James Earl Jones, co-star of the "Strar Wars: Episode III" Movie!
Unlike many actors, James' best and most recognizeable asset is his voice. James Earl Jones is one of America's most distinguished and versatile actors. Although best-known to many people as the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars or as the booming "Voice of CNN," Jones has led a decades-old career encompassing film, television, and the stage. Born Todd Jones on January 17, 1931, in Arkabutla, Mississippi, Jones was the son of prize-fighter-turned-actor Robert Earl Jones, whom he would not know for many years. At a young age, he moved to Dublin, Michigan, where he was raised on the farm of his mother's parents. Ironically enough, given that his voice would one day make him famous, Jones suffered from a severe stutter as a child, and he seldom spoke as a result. It was with the help of a high school teacher that he began to use his voice to its full potential. After entering the University of Michigan, where he went to study medicine, Jones continued to develop his voice with acting lessons. The lessons gave Jones an appetite for further theatrical experience, and he quit medicine to devote his attentions to drama study. He made his stage debut in a community theatre production in Manistee, Michigan, his last appearance for a while, as he subsequently served time in the military.
After his discharge, Jones moved to New York, where he attended the American Theatre Wing to further his training and worked as a janitor to earn a living. In 1957, he made his Broadway debut, and during the subsequent decade, he became one of the stage's most in-demand African-American actors. His best-known stage role was as a boxing champion in The Great White Hope, which in 1969 won him the first of two Tony Awards (the second was for August Wilson's Fences in 1987). During this time, Jones began working on television, appearing as a doctor on the daytime dramas Guiding Light and As the World Turns. In doing so, he became one of the first black actors to perform regularly on soaps. Jones also crossed over to the big screen, making his film debut as one of Slim Pickens' flight crew in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). In 1970, he reprised his role in The Great White Hope for the screen, earning Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of the proud yet conflicted boxer.
Jones continued to work on the stage, screen, and television throughout the '70s, appearing in everything from documentaries about Martin Luther King, Jr. to the 1974 comedy Claudine to King Lear (1977). In 1977, a few days of uncredited voiceover work for the character of Darth Vader led to a measure of screen immortality, as part of the enormous success of Star Wars was the iconic menace of the screen villain's voice. Jones also gave life to Vader's vocal chords for the next two films in the Star Wars trilogy.
During the '80s and '90s, Jones continued to work steadily on the stage, screen, and television. For the latter, he found particular acclaim in 1991, winning both a Best Actor Emmy for his work in Gabriel's Fire and a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his role in Heat Wave. The acclaim he earned on TV was ably complemented by that he found in film, as he appeared in an impressive scope of work by diverse directors in disparate genres. In the late '80s, he could be seen doing some of the best work in his film career, first as an oppressed coal miner in John Sayles' Matewan (1987), then as an embittered, Salinger-like author in Field of Dreams (1989). Jones spent the next decade branching out into the blockbuster action genre with his work in The Hunt for Red October (1990) and its two sequels, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). He also did strong dramatic work in such films as Cry, the Beloved Country (1995) and A Family Thing (1996), the latter of which cast him as Robert Duvall's estranged half-brother. Somewhat ironically, it was the actor's voice that endeared him to a new generation when he voiced the character of lion patriarch Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King (1994).
In addition to the entertainment industry awards he has received over the course of his career, Jones has been the recipient of a number of other honors, including The National Medal of Arts (awarded to him by President George Bush in 1992) and honorary doctorates from Yale, Princeton, and Columbia Universities.
More fun facts about James Earl Jones
Birth name: Todd Jones
Nickname: Todd (childhood)
Height: 6' 1½" (1.87 m)
Spouse: Cecilia Hart (15 March 1982 - present) 1 child
Trade mark: Famous for his deep and authoritative voice, used most famously for impressive roles as leaders like Darth Vader in the Star Wars Trilogy and Mufasa in The Lion King (1994)
Took acting lessons to control his stutter.
He won a Tony in 1969 for "The Great White Hope".
Son: Flynn Earl Jones.
Had stuttering problem as a child and said very little as a child; still struggles with the problem and says he has to think about what he says carefully before saying it (impressive, since he is known widely for his voice).
Provided the thunderous voice (uncredited) of the anti-hero, Darth Vader, in the 'Star Wars' film trilogy.
Son of prizefighter-turned-actor Robert Earl Jones, from whom it is said he was estranged long into adulthood.
He's the commanding voice that says "This is CNN"
Graduated from The University of Michigan.
His first time acting was at the Ramsdell Theater in Manistee, Michigan.
Graduated from Kaleva-Norman-Dickson High School in Brethren.
Grew up in the small town of Dublin, Michigan.
Callers using Bell Atlantic pay phones often hear Jones's voice assuring them that "This is Bell Atlantic", just before a female voice asks for a calling card number.
Was once an Army officer after college.
His "death" was announced during a live broadcast of an NBA playoff game in April of 1998; the deceased was actually James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Martin Luther King
He received the John F. Kennedy Center Honor in December 2002.
Narrated the documentary Black Indians: An American Story (2001) , which explores issues of racial identity between the mixed-descent peoples of both Native American and African American heritage. Jones himself is a Black Indian.
Announced the forty-fifth greatest movie villain of all time by Maxim Magazine's "Fifty Greatest Movie Villains of all Time" list for his character of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977).
Co-starred with Madge Sinclair five times.
Has won two Tony Awards: in 1969, as Best Actor (Dramatic), for "The Great White Hope," a role he recreated in an Oscar-nominated performance in the film version of the same title, The Great White Hope (1970); and in 1987, as Best Actor (Play), for August Wilson's "Fences."
In the original Star Wars trilogy, he and Billy Dee Williams were the only black actors to play major roles. One of Williams's other roles was playing the title role in a biopic of Scott Joplin. Joplin's music was used as the score for the film The Sting, which features James's father, Robert Earl Jones.
Known for his humility, he declined to have his name appear on the credits of both Star Wars and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, claiming that he felt his contribution wasn't significant enough to warrant a credit. He did agree to have his name appear of the credits of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Appears in Robots with Stanley Tucci. In a television biopic of Peter Sellers, Tucci played Stanley Kubrick, who directed Sellers in Dr. Stranglove - which was also Jones's first film.
James Earl Jones' personal quotes:
"My voice is for hire. My endorsement is not for hire. I will do a voice-over, but I cannot endorse without making a different kind of commitment. My politics are very personal and subjective." --from "James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences", p. 360
Salary: Star Wars (1977) $7,000
From October 2003 lives in Millbrook, New York.
James Earl Jones Back as Vader
The voice of Darth Vader is back - actor James Earl Jones will recreate the breathy tones of the supervillain in George Lucas' sixth Star Wars movie which will go before cameras next year. Hayden Christensen will reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker, who becomes Vader in the film, but his voice will be replaced with that of James Earl Jones. Jones created a storm in the original Star Wars trilogy when his voice was used to replace that of British actor Dave Prowse, who played the evil Vader.
James Earl Jones To Become Darth Vader's Voice Again
James Earl Jones has told the Toronto Sun that he has signed to become the voice of Darth Vader again for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode III. The next -- and final -- prequel will reportedly tell about Anakin Skywalker's transition to the evil half-man/half-robot who rallies the Dark Side. Jones said that producer/writer/director George Lucas told him: "When Anakin goes bionic -- that will be in the last five minutes of Episode 3 -- they will hear you."
Liz, McCartney & Darth Vader Set For Top Honors
Liz Taylor, Paul McCartney and the voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, are to be honored for lifetime achievements at this year's Kennedy Center Honors in Washington DC. The trio will be among five celebrities honored at the 8 December event - the 25th year of the black-tie gala. McCartney will be the first British musician added to the center's honors roster - previous musical honorees have been Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King and Bob Dylan.
Darth Vader Actor Says He Was Discrimination Victim
More than 20 years after Star Wars (1977) was released, David Prowse, who played Darth Vader, is still grumbling about the fact that George Lucas decided to replace his voice with James Earl Jones'. In an interview with the Canadian Press, Prowse claims that he was the victim of a kind of reverse racism. Since there were no black members in the original cast, Prowse claims, the Lucas production company "were worried to death about black people boycotting the movie. ... The only thing they could do at that last stage was to take my voice off and give Darth Vader an obvious black voice." In Return of the Jedi (1983), Sebastian Shaw was seen as the unmasked Vader/Anakin Skywalker. That, said Prowse, "was really to stop me from getting into too strong a negotiating position for future movies."
James Earl Jones: A voice of authority
With the respect James Earl Jones commands, it's little wonder his latest role is that of judge -- in this case one who gets to sit in the Supreme Court.
Jones flew into town Tuesday night from his home in upstate New York for a one-day shoot for his cameo role in the movie Undercover Angel, which yesterday was filming in the Supreme Court building.
While most fans of movie stars can't wait to get a look at their screen heroes, when it comes to Jones what most people want to do is hear him speak.
After all, he is the unmistakable voice of Darth Vader and the man behind the CNN call letters.
"I sometimes find it's a cliche about the calmness of my voice," says Jones, 67. "I find that children respond well, but dogs freak out and think I'm an enemy."
The same charismatic charm with which he handles an interviewer is what garnered Jones the role in Undercover Angel.
In the movie, Jones plays a judge faced with a tough dilemma, deciding the outcome of a custody battle between Melissa (Lorraine Ansell) and the child's father Harrison (Dean Winters).
"In this case because the child is the focus of the story, the judge's power is not quite the element. The judge doesn't get off on his power, but rather his wisdom.
"He's a judge who likes to solve these kinds of cases. There are no bad guys, only people who are making mistakes but no one to put the blame on."
It was the judge's wisdom that first drew Jones to the script. He liked what he read and was immediately compelled by the scene his character played.
"The film is based on decent people and how they make mistakes, don't fulfill their expectations and obligations or have conflicts over children."
Dressed for the scene, he looks at ease in the black robe and confides he's often considered for the role of judge.
"Every time someone reads a John Grisham novel with the character in it a black judge they say, 'Jimmy you gotta make sure you get this role,"' he says.
"When looking for a 60-year-old, heavy set man with a deep voice most directors don't want to hit the nail on the head so directly," says Jones. "I don't get those roles."
But this character had Jones' name all over it.
"He was very interesting and light, more of a calm judge -- an anchor," says Jones.
Jones says he was also looking forward to seeing Ottawa. Although he spends a lot of time filming in Toronto and Vancouver and vacations in the Laurentian mountains with his family, this is his first stop in the capital.
"The people here are easier to work with, relate to and probably to deal with," says Jones.
He compares the conservative splendor of Ottawa to that of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and was caught up with the beauty driving along the canal.
"I understand why film companies prefer to film here. It's nice and laid back and less attitude," he says.
Jones is heading to Toronto at the end of the week for filming of the movie Walk on Water.
In it he plays a retired heart surgeon who returns to his hometown. The story focuses around children spending the summer vacationing at the lake.
"I play an older black man who returns home to find his town is now a habitat for middle-class white people and the children see me as someone who doesn't belong," he said.
He has a sparkle in his eye when he compares Walk on Water to the movie Sandlot, where he played a baseball legend teaching children the love of the game.
"I play the grandfather type and it's such a great thrill."
Even with his extensive career, Jones feels he is still improving with every role. "I don't consider myself accomplished yet. I intend to get better."
Most of all what Jones is looking for in the future is for Hollywood to stop restricting roles based on race or age.
"Actors should not be compartmentalized."
"Art should be brave... it should transcend"
James Earl Jones discusses apartheid, racism and Hollywood.
His great range as an actor, in tackling roles from Shakespeare to Star Wars, is what has made James Earl Jones one of a few legendary American film actors.
His role in Cry, the Beloved Country as a minister whose son is condemned to death as a murderer is one Jones had been waiting years to play. Already touted as a possible Oscar contender for the part, Jones said the role was one of his most challenging and rewarding ever.
During a trip to New York for the film's premiere last fall, Jones sat down with NUVO and several other publications to discuss his love for the role - and of the film's gentle yet poignant message.
NUVO: You had committed to Cry, the Beloved Country years before it was shot. At what point did you decide to take the role? Was it when you saw the script?
JONES: Way before that. I had read the book years ago and had always wanted to be in it. My big question was: How would the gentleness - which I think is the key to my character - how would it go over with young black people? My main concern was that it not appear as something from the past, as a museum piece. I said, "When Mandela is freed, we'll see." My character mirrors Mandela's gentleness. When he was freed, I knew I would make this picture. Later, the script came along and I loved it.
NUVO: How do you see the film in terms of race relations in America today? How do you think it will play with young people today in the wake of the Million Man March and the O.J. trial?
JONES: What we think about race relations may be different a month from now, or a year from now. What's interesting to me about the news business is how all-important things seem to be one day; then it's gone the next. I think what the O.J. trial did is open up wounds.
I hope films can transcend that. I hope this film can transcend that. But art should be brave and, unfortunately, Hollywood has some very bad habits that keep bravery from happening.
The biggest challenge I had in this role was to keep my anger - after all, he's laboring under apartheid - in abeyance. I had to hang on to that gentleness.
NUVO: Even as famous as you are, do you encounter prejudice in your daily life?
JONES: I'm a realist and I acknowledge it. But, fortunately, for me, it's usually the kinds of thing I can say I won't let get to me. In a way, you are as big as what makes you mad. And if something petty makes you mad, that's how you get reduced. Not that you have to forgive, I'm not saying that. But you can't let it reduce you. You can't be encumbered by insanity. And it is insanity, racism. You cannot let it stop you. And when something gets you bitter, it stops you.
Hollywood has some very bad habits. And racism is part of it. Residual racism. Unconscious racism. The young directors who are coming on the scene can help that.
In some ways The Great White Hope was ruined by Hollywood. By that residual racism. So often in Hollywood, to make it - I call it "greasing the penis," you know, smoothing out the rough edges. Pardon the expression. But the stage production was much rougher. It had a lyric poetry to it that was removed as it made its way to film.
In the stage production, the characters were monolithic. The film was more of a social story of a black man and a white girl, when the story was really much larger than that.
In this film, much of Alan Paton's original vision has been kept. Unlike, say, The Scarlet Letter (laughs), this vision was not reconceived for the film.
Cry the Beloved Country is a film about redemption. Is it a "race movie?" Well, I guess I don't know what a race movie is. Hollywood certainly tries to latch onto summaries like that, that it's a black movie and only black people will go see it.
I don't understand that. As a child, I used to see John Wayne movies and I would walk out of the theater like John Wayne. Human beings are human beings; maybe I'm naive.
NUVO: You're known for your bravery and dignity in the roles you play. You have an image above that of other actors. We don't read about you in the scandal magazines.
JONES: Not yet. (laughs)
NUVO: But you're very well known. Is that a large burden to carry?
JONES: Yes. But I think it's more of a function of choices you make. Richard Burton, for example, by himself was never harassed. With Elizabeth Taylor, he was always harassed. He would get the clothes ripped from his body. It was meant as a compliment, but it was a form of harassment. The same with Sean Penn. By himself, his life is OK. With Madonna, he was harassed constantly. Certain combinations sometimes are so explosive, so dynamic, it creates hysteria among the public. I've never done that. I've never caused that kind of hysteria.
You deal with that notoriety, if you will, in different ways. I've tried to go against this so-called image by playing villains in different roles. The only time I think it was a mistake was playing a petty criminal in a film called And Then the Hero. You've not seen it.
NUVO: No, I haven't.
JONES: Don't bother. It's horrible.
NUVO: When your character cried, the audience cried.
JONES: When you believe in a character, you sometimes cry for that character. Sometimes it's not appropriate. You have to hold it back. But at the end of the film, on the mountaintop, you cried. I don't believe myself that you can pray someone into heaven, but that's what my character was trying to do.
To have that sort of strength, to summon that energy, is what I want to do in my life and in my craft.
James Earl Jones confronts racial issues in A Family Thing
NEW YORK -- James Earl Jones is a barrel-chested, bass-voiced, tenacious man with passionate opinions about life in America. When he speaks, you listen.
It is Jones who declares that A Family Thing, his new film with Robert Duvall, another man with a singular voice, is not just about family. It's a racial thing. And, even more profoundly, it's a human thing.
The story of A Family Thing, which opens in Toronto theatres on Friday, is simple in concept, complex in its emotional interplay. Duvall plays an Arkansas good old boy who, in his 60s, finds out that his real mother, who died in childbirth, was a black woman, the family maid who was raped by his white father. Which, of course, makes Duvall's Earl Pilcher Jr. racially mixed. For a stubborn, racist redneck, that's a mega-ton shock.
Then it turns out that the half-brother the redneck never knew he had is an embittered black Chicago policeman, who is played by Jones. The movie chronicles their interaction when Duvall drives up to Illinois to confront the truth.
"That's all that matters," Jones muses cautiously about truth and the human angle of the story, which is reflected in the movie's title. "It's about family. The same shock would happen if anyone was told their parents were not really their parents. It's wisely called A Family Thing."
But Jones, a political activist in his own fashion, warms to the idea of continuing, skewing his analysis into race relations in the land of the free, home of the brave. "I do like the chance to say something about race. There's a lot at stake in racism. People have bankrolled a lot of their lives in it, in what color they are. Now black people are beginning to do it too -- big mistake! Because it doesn't mean anything."
And it means everything, Jones continues. "The problem is, it's hard to let go. You see it in South Africa (where he filmed the ill-fated historical drama Cry, The Beloved Country last year). The Afrikaners have a hard time letting go of that privilege because they put so much in it. White Americans also (have that problem).
"But you'll notice that white or black Americans have no problem these days saying they're part Indian. They're all very, very proud of it because there's nothing at stake. Culturally it means something but economically it doesn't change your status. It's cool, it's cool. I wish it were so having black blood -- but it isn't so.
"I'm glad this movie has been made because it can address that. But it is essentially about a man who reaches out for his identity."
James Earl Jones was born Jan. 17, 1931, into a family of Mississippi sharecroppers. He was abandoned by his father and, still a child, chose to leave his mother and live with his grandparents, who soon moved their large family to Michigan. The trauma triggered his stuttering crisis -- the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies still stutters to this day despite his extraordinary ability to recite lines flawlessly -- and Jones went virtually mute from age six to 14. An English teacher named Donald Crouch brought Jones out of his shell when he persuaded him to read aloud a poem the boy had written. It was an ode to a grapefruit based on Longfellow's Song Of Hiawatha.
In the written word, James Earl Jones found freedom, his voice and his own identity. He became an actor, first on stage, where he confirmed his Broadway stardom in 1968 in The Great White Hope, winning a Tony award as best actor. The same play took him to Hollywood, where he starred in the movie version and garnered an Oscar nomination as best actor.
In A Family Thing, Jones' character, Ray Murdock, stutters slightly, especially in moments of stress. Jones, who rarely allows his real-life stutter to show up in his on-screen work, says he did it this time "only because the director asked me to." Director Richard Pearce had noticed Jones stuttering during the read-through of the script prior to shooting the film. "He said," Jones remembers, "'That's very interesting: You, the voice of Darth Vader, you stutter. That makes me think differently of you.'"
Doing it as the character in A Family Thing makes Ray "more vulnerable," says Jones. "He's not on top of it. He's not totally together." But he was careful to use the technique "just sparingly" because "I was concerned a little bit that we weren't making fun of stutterers. I don't want to be politically correct all the time but here was a case where I know people would ask me not to make fun of stutterers, because I'm a stutterer."
He's no wrestler, either. But he and Duvall engage in an impromptu wrestling match in a vacant lot during an argument in the movie. Jones is still giggling about the scene, although he sees it has value in forwarding the story. "It brought us to who we are (in the movie). We're really a couple of kids who hadn't come to terms with our lives yet. But I was terrified that I would get hurt, break something. And Robert was just terrified that I would fall on him!"
The burly Jones lets out one of his big-grin, low-rumble laughs that punctuates the sentence like a firecracker's explosion. That's a human thing, too.