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Cast of 'Driving Miss Daisy' discusses bringing the play to B'way

Linda Armstrong | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.

JEJ: I took on Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" because I felt I knew that man. I knew him as a Black person and as a white person. The same with Hoke. I know this character.

JB: One can't help but realize how much of a family you all have become. When you go into a play, especially with a small cast, is that a concern?

BG: It's always a concern that you'll not only get along with your fellow actors, but be able to collaborate. But these two are magicians, and you don't see how they do it. Sometimes, I think to myself I'm working with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, but they're Hoke and Mama. It's easy to come together because they are just sweethearts.

JB: Alfred what's it like to revisit "Driving Miss Daisy"?

AU: It's double nostalgic from when it first started and for what really happened in the '50s and '60s. And these two are magicians, and I don't know what they do, either. I sit and watch and I say, "Oh my God. It's not them; it's them." It's stunning. They transform themselves without doing anything.

JB: David, do you approach a classic different than another piece of work?

DE: I try not to. Any piece of literature--whether you're doing Shakespeare or any other classic play--requires you revisit it in a new way, and you have to try to make it feel as relevant as it was when it was written. You succeed--to a greater [or] lesser extent--depending on your approach, but also the talent that you have assembled.

One of the remarkable things about this group of people is that we have a really good shot at making this play feel very current, and as a new experience, there's such particular energies coming from these three people that I think the experience is going to feel new. That's my experience, all ready in the rehearsal room.

JB: Vanessa, you were particularly pleased that we were going to be at the Golden Theater because of the size. It's one of the smallest Broadway houses. How does that help you with this particular play?

VR: The nicest thing is when you can make contact with the audience. Like dropping something into someone's lap and just saying, "Excuse me."

JEJ: I realized today that the character Ms. Redgrave is playing and the way she's playing it reminds me of my grandmother--nothing in terms of age, ethnicity or anything--but the soul of that person. My grandmother was more of a racist than Ms. Daisy would ever image being. She was part Cherokee Indian and African-American, and when she found out how the races had betrayed each other--being a Mississippian--she hated all races, including the Black race and she taught her children and grandchildren, the same hatred.

When I was 14, I had to sort things out for myself, which was my first exercise in independent thinking, so she did me a favor. At the same time, when I went into acting at the summer stock theater, the first person in the front row was Maggie Connelly. That endeared me to her because she knew drama. She was so proud that she had a grandson who participated in a form a drama that she knew so well from real life. Murders, rapes, lynching, floods--all day, that was her life, and the hatred was only a little part of what she experienced.