For eight seasons beginning in 1993, Sheree J. Wilson and Clarence Gilyard Jr. rounded up the bad guys alongside Chuck Norris in the popular CBS action-adventure show "Walker, Texas Ranger." At the conclusion of the series, Wilson and Gilyard went their separate ways but have reunited in recent years for occasional stage performances of "Driving Miss Daisy."
Fittingly, perhaps, the pair return to Texas (Richardson and Corsicana) to showcase their theatrical talents in April (see www.shereejwilson.com for dates).
"We've trekked all across the country doing the play, and it's just been a blast working with Clarence again," said Wilson from Los Angeles. "The role (of chauffeur Hoke Colburn) could have been written for him he's so good in it. I remember when we first did rehearsals, I was so captivated by his performance that I nearly forgot I was in the play too!"
Gilyard was involved in the production a few years before inviting his old friend onboard and offered one suggestion when she signed on.
"I had seen Jessica Tandy in the original movie when it first came out, and she was brilliant," recalled Wilson. "But Clarence advised against watching it again when I was preparing for the role. It was great advice because I had to find my own voice for Daisy and make her my own rather than copying someone else."
Gilyard, who teaches acting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, didn't immediately think of his former co-star for the role of Daisy.
"Sheree is so young and vital, and the character is much older," he said from Las Vegas. "But I knew she was a spark and real spunky like the Miss Daisy character and would have fun with it. She's unique, funny, beautiful and always has ideas to add."
In addition to Tandy, the 1989 film (based on Alfred Uhry's play) starred Morgan Freeman as the chauffeur. But the play, according to Gilyard, has a different tone.
"It has its own rhythms with characters being broad, iconic and is much funnier than the film," he noted. "Wherever we perform, the audience is enthusiastic, and the house is full."
Each production, however, usually only runs no more than a couple of performances in each city.
"We send in our advance team to get everything set up, then we come in, do the shows and can quickly return to our lives."
Gilyard and Wilson first worked together on the "Walker" set.
"I felt like the luckiest woman on the planet getting to work in such a diverse series, with such a great cast, and for such a long run," said Wilson. "Each week was a new adventure: one episode I'm landing in a 747, then I'd be whitewater rafting, and the next I'm being chased by a bear."
And then there was Chuck Norris.
"People would get so excited to work with him, especially the young actors and stuntmen," she said. "When doing a fight sequence, Chuck would point to a line and tell them not to cross over it because he was doing a roundhouse kick. Sure enough, with the adrenalin rush in a fight scene, they'd sometimes cross that line and 'boom!' he's clipped them in the head. He would feel so bad about it, but Chuck was so precise. He is the real deal!"
Prior to "Walker," Wilson and Gilyard co-starred separately in two popular series. Wilson was a regular for several seasons in "Dallas," her femme fatale character coming to a rather sticky end in 1991.
"I was pregnant with my first child and asked to be killed off in grand fashion," recalled Wilson. "My final scene was filmed in slow motion and quite a dramatic way to end my April Stevens character."
From 1989 to 1993, Gilyard worked in "Matlock" with Andy Griffith, a boyhood TV hero for young Clarence.
"Before 'Matlock,' I really struggled with the comedy aspect of acting," said Gilyard. "I stuck to Andy like glue during the four years we worked together, and he taught me so much. Anything I do comedic, I owe to working with him."
Since "Walker," teaching duties have consumed much of Gilyard's time, although both he and Wilson remain active in Hollywood. Wilson says they look forward to presenting more "Driving Miss Daisy" performances throughout 2018.
"We head out on tour several times throughout the year for a few days then return back home for Clarence to teach and for my other projects," she says. "It's a great way to showcase this beautiful play to audiences across the country."
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns and interviews for more than 700 newspapers and magazines.
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