about South Africa, he always said that he never assumed that he could change anybody's mind. But he knew he could change their feelings, and their feelings would affect their minds. That's all we can expect in terms of missionary work. I think it was more of an unusual time than any given person. And, in that time I met Athol Fugard, and so many others that helped and influenced me in the right directions.

I met the whole avant garde world, and in England it was referred to as the "angry young men" period. In Europe it was avant-garde, and we were "theater of the absurd." Put together, you saw, internationally, theater now being available to the proletarian, that anybody could be an actor. You didn't have to have the elite family background of the Barrymores. The door was open for Marlon Brando, you know, real common man. When Marlon did his work, when he did his Stanley Kowalski, every truck driver in New York said, "Hey, I could do that! That's me, I could do that!" And that was very important. It was a very, very important movement, the "I can do that" movement, you know. And I was a part of that, you know. So that included women could play men's roles, and blacks could play white roles, and truck drivers could play Marlon Brando roles. And I think that's what sort of opened life up for me, opened up that artistic life up for me.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Why do you think you have succeeded while others have not?

James Earl Jones: Well, I know actors who, at that time, were better than I was. One in particular who was so frightened by his own talent, he would only go to auditions drunk. Self-destruction. And I think, on the other end, there were actors who were not as good as I was, perhaps who could have hung in too, but began to blame everything on race. You know? I mean they were black or whatever, minority race. And I did none of these things. I sort of stayed straight, you know, and square. Very, very square, but always able to walk straight in line, you know, toward my goal. Toward it. The goal was not really important. The goal wasn't to be a millionaire or to be a Hollywood star. That was not the goal. The goal was something about -- the goal was to find the goal, but I knew where it was. It had to do with getting on that stage and finding better and better plays -- and hopefully movie scripts -- to do. To be a part of good story telling. The goal was about that. And nothing threw me off, neither poverty nor discouragement. Nothing threw me off. I didn't know Churchill's theory then, but I lived it.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

How would you explain to someone who knows nothing about acting why it's so important to you?

James Earl Jones: Acting is not about anything romantic, not even fantasy, although you do create fantasy. It's not about that. It's simply very concrete. A playwright conjures a vision of a world, and he interprets that world through words. You then take those words on stage or on the screen and try to bring it alive by the interrelations between one character and another and what they say to each other. In movies it's less important what they say; it's how they behave. It's about that.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

James Earl Jones Interview Photo

So when a young man yesterday from Chapel Hill asked me -- you know, he said he's determined to be the best actor in the world -- "Where do I go?" He used the phrase "dream." He said, "I have a dream of being the best actor in the world." And I said, "If you can turn that dream to imaging, you can image yourself, imagine yourself, and then achieving it, being able to plumb the depths of human feeling as much as Marlon Brando's able to, and then on the other end, the technique. Find clarity and brilliance of language as much as Richard Burton did. Then you might be the best actor in the world." But it's doing real things. It's nothing about fantasy.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 14:50 EST
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