J.C. Hayward, news anchor legend of station WUSA9, is making her acting debut in Arena Stage’s “A Time to Kill,” which is based on the novel by John Grisham. Hayward plays news anchor Felicia Albright, the local reporter who is is chronicling the trial within the story. “It was a big stretch. BIG stretch!” she joked. Hayward’s role is extra special, though - she isn’t even present to perform it each night. “...my part is filmed, and you see me in these television sets reporting. They have about 10-15 television sets that are part of the set, so I come up in these television sets,” she said in a phone interview. Here, Hayward relays her experience as a first-time actress, and the preparation it took to step out of the newsroom and on to the stage.
“They called me - Arena Stage called me – and they asked me would I be interested in having a role in ‘A Time To Kill.’ After I got up off the floor, got my voice back from screaming, I told them ‘Of course!’” and they said ‘Well, we’ve decided that we want a real live reporter to play a reporter covering the trial.’” And I said “Well, I’d love to.” So, they said okay.”
“They didn’t give me a lot of time. It was like [they called me] the day before I was going to Arena Stage. Because my part was filmed, so I don’t have to go down every night to the performances because it’s show in television sets…and it was filmed and it [took] all day.”
“They emailed me the script and I didn’t sleep a wink. I was just a nervous wreck. And everybody kept saying “Well, what are you nervous about?!” I said “No, you just don’t understand, it’s different, it’s different!” because I was trying to memorize everything. Then I got an email later stating “We’ve got a new script for you,” and I went “Oh my goodness, but I already memorized that script. Now I’ve got another script.’ So I really was a nervous wreck, ‘cause I thought, you know, I had to really memorize everything.”
“My character is Felicia Albright, and she’s covering the trial. And, of course, the scene on stage is mostly inside the courtroom and the defense attorney’s home. But the parts outside of the courthouse are filmed. There’s the demonstration by the Ku Klux Klan, there’s the demonstration by the NAACP, there are press conferences that are held outside – those particular scenes are filmed.”
“My favorite part was seeing it, I think. It’s like giving birth – actually put in the work of doing it but then actually seeing it. I wanted to scream! The first night I was not in the Playbill, I was not in the book because I was a last minute decision. So I was an insert, so I had to notify everybody that was seated around me, “I’m the insert. I’m the insert.” And they would go “Huh?”
“In your book – I’m the insert.”
“Oh!” So they got excited then. “Oh wow - she’s seated next to us.” It was fun. I was up in the balcony. It just was fun. You know how in life you just have those moments where you just are gleefully happy, and something that is so different and so new from what you are accustomed to.”
“The question is, if it goes and when it goes to Broadway, will I be going with it? And will I be nominated for a Tony?
At this point in my career, it’s a highlight.”
A Time to Kill. Through June 19 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Visit www.arenastage.org or call 202-488-3300.