By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Welcome to Building Character, TDF Stages' ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles.
There's a particular challenge in playing Boolie Werthan, the concerned son who hires an African-American chauffeur for his elderly white mother in Driving Miss Daisy. Just ask Boyd Gaines, who's tackling the role in the current Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
"The trap of the part is that it becomes one-note or superficial, that it's just telling the timeline [of the show,]" he says.
On one hand, he's right. Boolie is often an instigator, pushing his mother Daisy and her driver Hoke together without directly impacting the plot himself. On other hand, he is the embodiment of the wealthy, white Atlanta society where the play unfolds between 1948 and 1973. When he explains why he can't, say, attend a dinner honoring MLK without damaging his reputation and his business, he suggests the entire world behind Daisy and Hoke's tentatively developing friendship.
The trick is teasing out the subtext. "The play is only the tip of the iceberg of Boolie's life," says Gaines. "There are opportunities to let those other things exist."
He notes, for instance, that he's found space in his scenes with Vanessa Redgrave (who plays Daisy) to suggest their characters' long, troubled history. "Boolie and Daisy, even though they love each other, they aren't able to express it, but you can suggest that with a movement, with a tone of voice," he explains. (It doesn't hurt that he himself is an Atlantan, which means he's conducted a lifetime of research on how a man like Boolie might carry himself.)
Gaines, who won his fourth Tony Award for the 2008 revival of Gypsy, asserts that his co-stars Redgrave and James Earl Jones also have pushed him to keep his performance nuanced. "Working with two dynamic actors, they immediately replaced any preconceived notion that you have about the play or what they're going to do with it," he says. "You think, 'Oh, these two will be like this in these parts,' and then you get there, and it's nothing like that."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor
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[Photo credit: Boyd Gaines as Boolie Werthan. Photo by Carol Rossegg.]