ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sheree J. Wilson and Clarence Gilyard are in familiar territory.
The actors have a long-standing history working together in “Walker, Texas Ranger,” but this time it’s a different story.
Gilyard will be taking on the role of Hoke Colburn, while Wilson will play Daisy Werthan.
Each knows that there are big shoes to fill as Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” is a beloved play.
Not to mention it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning script.
It also found mega success with its 1989 film adaptation starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, which took home four Academy Awards – one for best picture and one for best actress.
Yet, that doesn’t deter the actors in wanting to make the best of it.
“I’m excited and terrified at the same time,” Wilson says. “It’s going to be great because it’s bringing Clarence and I back together for a project.”
“Driving Miss Daisy” is the story of Jewish widow Daisy Werthan and her African-American chauffeur Hoke Colburn, who slowly find trust and friendship with one another before and during the Civil Rights movement.
It is set in Atlanta around 1948. Werthan crashes her car and her son, Boolie insists that she have a driver.
Over the next 25 years, Colburn drives “Miss Daisy.” They are initially wary of each other, and Colburn puts up with the somewhat crotchety Miss Daisy with dignity. She teaches him to read, having been a teacher. Ultimately, they form a friendly bond, with Miss Daisy inviting Colburn to accompany her to a dinner for Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoke visits Miss Daisy, now age 97, in a nursing home, seeing her for one final time.
The story takes audiences on a moving journey through the years and worlds of these two very different people who find ways to bridge their differences to become close companions.
This will be Wilson’s first time with the project.
Gilyard, on the other hand, has been performing in the play for a few years.
“I was asked to do it five years ago at the Neil Simon Festival in Utah,” Gilyard says. “It was so well received that we brought it to the Smith Center in Las Vegas, (Nev.). Rick (Bugg) the artistic director of the Neil Simon Festival thought it would be something people would appreciate. It makes a lot of sense. And it’s fun to see us in a different light.”
Gilyard says the play deals with racism, yet handles the subject well.
“It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning play for a reason,” he says. “The writing is like ‘A Christmas Carol.’ If you have talent, you can’t mess it up.”
Gilyard and Wilson are also following on the heels of “Driving Miss Daisy” being on Broadway, where James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave starred in the revival through 2011.
Jones was then joined by Angela Landsbury for the Australian tour that aired on PBS as part of the “Great Performances” series in 2013.
Gilyard and Wilson are hoping to re-ignite the magic that was created during their eight seasons on “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Gilyard played Texas Ranger James Trivette, while Wilson played Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cahill.
“It’s going to be like old times,” Wilson says. “Clarence and I have had the privilege to travel to France for a ‘Walker’ reunion. We spent eight years together and became a family. It’s great to have this opportunity for audiences to see us in very different roles. Audiences fell in love with us as Alex and James, now it’s time for some more roles.”
Gilyard hopes that audiences will connect to the characters in the play. He says it’s one of the most well written plays.
“The genius of it all is that Alfred (Uhry) lived it and wrote from what he knew about being a Jew in Atlanta,” Gilyard says. “It’s funny and the play is the foundation for the film. There would have been no film without the play.”