Cherry Jones is a two-time Tony winner (for The Heiress and Doubt) and an Emmy winner for playing President Allison Taylor on Fox TV's 24. But throughout the 1980s she was leading lady of the American Repertory Theater, to which she returns to take on that Southern-fried force of nature, Amanda Wingfield, in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. A native of Paris, Tennessee, Jones would seem a natural for the onetime belle turned mother hen sitting too forcefully on her chicks. Yet she didn't want the role: if drafted she would not run, if elected she would not serve. We spoke during a rehearsal hiatus at the Loeb Drama Center.
So what did you have against The Glass Menagerie? I think because I'm from the South, it was too familiar. There was nothing exotic about it. I found it terribly depressing and cloying and claustrophobic, and I didn't want to do it.
You finally got roped into a reading at New York Theater Workshop. What changed your mind? Well, I realized I'm one of the last actresses who is both the right age and from the right place. There are very few of us who remember those women. But I was surrounded by them growing up; they were all in their 70s, and I was 10. But they were extraordinary people that I knew were fading away before my eyes. They were like unicorns. And I am so in love with Amanda now I can't stand it. When people refer to her as this silly woman — she may seem silly and annoying, but her mission is so dire. She's like any woman today who is alone in the world with a severely handicapped child: what in the world will happen to your child when you're gone?
How does playing an iconic role like this compare with creating one, as you did with Doubt? Well, I keep trying to say as I open the script, "Tennessee Williams, what a wonderful name, and what a tremendously gifted young man he is."
Do you find it ironic that when you have played the heroines of Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekhov, and O'Neill, you are best known as the president on 24? Do people stop you on the street? Yes, they do. And I particularly enjoy pilots, stewardesses, and TSA agents who want to know where Air Force One is.
There was some controversy in the final season about your president condoning torture. Did that distress you? I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and it was important to me to make my president strong and honorable. And she was until the very end, when they needed a MacGuffin or whatever, and I became a wackadoodle. But you cannot say to a middle-aged actress, "Want to play the president of the United States?" and have her say no. I'm just lucky it wasn't more violent so I didn't have to sell out all my principles to get the play the president.
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