James Earl Jones' long pursuit of "contentment"

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In this image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates, James Earl Jones, from left, Kristine Nielsen and Marc Damon Johnson appear in a scene from "You Can’t Take It With You," performing at the Longacre Theatre in New York. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Richards Associates, Joan Marcus)
AP

Although James Earl Jones prefers not to read his own press, his role in a new Broadway revival is a major critical success, a testament to Jones and the longevity of a Broadway career that began in 1957.

While his career has been as long as it has been successful, he's still grateful when opportunity comes knocking, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Wax.

"By taking one step at a time, I've found great treasures," Jones said. "Every step I take."

James Earl Jones' latest step is the role of the patriarch in "You Can't Take it with You." The Broadway revival of the 1937 Pulitzer Prize winning play is about a family fraught with comedic and endearing dysfunction.

It's a big production and requires a lot physically from Jones.

"We're all in it together," he said. "Boy are we in it together. It's like being in orbit of planets. And nobody bumps into each other."

He's been an explosive performer since winning his first Tony Award 45 years ago in "The Great White Hope."

A year later he took home the Golden Globe as "Most Promising Newcomer" in the film.

Though appearing nearly every year since, on screens both big and small, Jones said no movie role has been career defining.

"I don't think I've done the film that I was meant to do if I was meant to be a film actor," he said. "I haven't come near that yet."

Perhaps that's because the versatile stage performer is best known to moviegoers by his voice.

He played Darth Vader in "Star Wars" and Mufasa in "The Lion King."

"He does a lot of dads, doesn't he?" Jones said laughing at himself. "'I'm your father, Luke.' I mean for crying out loud."

Ironically, despite all of the fathers he's played, Jones' relationship with his own father was estranged.

"He had nothing to do with my life, really because there was a separation between my mother and him," Jones explained. "Even between my mother and my grandmother. I was raised by my grandparents."

For Jones - fatherhood is too precious a role to pass up.

Today he works alongside his son, Flynn, who is also his assistant.

"Finally, you see, when a child is born, mom is the main pal, until that day when you say 'let's go outside and play catch,' then suddenly pop comes into focus," he said. "With me it was 'let's go work together.'"

Now 83 years old and playing a grandfather -- Jones' distinctive, resonant bass, still booms.

But that voice -- famous throughout the world -- was silent for much of his childhood.

"I had an English teacher who discovered I wrote poetry, secretly, and he said 'if you like words that much, James, you ought to be able to say them out loud,'" Jones explained.

To control his stammer, Jones turned to Shakespeare.

"If I hadn't been a stutterer, I would never have been an actor," he said.

Backstage his script is always within reach because the words remain a career-long struggle.

"I mangle a word or two every night because the consonants get into a fight with the vowels," he admitted.

After a successful seven decades -- James Earl Jones hasn't stopped doing the work; navigating a legendary career on stage and screen with humble satisfaction.

"It's just about being content, that's all," he said. "I don't know what the pursuit of happiness is. What do you mean pursuit of happiness? No, contentment. If that doesn't put a glow on your face, nothing really will."

Eight shows a week at 83 years old hasn't been a problem for Jones.

In fact, he said a day off just leaves him missing "the kids" in the cast.