BWW Interviews: WICKED Tour's Walker Jones Shares Thoughts and Feeling about Playing The Wizard
Wicked has been wowing audiences all over the world. The show sells out wherever it goes and people can't seem to get enough of it. Many have fulfilled the role of the Wizard and made their marks. Walker Jones is one of the lucky ones to be in the dream role and is currently touring throughout North America. Broadway World had a chance to chat with Walker in preparation for Wicked's visit to San Antonio and the Majestic Theatre.Why don't you tell everyone a little bit more about yourself?
When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
I grew up mostly in Richmond, Virginia. I remember the exact moment in 2nd grade during a school play when I got bitten by the acting bug. I was doing a skit and I recognized that I was making people laugh and it felt good to do that. In the middle of the skit I recognized that if I did things a certain way they would laugh more and that's very dangerous for a kid. So a light went on in my head and as I kid I enjoyed skits and plays and I guess it was giving me license to act out in a safe way. Then when the time came I went to Boston University for their theater program. It was a really great theater program. I lived in Boston for a while, did some theater and plenty of other stuff busing tables and waiting tables and working in all kinds of jobs . Then at a certain point it just seemed that I needed to kick it up a bit and I was able to go to the Yale School of Drama. I did a grad program when I was about 30 years old and that definitely took me to another level. Then after that I moved to New York and that was a whole beginning of working in off-Broadway and regional theater and theater in New York. It's been ongoing and I've I've taken breaks in my life like a little sabbatical from the theater world and it's been very good for me. I went to India at one point to study yoga and meditation. That actually is a very valuable part of my studies because it really infuses everything that I do with the grounded-ness and mindfulness and positive energy.
You've been in a lot of shows over the years, what are some of your favorite shows that you've done other than Wicked?
The first one that comes to mind is a play called The Good German. I did that in New York and the role was so great. It was a nerdy clerk in an office in the Nazi Party during the time of World War II. He doesn't want to get involved with anything and as the play goes on, he is given more and more responsibility to support the work of the Nazi Party. It's a battle within himself in terms of the cost of what he's being asked to oversee and do working against his recognition of what the true morality is. That was a great play. Then I'd also have to say I've done a few plays with public theater in New York; Shakespeare in the Park. Those were just shear joys to work with that level of creativity. Then one more that pops into my mind; I did a wonderful version of Molière's Scapin with Stanley Tucci playing the role of Scapin. We had a great group of people. Actually Mary Testa was in that production as well and just opened two nights ago on Broadway as Madame Morrible in the Broadway production of Wicked. We're still in touch. It's a great question. I love looking back and seeing what are the highlights along the way.
When did you start with Wicked?
I just passed my one year anniversary of being with Wicked. I went to Orlando last year and arrived on February 25th. I began my rehearsals. My first performance as the wizard was on March 13th. So when we come to San Antonio, our official opening is March 13th, that's a Thursday, that will be myone year anniversary performing the role of the Wizard of Oz in Wicked.
What do you enjoy most about playing the Wizard?
The first thing that popped into my head was that I get to be with both cast and crew that is so incredible. I'm so inspired by the actors that I work with night after night. I get to hear these people who are at the top of their game just cranking it out and singing their faces off and I'm so incredibly inspired especially by our Glinda and our Elphaba. Eight shows a week, they are giving us 150 percent. Isn't it funny how one of the greatest things about playing the wizard for me is not necessarily just playing the wizard but it's actually being in the vicinity of huge, huge talent? It's just so wonderful. And if I put the focus on myself, I like the opportunity to create this character which is a revisionist's take on what we grew up with. I grew up with the 1939 film of the Wizard of Oz and the lovable Frank Morgan was the wizard and at one time during the rehearsal process, Stephen Schwartz asked me to bring more of that Frank Morgan quality into the work. That was really interesting. Still I have to say that in this revisionist take on the Wizard of Oz, there are aspects of the wizard that are darker than what we grew up with. I have to figure out how to reconcile the darker very complicated human quest for power that goes on with the wizard with the lovable where he says, "Oh no my dear, I'm not a bad man just a bad wizard." In this play, I definitely have kids come up to me after the show and they say, "You're a bad man." Even my own brother came after the show and said, "Wow, you're evil." I beg to differ. I don't think he's evil, I think he's a bit deluded. He's cruising for a bruising in terms of his ego and in terms of what integrity really means. I think that's one of the running themes in the show. What is it to have values and morals and integrity? The Wizard at one point speaks about the word "truth." He says to Elphaba, "Come on -- the truth is not a thing of fact or reason. The truth is just what everyone agrees on." That's a cynical take on it. So the question becomes, "What is the truth for you? Are you going to go through life trying to manipulate and get to the top and stay at the top of the ladder by any means?" In our world of Wicked there is politics going on whether in the school system or the entire land of Oz that is cut throat and vicious. I love that that's reflected in our play. Hopefully the question is, "Who is going to take a stand for true honor and values that have to do with integrity and generosity?" It's not necessarily the people that we think would be taking that stand. The show Wicked turns that around. Everything we once believed is wicked is turned on its head. In the play it's a matter of (seeing) the people of the land that are controlled by the media there. They're told who is wicked and who is good. They believe it and they swallow it like that. It's interesting in this day and age. With our social media and so much information coming at us, what are we really believing in terms of everything that's being said to us.
Did you read the Wicked book?
I started to read the book and it was not quite our play. Our play is based on Gregory Maguire's books. I decided at a certain point that I would like to create the character based on what I'm getting out of this script that we're working with. I made the choice not to read the book yet. I think maybe when I come off the play I'll give myself the luxury of reading the book. There are things that happen in the books that absolutely do not happen in our play. In a way our Wicked is a revisionist's version of the revisionist's version of The Wizard of Oz. Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman, are so brilliant in the way that they come from the heart. Stephen has such a wit and sense of humor and the lyrics are incredible. Then you get to these moments that are so deep from the heart of this character who has been emotionally abandoned by her father. She's been rejected by everyone that she needs and yet she feels that some way within herself there's something that might be redeemable -- that she might have a chance to be redeemable, at living a life of purpose and fulfillment. When she goes to meet the Wizard and he really wants to meet me she says, "This gift or this curse I have inside -- maybe at last I'll know why." Stephen goes to the heart of that. Then Winnie Holzman who wrote My So Called Life -- they bring their incredible writing talents and their sensitivities to this story and then reinvent it in a way that makes it so accessible to so many age groups. If you have kids or nieces or nephews or relationships with kids that are in high school or middle school, they relate to this story so well. For people like me, who are older, it's almost like a playback of our high school years --like who was popular and who was the "in" crowd. I just remember so much what it felt like to be put down by the in crowd. That's called bullying.. In this day and age we hear about it a bit more and even though we are hearing about it in the media, it's still going on. So, a play like this is tuning in to some amazing things that are relevant today. It's a heart's journey, too. I have met people who have seen the play 40 times and even some who have seen it 60 times. There are some people who have gone through that in their own lives. They come to see Wicked and it gives them a kind of a strength and a hope because they see this story about Elphaba that is incredibly bullied. She comes through it. It's very hard for her at times but she comes through it a stronger person. I think it's inspiring for anybody and like I said, I was one of those kids. I think probably in some way, a good portion of us were bullied at one point or another in school because that's how kids are trying to stay on top.
Everyone's trying to find their way in the world and they don't know how to go about it.
I absolutely agree, Kathy, and I think it's also very interesting that the so called bullies in the play like Fiyero could be...he's not exactly a bully but he's king of the domain. He knows that and he's using it. But he goes to a deeper place in terms of recognizing where true value is and Glinda too. That's an incredible journey: She is really self-involved and only concerned with her own needsand then through the journey of the play, what she learns from Elphaba. What she wants to become at the end of the play is Glinda the Good not just in name only but indeed. The journey for all kinds of people is happening.
If you had not gotten into show business, what do you think you would have done?
Oh, good question. Well, you know, if it weren't for the performing arts I think it might be in something like the healing arts in some way. I don't know if it would be our western medicine per say, I don't know that I would go to medical school but the thing about healing, there are so many ways going about healing. To tell you the truth, psychology I thought was always fascinating. What makes people tick? What supports a healthy mind? And there's one more thing that I wanted to say. I have a great fondness for the elder community, for senior citizens. I think that was because I had a really great relationship with my foster grandmother. This is a woman who took my mom in as a foster child. As my foster grandmother got older, we spent a good amount of time together. We were very good friends and I saw all her friends. I would help to create events for them. I recognized how important it was to value our senior communities. In the past years, I've done some work almost like music therapy with senior citizens and I really like that. That's something that I could see myself plugging into.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about getting into show business?
Some people hear that question and they say, "Oh, don't do it. If there's anything else you can do, do that." I always hated hearing that. What I would say it that you'll figure it out. If you want it, if it inspires you, it's the most fun in the world to explore the performing arts whether you're a musician, a dancer or an actor.Find great teachers that inspire you. Find opportunities to do the work in a way that is really uplifting to your heart and soul. And if it's not uplifting to your heart and soul, then at that point, ask some questions like,"Is there something else that I should be doing?" That being said, the whole commercial pursuit of performing can be challenging. It's not going to feel like a sweet ride. You'll be confronted with the greatest fears and the greatest scares and also the greatest joys and the greatest triumphs. If it's in your blood, find good teachers. That's what I say bottom line is.
Tickets are still available by going to the Majestic's website. Don't miss out on Wicked's limited run from March 12-30, 2014. A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats will be held for Wicked. Two and one-half hours prior to each performance, people who present themselves at the Majestic Theatre box office will have their names placed in a lottery drum; thirty minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only. This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a limit of two tickets per person. Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting their entry form and, if chosen, when purchasing tickets.
The Majestic Theatre in San Antonio was built in 1929 and has a seating capacity of 2,264. The Majestic is a National Historic Landmark and has a wide variety of concerts, performing arts attractions and Broadway in San Antonio.