Q&A: James Earl Jones


James Earl Jones will take home the Life Achievement Award at Sunday's SAG Awards. He recently spoke with Cristy Lytal for The Hollywood Reporter about dropping out of premed, the art of enunciating and overcoming his stutter.

The Hollywood Reporter: You first enrolled in college as premed. What made you transition to drama?

James Earl Jones: I wasn't having too good a time in my premed studies. And I was also working my way through college, but the Korean War was waiting for me when I got out. And so I just decided to accept that fate and go into drama with the idea that I might enjoy myself.

THR: Was there a point when you realized you had a unique voice?

Jones: I didn't talk in the whole of grade school (because of my stutter). And when I got to high school, I had a great English teacher who believed in language. And he looked at a poem I wrote and said, "It's too good for you to have written, so to prove you wrote it, please stand up in front of the class and recite it from memory." And I did it without stuttering. So he used that as a program to get me to talk.

THR: Do you see musicality as part of being a voice actor?

Jones: Well I understand that as a stutterer, I understand the whole element of speech is related to music. That's why stutterers can speak dialogue and may not be able to have a conversation, or they can speak poetry and not have a conversation.

THR: How have you seen the acting profession change?

Jones: If you were to compare a movie with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, actors handled dialogue very crisply, very assuredly, and with pace. Today, you get a lot of whispering. I don't understand where that came from and why we do that, why directors encourage it or allow it.

THR: Do you have any advice that you'd give to young actors just starting out?

Jones: Only this: Welcome.