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James Earl Jones on Broadway

In Driving Miss Daisy, he gives voice to a new character

James Earl Jones

Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones star in the Broadway premiere of Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy. — Annabel Clark

En español  |  James Earl Jones is backstage at the Golden Theater in Times Square finishing a preshow snack of melon. It's just two hours before he takes the stage with Vanessa Redgrave in Broadway's Driving Miss Daisy, and he's talking about some of the challenges of his life, or as he sees them, possibilities.

Among them is that as a child he battled a debilitating stutter. So, it's no surprise that the man with one of the most recognizable voices in the galaxy found this year's Oscar-winning best picture, The King's Speech, strongly resonating.

"The difference between me and the prince of England is that he was a stammerer. I'm a stutterer," says Jones. "A stammerer just gets stuck. That's why they stamp their feet — they're trying to get through that one sound. Stutterers get stuck on repetition."

Jones was so burdened and insecure throughout his adolescence that he was virtually silent for years. He recalls his classmates' mockery. "I was in Sunday school one day. There are not many jokes in the Bible, but I heard kids falling off their chairs with laughter."

His grandparents allowed him to stop going to church, and Jones says that he just "gave up" until a high school teacher used the artistry of words to prod him back to speech.

"I wrote poetry," he says, "and my teacher discovered that I could talk it to myself. He said, 'If you like these words, you should be able to stand up in front of the class and say them. They're your words. Say them to the class. If you don't, I'll suspect you didn't write them.' "

Today, Jones is brusque when it is suggested his voice is special. "I don't know what's incredible about it," he says. But whatever he thinks of it, it did get him the role that made him an icon.

While 6-foot-7 British actor David Prowse was cast as the villain Darth Vader in George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, Lucas needed a more authoritative presence to give the character his voice.

"When George put the movie together, he found that David had a tenor voice," says Jones. "He thought of using Orson Welles, but thought Orson would be too recognizable. So he picked me thinking [moviegoers] wouldn't recognize me."

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