We interviewed actors Rob Cleveland and Jill Jane Clements, who are returning to perform Driving Miss Daisy at Aurora for the third time in their professional careers.
Aurora Theatre: What led you to acting?
Jill Jane Clements: Well, there’s an old story. I was playing with a girlfriend, we were about eight years old. We decided we would play pretend and for some reason we decided we were grown up and one of our children had been run over by a car, and I started acting and I flipped my friend out! When I got out of it I was like, “Wow, that was pretty cool! I make believed and she believed me,” and it was something special.
Rob Cleveland: It was my sophomore year in college and I was walking through the lobby at the student center at Emory and I saw a sign that said “Auditions for Death of a Salesman.” I walked upstairs and I said I’d like to audition for Death of Salesman, and then [the director] asked me if I’d done anything before, and I said no. He read me, and cast me in Death of a Salesman. It was amazing. It was literally an epiphany! It was like the first shot of some really horrible street drug. I was hooked!
AT: How does it feel playing such iconic characters?
JJC: You try not to imitate, but those voices are so strong, so you try to bring as much of you as you can to it. I think more about the real Miss Daisy and who she was. If I keep my eye on that, and don’t think about the actresses who played her, then hopefully it will be my Daisy and not theirs.
RC: I don’t look at him so much as an iconic character, because I hadn’t seen anyone else do him the first time I did Hoke. And so now it’s just like, “Oh, that’s how Morgan Freeman does him, that’s how anybody else does him, and this is how I do him.”
AT: How does it feel to play these characters in Atlanta, their hometown?
JJC: That makes it much more fun, cause we know all the street names, and we learn more and more about the history. While other people would have to be thinking about what it was like, we are already here.
RC: I really feel sorry for casts that have to do this in the Pacific Northwest, and they’re sitting there going, “I’m sorry did they say Piggly Wiggly? What is this Dutch Cleanser they speak of? Do they have Dutch people cleaning their homes?” It’s right here in our backyard where The Temple was bombed and everybody knows Euclid and North Highland. It’s very real here.
AT: What has changed the most since the first time you performed this show?
RC: The first time I approached this project it took me 20 minutes doing makeup before the first scene. Now I just get out of the car and I go, “yeah, I’m 59.” I owe Hoke my best. He’s a character that should be seen, a character that should live on.
JJC: It’s a privilege and joy to do this play. I love this play, and every time it’s like diving into a pool that you sort of know, but you’ve got to re-navigate. Daisy is a prime example that you can teach old dogs new tricks. Daisy never would have changed if Hoke hadn’t come into her life.
AT: How do you think this show applies today?
JJC: (With sarcasm) Well, you know we’re totally over racism, right? So we don’t need to do this play, right? (Seriously) You still say stupid things, and you don’t even hear yourself saying them. I think there’s so much further to go, so much to learn from each other and be open to, and we have to remind ourselves of that.
RC: I think that taking the racial part out of it, the point of the play I think is learning to see the Other. [There’s this] idea of accepting another person, not because they are just like you, but accepting another person almost precisely because they are the exact opposite from you. What are you going to learn from somebody who is already just like you? You learn from the people who are the most different from you, or that you think are the most different from you. That’s where growth comes.
JJC: You know Hoke says it a couple of times in the play, and it’s amusing, but it’s really the truth, “How do you know how I see unless you’re looking out of my eyes?”
Ms. Clements and Mr. Cleveland were interviewed by Aurora Theatre Apprentice Company member Timothy Whitson.