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At 90, Actress Cicely Tyson Feels There's More Work to Do

  • Associated Press

FILE - Cicely Tyson attends the The Paley Center Tribute to African-American Achievements in Television at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, May 13, 2015.

FILE - Cicely Tyson attends the The Paley Center Tribute to African-American Achievements in Television at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, May 13, 2015.

She was married to Miles Davis and shared the screen with Elizabeth Taylor. She's won a Tony and an Emmy and has been nominated for an Academy Award. But even at 90, Cicely Tyson says her life's work isn't done.

Still, she's honored to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Alliance for Women in Media at its 40th annual Gracies Awards ceremony on Tuesday in Beverly Hills.

"I actually feel like I have not really achieved that much,'' Tyson said. "So I look at it as just encouragement to keep going.''

The actress spoke with The Associated Press recently, reflecting on her 60-year career and sharing plans for what's next.

AP: What keeps acting interesting for you?

Tyson: I look at every role as a person that I'm meeting for the first time, and that allows me - because of the curiosity that I've always had since I was a child, and thank God I still have it - to delve into the personality, to find out who they really are. And once I can do that, it gives me some assurance that I can honestly project the character of the person.

AP: Did you always want to be an entertainer?

Tyson: As a child, my father taught the three of us - he had a boy and two girls - to sing. So we sang and were always performing in church. ... I never thought of it as anything special. Except once when my sister and I were supposed to perform together. She didn't want to go because she didn't like the song that was chosen for us to sing. So I went by myself, and it ended up that they put me on a chair and they lifted the chair into the air and they marched all around the church with me on it. I couldn't wait to get home and tell my mother and my sister and my father. I never forgot that moment.

AP: What attracts you to a role?

Tyson: Well, either my skin tingles or my stomach churns. I've said that from the beginning of my career. It happens when I read a script. When I read a script, either my skin tingles or my stomach churns. If my stomach churns, I know it's not for me. When my skin tingles, I can't wait. It's that simple with me.

AP: Do you ever think about retirement?

Tyson: When I saw Geraldine (Page) do "Trip to Bountiful'' ... I saw her name on the billboard and I've always been a fan of hers, so I went in and saw it. When I left the theater I went right to my agent's home and I said, "You get me my 'Trip to Bountiful' and I will retire.'' He looked at me and he laughed, OK? And every now and then I would run into him and say, "Where's my 'Trip to Bountiful?''' Well 26 years later - you know, I say it, and I don't really believe it, but it happened - 26 years later I received a call (for a meeting with) Hallie Foote, the daughter of (playwright) Horton Foote. ... She told me that she was thinking of doing one of her father's plays, "Trip to Bountiful,'' with a black cast, and that her father had so much respect for me and my work that she knew that I was the only person he felt would be able to play it. ... I literally fell off the chair.

AP: You won the 2013 Tony Award for that performance. You got what you asked for, but are you retired?

Tyson: It was very rewarding, the whole experience, and, for me, very gratifying. I did not expect the "Trip to Bountiful.'' I was just asking for one more good role. So I've been so blessed. I said, "Just one more good role and I'll retire!'' But you see where I am now? I'm getting ready to do "The Gin Game'' (on Broadway) with James Earl Jones in the fall.