LaTanya Richardson Jackson is every woman. She's your mother, sister, homegirl and auntie. Perhaps it's the southern hospitality in her smile or her ability to tell it like it is with tenderness and strength that leaves you with the naked truth without hurting your feelings. Whatever it is this southern belle brings her spirit to the Broadway stage in August Wilson's play "Jack Turner's Come and Gone." As Bertha Holly, a domesticated wife who is loveable yet strident in her charge as the woman of the house, Jackson masters the subtlety of a woman's power. ESSENCE.com caught up with the theater stalwart to discuss why performing live is the truth, why Black folks should stop worrying about their 40 acres and a mule, and why she loves her man.
ESSENCE.COM: Although you're a veteran actress and have done numerous plays, "Jack Turner's Come and Gone" marks your Broadway debut. How does theater keep you on your acting P's & Q's?
LATANYA RICHARDSON JACKSON: I guess it's not so much about the P's and Q's as it is the relation to autonomy, because theater exists in its own sphere. The theater is the reason I am an actress. From the moment I saw "Camelot" as a kid the organic inclination of performing before a live audience is raw and visceral. Once you're out there there's no yelling cut or any such thing as a do-over because that moment has passed and you're in it as it's happened and gone sharing it with everyone. It's the truth. If you can make it in theater you can make it anywhere.
ESSENCE.COM: Bertha Holly, your character, had a subtle strength. How do you think the Black women of the early 1900's differed from today's sisters?
JACKSON: I think they are pretty much the same. Look at Michelle Obama. Everyone keeps making a big deal about her arms begin exposed, but don't get it twisted: her arms are out for a reason. Black women have had those arms forever—lifting, picking cotton, toting and carrying babies. August Wilson wrote about the Black women he knew about and that was the one who had to hold it all together and still have enough insight to know when to be subtle and firm. For me, yesterday's Bertha is what she is today. I know that I am. I'm still in the middle of trying to hold it together.
ESSENCE.COM: Thank you for saying that because some Black men complain that Black women are sometimes too strong and that we need to learn how to fall back. Why do you think that is?
JACKSON: I don't know, but we often do young Black men a disservice as mothers sometimes by not helping them understand what their role is as men in relations to women by telling them silly things like, "You'll never love another woman like me." We shouldn't be telling him stuff like that because that's not going to help him. It's so deep because we are so damaged and not recognizable as ourselves and in our culture and Blackness. Folks are always talking about 40 acres and a mule but what we need is some psychoanalysis. Forget 40 acres in a mule, sign all of us up for some shrinks so we can get ourselves right by reflecting and truly learning ourselves.
ESSENCE.COM: By the way, we think you've done just fine holding it down for you and your family, especially after 29 years of marriage to your husband, Sam Jackson. After all these years what do you believe is the true meaning of love?
JACKSON: When I think about what love is I think about when he's away and when I think about him my whole body smiles; when I look at my daughter and she's okay or just watch Sam and see how he really works to take care of me and her even still at 26 years old. I think about all the things that we've shared up until this point and how we're still able to laugh, enjoy ourselves or even be in different rooms and be okay. The fact that he cares about what's going on in the world and how that's going to affect us as a family and what our responsibility is as a family to make this world a better place—I know what love is.
Check out LaTanya Richardson Jackson in August Wilson's "Jack Turner's Come and Gone" at New York's Belasco Theatre.