Cicely Tyson is 93 years old today and I do not know about you but I find her life to be absolutely fascinating and the fact that she is ageless is even more inspiring.
Recently she allowed Elle Magazine to do an interview with her and they invited her most recent costar and legend in her own right, Viola Davis to do it!. They spoke about everything from her mother to the various roles she has played in her lifetime as well as how she has dealt with rejection.
Read a few excerpts below:
Viola asked: Are there any roles that you wish you could do over again?
I wish I could do everything over again! [Laughs] That’s why I don’t watch them. The gratification comes, for me, in the doing of it. And once I’ve done it, I can’t do anything about it if it’s good or if it’s bad. So I don’t torture myself.
Have there been any women in particular who influenced your career?
Yes. At the very beginning of my career, I had a teacher whose name was Vinnette Carroll; she directed a number of Broadway shows. She kept saying to me, “You know the problem with beautiful women? They tend to rely on their beauty.” And I said, How wrong she is! I never think of myself as being beautiful. I thought, What are you talking about? I work so hard. And I did. But I learned from her how important it is to learn your craft. When all else fails, you will land on that, and that alone.
This is what Cicely shared when she was asked if she ever had to stand up to a director:
…it wasn’t too long ago! And it was because I was being asked to do something that I knew I was not going to do. It became quite an incident—though not boisterous in any way.
I said, “There isn’t anything that I find important in what you’re asking me to do.” Finally, it was worked out, but they weren’t happy about it. I did the show, and I was nominated for an Emmy. [Laughs] So you never know. I can’t go against my grain.
I loved her response to the question about her high’s and low’s during her career:
Viola asked – What would be considered your all-time career high, and what’s been the low point?
I was fired once from a play. It was a Broadway show that Sidney Poitier was directing—his first Broadway show. And one of the things I remember [in relation to] that firing was that when I was in junior high school, I was selected to do as a graduation show.
And like I said, I was so shy, I just couldn’t project. I stood there on the stage, whispering. They said to me, “We can’t hear you,” and they let me go. Well, the same thing happened on this Broadway show.
I work quite differently from anybody else: I can’t project to you until I find it within myself. And once it’s within myself, then I can talk to you. So all during the rehearsal, I was digging inside and nobody could hear me, and so I was fired. That was the low. The high point is yet to come
When did you know that you’d made it?
Oh now, that’s very interesting, Viola. I tend to speak to youngsters across the country when I’m not doing a show or a movie, and a young lady, she must have been 13 years old, asked me that question. I said to her, the day I feel that I have “made it,” I’m finished. Because that does not leave any room for further development.
Then she spoke candidly about Gems her mother has shared with her when she was rejected for a role:
Have you ever had to really fight for a role?
One day when I went out for an audition, I came home bawling. And my mother asked me what was wrong, and I told her that I didn’t get the job. She said, “Let me tell you something: What is for you in this life you’ll get; what is not for you, you will never get.” And that has carried me through my career.
When I turned down a role another actress took and was then nominated for an Oscar, I turned it down because I didn’t think that was the kind of woman I wanted to project. I have learned not to allow rejection to move me. Because after I turned down that film role, a week later I got a call for Jane Pittman.
You know we have had—I don’t have to tell you this—an incredible amount of difficulty with our choice. I always say I didn’t choose [acting], it chose me because I was minding my own business when somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Do you want to be a model?”
I said, I don’t know what that is. And they handed me a card and I went to the agency and I was hired. And then somebody said, “You know they’re looking for a young lady to play the lead role in this independent movie, and you look just like her.”
It has never been easy for us to get roles—roles of enough substance, of any substance—so when I was told about [the role of] this woman who had a number of children, unmarried, and was collecting subsistence from the city, I said that isn’t something I want to do. And so I didn’t do it. And as I said, a week later, Jane came along. What my mother told me carried me through. I don’t ever remember having a breakdown over not getting a role.
Happy Birthday Ms. Tyson you are such a lady! Head over to Elle and read the entire interview here.