Out, award-winning and much acclaimed actress talks about life, love and why she’s so happy
by David Moore . Q-Notes staff
The consumate professional: Broadway legend Cherry Jones.
Cherry Jones is talking to Q-Notes from a posh hotel room in Hershey, Pa., where she’s currently starring in the touring theatrical production of “Doubt.”
“It’s a beautiful, chilly spring morning here,” says Jones. “The sunshine is pouring through the windows, I just had a big breakfast and I’m going on a walk after we talk so I can get some exercise. I’d say everything is just about perfect.”
It’s hard to discern whether Jones’ upbeat attitude came about from an almost charmed life or if the positive outlook begat her successful existence — both personally and professionally.
Jones isn’t quite sure either — she just knows she’s happy and lucky.
The role she’s playing now, for example, she originally played on Broadway last year where she captured a Tony Award for her performance. It’s not too often that you’ll find a Broadway actress of Jones’ stature accepting the touring company role.
“I’m just glad they didn’t stick some ’90s TV actress in the role,” she says with a laugh. “People are usually happy to come to see these touring shows with their favorite from some show they used to watch. I’ve enjoyed having another shot at this role.
As for touring versus a regular production in the same venue night after night, Jones says the experience has been educating. “I’ve toured before — it’s not like I’m some little touring virgin — but it is an interesting experience. Each new venue has its own personality and the audience does, too. When you’re in the same theater month after month you create a familial world. On the road like this — you do it so many times in different places — I’ve talked about this with fellow cast members — we feel we could do “Doubt” at a giant statdium. I knew I wanted to tour with this play because it transcends the limitations that some other plays have. You don’t have to see our faces — you just have to hear us. I’ve never seen a play that engagaed an audience like ‘Doubt.’”
Jones as Sister Aloyisus in ‘Doubt.’
John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is the story of a nun named Sister Aloyisus who suspects that one of the charismatic young priests at her Bronx Catholic school is a pedophile.
“I love her vigor and her rigouros commitment to her flock,” Jones says of the character. “‘Doubt’ is a parable. My character — Aloysius — is certainty. As an actress that has played heriones so often — they are like an arrow shot from the bow and everyone on stage is an obstacle — they are the prey. In this case just the preist is her prey. She’s absolutely certain he’s guilty — although the audience is not.”
It wouldn’t be exactly appropriate to say Jones is a household name. She is a Broadway legend — many feel cast in the mold of a Helen Hayes or a Julie Harris — but she herself concedes that “there’s only a small coterie of people in each town who have a clue as to who I am.”
If you’re gay or lesbian chances are you know who Jones is. She skyrocketed to national fame when she captured a Tony Award for her role in the 1995 revival of “The Heiress.” She made history by becoming the first award-winner to publicly thank her same-sex partner.
Of the award, she says: “On the one hand, winning it is like your own fourth grade dream come true. On the other hand, I know the reality and the politics behind it. It’s about promoting the show.”
On outing herself on the 1995 Tony Awards and thanking her partner of the time, she’s equally realistic.
“I was never in the closet,” she says matter-of-factly. “From the minute I graduated from college and stepped on the theatrical stage I was always out. Everybody knew. It was never an issue. As for thanking my partner — it was a perfectly natural thing to do. I think anybody who wins an award would want to thank the person they share their life with.”
Jones’ current partner is actress Sarah Paulson, who stars in the NBC drama “Studio 60.” Paulson and Jones are forthcoming about their relationship and always anxious to spend time together — despite the geographical differences brought about by the touring production of “Doubt.”
“It was very difficult at first when we were touring the West coast. We didn’t get to see as much of each other as we would have liked. We did a lot of flying back and forth — and she’s not a good flyer, either. She doesn’t enjoy it. But now we’re back on the East coast and closer to New York City it’s much easier.
“I’m a homebody and a bit of a nester. It’s great because some nights now I can even lay my head down in my own bed.”
Jones’ stunner of a Broadway career has included such other notable credits as Nora Ephron’s play “Imaginary Friends” (with Swoosie Kurtz); “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika,” the 2000 revival of “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good,” for which she earned her first Tony nomination.
Since Jones first ventured into acting, she has also worked in film and television, in which she has played mostly supporting roles. Her big screen credits include “Cradle Will Rock,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” “Signs” and “The Village.”
Jones with partner Sarah Paulson.
Although she admits she doesn’t particularly care for television acting — she’s happy to confirm that her role in the 2001 Lifetime Television movie “What Makes A Family,” opposite Brooke Sheilds, is probably the most important thing she’s done to date.
The storyline focused on a lesbian couple who have a child they they raise together. Five years in to the relationship Sandy Cataldi — played by Jones — passes away from Lupus. Janine Nielson (Brooke Sheilds) is left heartbroken but finds solace in their daughter Heather, until Cataldi’s scheming parents try to take her away.
“I’m more proud of that then anything I’ve ever done,” says Jones. There’s so much social worth to that film and so many great people worked on it. Barbara Streisand produced it. Whoopi Goldberg was also in it.
“It was based on a true story about these two people and their child. In the end, against a very conservative judge — she’s allowed to keep her child. Our director was determined that everyone would understand this was a happy, committed couple. I thought it was one of the best things Maggie Greenwald ever directed, one of the best things Brooke ever did and certainly my proudest moment.”
Another proud moment came for Jones a short time later at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner in New York when she actually came face to face with the real Janine and daughter Kristen (Heather).
“It was so incredible to meet these two women who had struggled against the odds. I was able to introduce them to the audience.”
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Before we go —let’s touch on that notion of Jones’ charmed life once more: born in Paris, Tenn., she later graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in Drama. A tiny town in Tennessee and an out and proud lesbian don’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven — but Jones still says she was lucky.
“It was pretty darn ideal,” Jones says with a happy lilt in her voice. “I come from a very loving family where I knew I had their unconditional love no matter what. A posse of kids in the neighborhood, a creek, some woods and a dog named Lassie. I have the best sister in the world — Susan. She’s so funny — she’s the George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Both of my parents are still alive and they’re both extremely happy now that my sister is living with them.”
As for future plans — Jones just laughs. “I haven’t got any at the moment except jury duty when I finish with ‘Doubt.’ I thought that was kind of ironic given the nature of this play.”
“Doubt” comes to the stage of the Belk Theatre in Charlotte April 17 -22. For ticket information, call 704-372-1000.