The Rogers Revue

The Entertainment Capitol

Jayne Atkinson on Being Ann Richards

5 min read

On this edition of INTERVUE, Arena Stage in our nation’s capital is playing host to Texas Governor Ann Richards in the stage production of Ann. Ann brings light to the single term Democratic governor who became a force of nature in the world of Texas state politics. I recently talked to actress Jayne Atkinson who takes on a role in this intimate chronicle of Richards’ legacy and how she was determined to make her mark on the world.

Jayne, what drew you to the role of Gov. Ann Richards?

The call to action speech at the end. I think her life and how she handled all of the different things during the course of one day was also very similar to my life, but her opinion about how if you are going to bring children into this world you have to help the families and the parents of those children, so that child has the best shot of being here on planet Earth as well as parents and grandparents; her opinion about gun law and her passion for having women participating in government and her passion to participate in general, also her sense of humor, I love her sense of humor.

How do you describe Ann in your own words?

She was a maverick. She was a groundbreaker. She was a broad. She was a lady. She said it like she saw it. She didn’t cry over spilt milk. She was passionate about her family and other peoples families. She was passionate about making the world a better place for everyone and making sure that everyone had a place at the table with their particular point of view and experience. She didn’t always have to agree, but she was a maverick for women and she was maverick for the rainbow of the people of the United States and particularly Texas.

What’s the one thing about Gov. Ann Richards that surprised you?

The one thing that surprised me about Ann was that she had to be taught how to hug. She came, as she says, not from a touchy family and I think she had to learn over the course of her lifetime to love herself more deeply and how to open up to vulnerability and that later in life she kept growing. Unlike a lot of people when they start getting older they start to shut down and close off, she kept learning and I was so surprised and I just feel in love with her even more when I learned that.

You have played such powerful political roles such as Vice Pres. Teresa Hurst in Madame President and Sec of State Catherine Durant in House of Cards, which of those political offices was the hardest to play- VP, Secretary of State or a Governor?

Honestly, none of them. I bring to each of these kinds of authority figures, honestly my own experience in being a mom, being a wife and being a human being. What was hard to play was the Secretary of State in that I didn’t really get to show off my sense of humor and that’s what I love about playing Ann, she’s really funny.

Is this your first time performing in our Nation’s Capital? 

Yes, it is

Talk to us about the nonprofit you are involved with Running Start. I understand that there will be a fundraising event for the organization July 25th

I also want to talk about WAM Theatre and Kristen van Ginhoven, which is a non-profit too and WAM is an incredibly important influence in me doing this play because Kristen asked me if I wanted to direct it and WAM Theater’s mission statement is to bring theater to everyone, but focuses on women’s voices and it donates 15% of its proceeds to an important women organization or an organization that also supports women and children around the world. I am just very proud to have worked with Kristen all of these years and then to have had her ask me to be her co-pilot in this play.

Running Start is a non-profit that is run by Susannah Welford and she is a maverick and has worked for Ann Richards, so there is an influence there and I just think that the mission statement of Running Start is so important because it is bringing young women from around the country, high school women of all nationalities who write an essay about why they want to be a part of the program and they are brought here to D.C. it’s paid for for a week while they are mentored into experiencing their voice, experiencing other women who have run for office, what that takes and experiencing how to support each other as young women, which is very important to engender that spirit. I think in the media, in television and in movies, you just see a lot of women being very mean to each other and I think Susannah is doing an amazing job and I’m very proud to be part of it.

After the run of Ann, you’re going to be in a new NBC series called Bluff City Law with Jimmy Smits, what can learn about the new series?

It is a law firm that is set in Bluff City, which is in Memphis, and that’s where we are shooting it. You learn about the power of forgiveness and love and you also are going to be incredibly excited by the cases that the firm takes on. It’s about the underdog giving voice. It’s about the inequalities of life but when you think get to to the courtroom that’s where you really have a chance to even the playing field. It’s very inspiring. I love my character. I’m actually using Ann as my baseline personality for her, her name is Della Bedford. She does trust law and estate law, she’s the heart of the law firm. She’s the mama. She’s the balance when it comes to not only what is happening in the human politics, for example, Jimmy Smits and his daughter, played by Caitlin McGee, have a very difficult relationship, as well as when there is a quirky thing happening in a case. She’s got her finger on the pulse about why human beings do what they do and it’s just a beautifully written and inspiring television series that I think is going to knock it out of the park, and again like Ann, this television series Bluff City Law will inspire people to be better people and to be hopeful.

What can the audiences look forward to with this production?

Laugh, love, think more deeply, care more deeply, get out, vote and participate.

Thank you very much Jayne! Check out Jayne in Ann at the Kreeger Theatre at Arena Stage. Now playing until August 11th. Tickets can be purchased here, via box office or by calling 202-488-3300. For more information on Running Start in DC, head to https://runningstart.org

If you like to know more about WAM Theatre, check out https://www.wamtheatre.com and Good luck in your Tenth Season! 

Check out Jayne on her new series, Bluff City Law, premiering September 23rd on NBC