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James Earl Jones reacts to his lifetime achievement Oscar

posted 13 Nov 2011, 14:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 13 Nov 2011, 14:54 ]

James Earl Jones receives a lifetime achievement Academy Award in London.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (NOVEMBER 12, 2011) (REUTERS) - James Earl Jones said he was happy to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) on Saturday, November 12, 2011, in London because nobody had to lose, in order for him to win it.

The legendary actor was presented with the award on stage at the Wyndham Theatre, where he is currently in a production of "Driving Miss Daisy", alongside Vanessa Redgrave.

Jones was given the top honour by fellow Oscar winner Ben Kingsley. Although they didn't have a scene together, the two men appeared in the 1992 film "Sneakers".

"What was so delightful about that, is that it's an honorary, which means I didn't have to fight for it. I probably did things for it along the line, along the way but I didn't have to compete for it. I didn't have to hope somebody else lost so I could win. That's the uncomfortable part of awards, somebody has to lose," Jones told Reuters Television in his dressing room, in between matinees for the theatre production.

The actor, 80, acknowledges his deep baritone voice and tall, menacing stature has lead him to play a number of authoritative characters, often in the military. This was seen in his first feature film, Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" in 1964, where Jones played a Lieutenant Lothar Zogg.

Despite Jones' success, he said he's never had a plan of how to make it in Hollywood but considers himself lucky that the right doors opened up for him, and said the thing that drives him as an actor is a deep need to connect with people.

"I read something in this morning's people about not being able to change someone's mind in the world, but change their hearts and I think that's the only thing an actor looks out over a political landscape that he can hope for. But you've got to really focus on that, not the polemics of stories but the heartbeat of stories and really connect to the heartbeat of the audience," he said.

Jones began taking drama lessons as a child in the U.S. state of Mississippi to combat his stutter, which was made worse after moving into his maternal grandmother's home across the United States in the state of Michigan. This, he said, prepared him for the role which he says he's admired the most.

"I think the role I admire is Reverend Stephen Kumalo in 'Cry, The Beloved Country'. I thought I knew how to play a non-militant man at that time because I have been raised in the (American) South by a bigoted grandmother. I know all about the anger. I also know enough to let it go so I could play that man better than most actors I know," he said.

"Cry, The Beloved Country", released in 1995, tells the story of a Zulu country parson who travels to Johannesburg in search of his son who has been jailed for the murder of a white man.

Richard Harris starred as a conservative farmer whose views are changed with the death of his son and the grief he shares with the parson, played by James Earl Jones.

It was a remake of 1951 film but it's message of anti-apartheid was relevant to the then-newly democratic South Africa in the mid-Nineties.

South African President Nelson Mandela whose release from prison after 27 years became the symbol of racial unity in the country, went to a private screening when the movie was released and said afterwards, the movie had an important message.

"No doubt there are some people today who will not like it (the film) and will go so far as to say things of this nature never happened. But there are those who are committed to truth and who want to remember history," he said.

One of Jones' most iconic roles was that as the voice of Darth Vader, whom Jones himself said he didn't want credit for when George Lucas' "Star Wars" and sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" were released in 1977 and 1980 respectively. He said he considered his voice to be a special effect, and therefore didn't want to take acting credits away from David Prowse, who played the menacing character.

It wasn't until a few years later that he acknowledged he was the voice behind the mask.

"When I walk out tonight there will be kids with posters to sign. It doesn't haunt me. I love it. I love that I was a part of that cult. It doesn't hurt, when they're young especially, to sign someone's poster," he said.

Kingsley said he and Jones shared a common love of storytelling and the power to transform through stage and screen.

"Watching his work, I can tell he is profoundly a storyteller, that he believes in the healing powers of storytelling, as I do. The opportunities to inhabit narrative-driven films and be a storyteller are immense, vast and beautiful and I'm really glad he's on the landscape and I'm on the landscape and we're part of that same tribe of storytellers. So it's just that wonderful sense of ownership and we wrestle over the Oscar."

Kingsley, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor in "Gandhi" in 1982, pretended to wrestle the award from Jones who laughed and said: "You can never have too many Oscars."

Amongst the other memorable films Jones has starred in, includes: "Field of Dreams" alongside Kevin Costner, the comedy "Coming To America" with Eddie Murphy, and the voice of Mufasa in the Disney animation "The Lion King".

Jones has two Emmys, two Golden Globes and a Screen Actor's Guild to his name, and said he will add his newly-honoured Academy Award to his mantle.

"Driving Miss Daisy" ends on December 17, afterwards the actor will return to Broadway for a turn in Gore Vidal's 1960 political drama "Best Man".

Jones will also star in two films "Gimme Shelter" and "Starbright", both set for release in 2012.