St. John's Confidential File
MSJ: Juanita even after all these years I still hear that special excitement in your voice when speaking about working in films or doing a stage production. What is it about performing that seems to fill you with energy and excitement even referencing a possible show or film job?
JM: Oh, that’s simple! That’s who I am! I am an actor and my life and job is creating characters which explain life in a way that makes it all seem worthwhile. And “age” should have nothing to do with it. If you can get on that stage and make an audience take a journey of your kind of truth that you are responsible in creating, then you’ve done your job well. And it’s the same when you’re on camera which in many ways demands subtlety and a need to control the art of listening to single word being directed at you from another actor’s character. Kate Hepburn, Marlon Brando, John Barrymore, Dorothy Dandridge, Ethel Waters, I could go on Forever.
MSJ: In your opinion were Afro American actors more artistically or creatively prepared to perform than those of today because of the technology being used i.e., camera and a mere audience without microphones lining the footlights magnifying the speaking voice?
JM: I’m saying that you really had to know and understand your craft and the true essence of your character to be believable. I truly believe it was the golden age for actors as well as those of color. You were forced to think about what you were doing in front of an audience or camera. Today, there are far too many young actors who simply stand in front of a camera not having the slightest idea why they are they. It results in their giving a one dimensional performance and sadly the audience buys because they don’t know any better. We see more cartoon characters on TV and unfortunately, when watching a film. When watching James Edwards in a film, you believed him or viewing James Dean, truth hit you square in the face and it felt good. Sidney Poitier is another good example of an actor who knew and understood the power of his craft. Nothing was overdone or cartoonish; every moment watching him was real because he knew how to make you feel what his character represented at a special moment. And when that happens, it is absolute magic!
MSJ: When you were playing that role of a Black American mother with a very fair complexioned daughter in “Imitation of Life” was it difficult relating to the character?
JM: You must remember that it was a different time in our country as well as the world. It was a time when segregation and all the backward racial issues were beginning to capture the headlines. And films like that forced one to understand how stupid and cruel it is to persecute another human being because of his or her color. Home of the Brave and Imitation of Life were tremendous learning vehicles, especially for young people. Yes, it was a challenge but, it was also a learning experience for me, as well.
MSJ: Then too, you received an Oscar nomination.
JM: And it was one of the most exciting moments of my life being honored in this way.
MSJ: You’ve been around a long time; do you feel you have changed much through the years?
JM: Oh, I hope so. I’m a wiser and a more considerate woman or human being as the years pass. I enjoy being at home observing the madness that I used to enjoy being a part of when I was struggling to get that special role in a film or play. And I think that I laugh more and it absolutely feels fantastic. After all, it means I’m still alive!
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