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From the Great
White Way to the White House

From the Great
White Way to the White House


While there won't be a woman in the White House anytime in the near future, 24 took the reins and elected to cast two-time Tony Award winner Cherry Jones as its first female president, Allison Taylor, who is likely to have everything including terrorists, WMDs, and the kitchen sink thrown at her. Jones sat down with The Advocateto talk marriage, the White House, and her "fluid" relationship with partner Sarah Paulson.

While there won't be a woman in the White House anytime in the near future, 24 took the reins and elected to cast two-time Tony Award winner Cherry Jones as its first female president, Allison Taylor, who is likely to have everything including terrorists, WMDs, and the kitchen sink thrown at her. And if there's an actress up to the task of filling a pair of presidential pumps, it's Jones, who took home her first Tony in 1995 for The Heiress, and won a second in 2005 for originating the role of the staunch, wildly suspicious nun who accuses the parish priest of pedophilia in Doubt.

Jones's extensive stage work has earned her a reputation as one of the greatest actresses of our time, having turned in heavy-hitting performances in Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika and in the 2000 revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten. But Jones, whose film forays include The Perfect Storm, Signs, and Ocean's Twelve, has also always been an out lesbian. In her 1995 Tony acceptance speech, Jones thanked her partner. A decade later, Jones made Tony Award history when her name was announced and she kissed her partner, actress Sarah Paulson, on live television.

The Advocate chatted with Jones just before the election. And while Barack Obama's presidency had yet to be sealed and the fate of Prop. 8 had yet to be decided, Jones had some pretty prescient things to say about both. Plus, television's prime-time president weighed in on Meryl Streep taking on the role she originated in the upcoming big-screen version of Doubt, what it will take to get a woman in the White House, and the possibility of her own marriage.

The Advocate: Hi, Cherry. Thanks so much for taking time to chat with us.Cherry Jones: I'm about to go to a sort of sneak, family screening of the movie Doubt. If I sound harried, it's because I got back to the apartment a little bit later than I thought I would.

Since you mentioned going to the film, I'd love to know what you think of Meryl Streep in the role for which you won a Tony. It's pretty exciting casting. I was smitten from the time I came to New York in 1978 and saw her Kate in Taming of the Shrew with Raul Julia, so from then on, I was hers. So...were there a few days when I fantasized about doing the film when I knew it was going to be made into a film? Of course. But, honestly, after doing it on stage 708 times, they probably did me a favor by not asking.

Seven hundred and eight times... That's a heavy role to do day in and day out. The bottom line is, I've always been very pragmatic in my career, which is very helpful and helps you negotiate just about anything. And people expect me to be bitter and angry, and fortunately, for whatever reason, that's not my temperament.

Well, it does certainly help navigate Hollywood. Are you in L.A. or New York at the moment? I have just arrived in New York.

Is that where you live? That's where I live. But I've been away from New York for the better part of two years because I did the tour of Doubt, and from working on the 24 that never ends.

Right. Well, that's where I was headed. 24 is coming up and we have two big days coming up, namely Election Day and the prequel for 24, which premieres in late November. When your role as Allison Taylor was conceptualized a while ago now, do you think the idea was that Hillary Clinton would be the likely Democratic nominee? I absolutely think that was probably what the boys in the smoking room thought. And also, they've had two black male presidents and at least three white male presidents, who were totally corrupt and terrible, so they were sort of running out of options. It was sort of a no-brainer that they would now -- even without a Hillary running for the Democratic nomination -- probably would have gone in this direction.

It seems as though life is imitating 24 in some ways, like a black president before a woman. What do you think it will take for America to vote a woman into the White House? And I'm not talking about Sarah Palin. I would think, basically, that all it would take would be Hillary Clinton running against anyone but Barack Obama. Seriously. I think, hopefully, eight years from now, after his very successful presidency, we'll have another shot at Hillary, and she'll still be younger than John McCain.

Very true. Now, you've done extensive theater, some film, and television here and there, but I think this is your first recurring television role... It certainly is.

How has that experience been? I have loved it. I love it and I've had trouble with it honestly, because when we shoot, we shoot consecutively, scene to scene to scene, so it's allowed to build, which is wonderful. Not all television does that. That's why they get the performances they get out of people. What's been hard this season is because we had almost five months off because of the writers' strike and they took almost a month off to go shoot the footage in Africa. So, with the extension of the normal shooting season when I go in, for example, the other day I went in having not been there in over a month and having to shoot four highly charged emotional scenes. So, it takes a very focused, well-prepared actor to pull that off having been away for so long, and I don't know if that's me or not. [Laughs] I don't know if I pulled it off or not.

Oh, I imagine you did. So that's a challenge I've not had to contend with.

Also, the concept of each episode representing an hour in a single day, was that a challenge since the characters aren't changing over time but reacting to a harried situation? Well, the wonderful thing is that in every single episode the stakes are so high. And I'm not making decisions for myself and my family. I'm making decisions for the entire country. And you really do hit the ground running every time. That's kind of fantastic. You don't have scenes about whether the blinds should be pulled or not. And you're reminded of what these people, our leaders, are up against, having to improvise. They have to be brilliant people at improvisation, and hopefully people who are able to listen to wise counsel. And then finally, the buck stops there. So, it's very exciting for an actor to be given a scene that is dire and a clock that is ticking.

And do you have any action scenes? Ah. I don't know that I can say.

All right. I thought I'd try. I wish I could.

You know, I just wanted to know if you did your own stunts. [Laughs] That's a good way to ask the question.

I have to ask. Did you base your portrayal at all around a living politician? No. Not really. When you're in that mock-up White House, because the art direction is so good, you're surrounded by your predecessors. I mean, there's a gorgeous painting of Jack Kennedy in the anteroom to the Oval Office, and you feel Roosevelt, both Franklin and Eleanor, just down the hall. And certainly Golda Meir has come to mind a couple of times, mainly because half the time I wish I had one of her smokes handy in the decision-making process. I have to say...when I got to deliver the inaugural address, which was such a kick...I can only imagine what each of those people standing on that podium feels in terms of a bond to everyone who's placed their hand on the Bible, to everyone who's come before them. I studied a lot of inaugural addresses -- style, and their ability to really connect to the people, to the camera, and also to the people who were down below on the Mall. And certainly, Jack Kennedy's is one of the greats. And I appreciate the more formal. It's not that they've become less formal, but there was that great formality that everyone had prior to the '60s, which is thrilling in terms of oration.

Because you've worked so much on Broadway and not been placed under the Hollywood microscope, you've flown under the radar and avoided tabloid scrutiny. Are you concerned about your relationship and your personal life becoming tabloid fodder with this new exposure? Well, it has occurred to me, but I try not to think about it. It'll happen if it happens, and if it doesn't it doesn't.

Another election-related question: You starred with Brooke Shields in What Makes a Family -- about a lesbian couple and the landmark Florida adoption case and custody battle -- and now, here in California, we're fighting wildly to ensure that Prop. 8 doesn't pass. Are you at all shocked or surprised that we're still having to fight for these rights? Oh, not in the slightest. I mean, honestly, I remember the first time I heard Bob Dole say on the floor of the Senate "gay marriage," I thought I was going to fall over; even though he was mentioning it in a pejorative way, I thought, Wow, we've really come a way that Bob Dole is talking about gay marriage, even in a negative way. I'm old enough that any movement forward is thrilling, not fast enough, but understandable in this polarized nation of ours. If Barack Obama is not elected president, perhaps the rest of the world will finally understand that half of this country is being held hostage by the other half.

I know that you thanked your partner when you won the Tony back in 1995, and then you kissed Sarah and thanked her when you won for Doubt, which were both watershed moments for lesbian visibility. Have you always been out and honest about who you are? Yes. I'm a very timid person in a lot of ways, many, many ways, but for some reason, my sexuality has always brought the lion out in me. I've never been timid about that. I've always made a point of telling everyone I meet -- when the time is right -- that I'm gay.

Well, we all thank you for that. No need. Not when it's that easy. I just have a lot of people before me to thank. At my age, coming into New York post-Stonewall, and in the arts... It's not like I was an accountant's secretary in Topeka, Kan.

Well, I have one other question to ask you, and I suspect you might not answer, but maybe I'll get lucky. Since you are a New Yorker and you're right across the border from Massachusetts and Connecticut, will we hear wedding bells in your future anytime soon? Oh. Oh, no. Sarah and I are in a fluid relationship, which pretty much precludes marriage. [Sarah Paulson interrupts in the background.] Oh, Sarah just said, "Fluid makes it sound like it's an open relationship."

Yeah. I was going to ask you to elucidate, because I had that same reaction. Well, it is not an open relationship, but we're not ready for marriage.

So, we'll call it self-defined. [Laughs] Self-defined is a wonderful way of putting it.

--The two-hour television movie 24: Redemption airs Sunday, November 23. The seventh season of 24 premieres on Fox in January.

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