Madam President Changes Professions

Special Features   Madam President Changes Professions
 
Tony and Emmy winner Cherry Jones abandons her post as commander-in-chief of TV's "24" to return to the stage in one of theatre history's most shocking roles.

Cherry Jones
Cherry Jones Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Presidents often struggle to figure out what to do after leaving the White House. Not Cherry Jones. When her term ended as President Allison Taylor on television's "24," the acclaimed actress headed home...to New York and the Broadway stage, where she's starring in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession.

"I am back with a vengeance," says Jones, who began Cockney dialect tutoring in June, months before rehearsals even started. Jones, 53, has been a constant theatrical presence, appearing on Broadway five times from 2000–2006. She earned a Tony nomination for A Moon for the Misbegotten, her second Tony for Doubt (the first was for 1995's The Heiress) plus a Drama Desk nomination for Faith Healer. She followed that stretch with a 26-city, nine-month tour with Doubt. Then she stepped off stage.

"'24' came at the exact moment I needed [it]...both of my parents were in declining health," says Jones. "You go in and shoot your stuff, two episodes at a time, and then you're off. And I would fly to Tennessee." (Her mother died in March and her father passed over the summer.)

Now, she is bubbly about New York theatre but also about the city itself. "I missed every single bit of it. I missed the bagels, I missed my friends, I missed the Hudson, I missed going to see shows." She also clearly missed her West Village apartment — at the end of the interview she provides an enthusiastic tour of her theatrical artifacts, including Sarah Bernhardt's handkerchief and a photo of Carson McCullers, Julie Harris and Ethel Waters from 1950's The Member of the Wedding.

Mrs. Warren's Profession didn't thrill her agent — "he'd have preferred for me to do something new and astonishing for my first time back" — and she was wary, too: the only previous production of Mrs. Warren she'd seen resulted in her leaving at intermission out of boredom. But reading the script, she reveled in Shaw's "incredibly specific character detail" and "twists and turns" of plot. "Plus Shaw was a socialist, and I just buried a mother who was a devout socialist."

Having Sally Hawkins as her co-star (as daughter Vivie) and Doubt director Doug Hughes at the helm added extra incentive. "Doug seems such a natural for Shaw," she says. She's thrilled by his charge to make Mrs. Warren feisty and domineering at the start. "It makes her and the play so much more immediate and active. It's combat."

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This article appears in the September issue of Playbill magazine and misidentifies Jones' co-star as Alison Pill. As amended above, Sally Hawkins plays the daughter of Mrs. Warren. We regret the error.

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