For many James Earl Jones is best known as that distinctive voice of Darth Vader in "Star Wars," Mufasa in Disney's "The Lion King" or as the older version of author Alex Haley in the television mini-series "Roots: The Next Generations."
But the veteran actor, who has been in the business for more than six decades, is considered one of the greatest actors in American history, nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in the film "The Great White Hope,'' and winning Tony and Golden Globe awards for his work on stage, screen and television.
Jones is coming to Connecticut Friday, June 27, to perform with actress Stockard Channing in a production of "Love Letters" at the Warner Theater in Torrington. The show will benefit Greenwoods Counseling Referrals, a mental-health association that serves Litchfield and Fairfield counties. Java didn't care if all he did was read the phone book during an interview, as long as it was in his distinctive baritone. And Jones did entertain and inform with that mellow voice during a pleasant interview from his rural home in the woods as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: Oh that voice. How did you get it?
A: I am really not conscious that there is anything distinctive about it. I just try to make words and communicate. I really didn't have a voice growing up. I had a terrible stutter so I would be too embarrassed to talk. I really didn't talk much until I got to high school thanks to a teacher, Donald Crouch. He was a teacher of Latin and English and political science.
Q: Are you excited about the new "Star Wars'' sequel even though you are taking a pass on it? And by the way, why are you passing on it?
A: It's about industry and money and employment. I think it's good they are doing another movie and that everyone is being called back to reprise their roles. I have to say I am very excited about it and didn't choose to take a pass; Darth Vader took the pass. He died in "Return of the Jedi" so unless he is going to have some kind of Hamlet whisper in the new movie, he won't be there. I don't feel bad. I was happy to be a part of the 'Star Wars' movies when I was. I actually met Darth Vader in London and he was very nice.
Q: If there is ever a made-for-TV movie about James Earl Jones, who should play you?
A: When I was younger and more fit and I would occasionally meet General Colin Powell and was flattered to be mistaken for him a couple of times. I once made a proposal to him that I would play him as an older guy if he would play me as a younger guy. But we have both grown out of that responsibility. So I guess I would say Cuba Gooding Jr. I am a great fan of his.
Q: You were pre-med in college, changed career paths and went on to a very successful acting career. Any regrets?
A: I think the field of medicine is dramatically exciting and always will be because we will always have new discoveries. My favorite section of The New York Times is still the science section. College was much different than high school when it came to qualifying for pre-med so I changed paths. The good thing is you can't really practice medicine at 83 years old but as an actor if you can see and hear and not knock over the furniture, you can still act.
Q: Besides coming to Connecticut, what else are you doing professionally now? And what about just retiring?
A: I am going to start rehearsing "You Can't Take It With You" for Broadway. I'll be playing Grandpa with a beard. I don't talk all the time in my role but am on stage a good deal of time and I find it exciting to watch and listen to the other characters. And occasionally, I have something to say. As far as retiring, retirement is very expensive!
Q: What is the one role you turned down that now you wish you had said yes to?
A: I have never met a role I didn't like. My favorites are a couple in movies and two on stage. Playing Lenny in "Mice and Men" was my favorite. I hope you get a chance you see it on Broadway. That was the kind of character I gravitate toward. I love the simplicity of the human beings in that story who don't have a lot to say. I also still like King Lear, not that I'll ever have the chance to do it again. I loved being in "Field of Dreams" and "Cry, The Beloved Country."
Q: You are starring in "Love Letters" with Stockard Channing. Who was the first person you ever wrote a love letter to and do you remember anything you wrote?
A: I don't remember writing a lot. That part of me is inarticulate and what I would write would not compare to the love letters written in what the author of "Love Letters" has done. It is a journal between two very interesting and fragile people. When I look over the script, I don't know who is more vulnerable. I have done the play before with Elizabeth Taylor and Mary Tyler Moore. Joey Tillinger will be directing again. I have worked with him before.
Q: So you really have never written a love letter to anyone?
A: Well, I will say my wife and I exchanged some interesting notes.
Q: You are 83 years old and a smart, talented man who knows as much as anyone can who has lived such a life. In your opinion, what is there too much of in this world, and what is there not enough of?
A: Too much complexity and too little simplicity. Complexity is caused when there is a lack of trust and lying. Simplicity happens when there is honesty.
Q: If your legacy could be just one of your performances, which would you choose?
A: It would be "King Lear" and "Mice and Men."
Q: I thought you would include "Roots" in that.
A: "Roots" was a team effort. I was lucky to be part of it.
Q: What gives you the biggest thrill in your life?
A: When something happens between my wife and my son and me. They are sharp wits and I am not. So when something unexpected happens and we get to giggling, it is wonderful. They have a great sense of humor.
Q: Who are your favorite actors?
A: All actors are incomparable and I wouldn't even like to venture as to who I prefer. There are no best. We are all incomparable in a most flattering sense.
Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: If you don't know, it means it is nobody's business but mine.