She’s been called “the high priestess of New York theater” and won two Emmys for her TV work. But at heart, Cherry Jones is still the same small-town girl who grew up in Paris, Tennessee. “It’s a warm, loving place,” Cherry, 63, shares with Closer.

“People volunteer together and do everything they can to make the community better — so they don’t talk politics! They just respect one another.” Although she no longer lives there, Cherry and her wife of nearly five years, filmmaker Sophie Huber, 48, enjoy visiting the actress’ quaint hometown.

“People may disagree, but we all want children to have safe places to grow up and people to have enough to eat,” says the star of the Apple TV+ miniseries Defending Jacob. “If we concentrate on that, we’ll get to be friends again!” 

In Defending Jacob, you play a lawyer who represents a teen accused of murder. What drew you to the role? 

“My mother always said to my sister and me that our parents would love us unconditionally, no matter what. As a small child I would say, ‘What if I murdered someone?’ My mother would always look at me and say, ‘Unconditionally.’ That’s the theme of this.”

You’ve been in a lot of big movies, but most people know you for playing the U.S. president on 24.

“The first day, I was trembling and thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to pull this off?’ But the entire crew was deferential to me because I was the president! If everyone around you is acting like you are the character, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to pull off, because they gave me confidence. Every time I see the Oval Office now, I think, ‘Aww, I miss my office!'”

You were convincing! Has there been any talk of a 24 sequel or another movie? 

“If there were a film, I’m sure I would not be involved; they would move on to a whole other era of Jack Bauer. I guess [Allison Taylor is] under house arrest in Colorado on a ranch someplace. I don’t know what happened to that president!”

You’ve done quite a few thrillers. What about them appeals to you? 

“Have I been in … ? I guess I have: Signs, The Perfect Storm. Well, they’re rip-roaring good tales! Anything that keeps someone on the edge of their seat is always what you want to be in, right? Even in theater. I did a play called Doubt, and five minutes into it the entire audience would be leaning forward, so your work is already halfway done.”

You won your second Tony for Doubt. How did you feel when Meryl Streep did the film? 

“It was so different, because the play was like a powder keg — just four people, no children. I appreciated so much of what they did in the film, and of course Meryl was glorious as Sister Aloysius. But I felt the play was better than the film! That’s just me being a theater girl. I think it’s more dynamic.”

You’ve won two Tonys (The Heiress and Doubt) and two Emmys (24 and The Handmaid’s Tale). What was that like? 

“Most actors will tell you they’re sort of out-of-body experiences, because you don’t expect them to call your name. When I won for The Handmaid’s Tale, I truly had not planned anything to say, which is part of the reason I thanked Elizabeth Olsen instead of Elisabeth Moss, and the whole audience sort of roared!”

You’ve had a lot of success in film and TV, but came to fame onstage. What’s the difference between them for you? 

“Well, the stage is my home. It’s where I grew up, it’s the craft I know best. I feel like I’m still learning television and film, I really am. Finally, after doing it for 20 years, I’m starting to realize the drill.”

Putting all the world’s craziness now aside, how is this time in your life? 

“In a way, it’s my favorite. I’ve had many glorious eras, but I’m enjoying this part from the position of having most of my life behind me. Now I just want to figure out ways to help these generations behind me, because we’re in dire straits. It’s got to be all hands on deck that are positive, and older people at least have a lot of experience.”

How did you meet your wife, Sophie? 

“I moved into a house in L.A. that had several apartments in it. Sophie was in one of those, and we got to be great, dear friends. Several years later, we became more than just friends and then we married in 2015.”

Cherry Jones, Sophie Huber
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Have you gotten closer during this time? 

“We’re with my sister and her husband, and we all have just folded in together perfectly. We really enjoy each other’s company, and also our private time. By day, we each have a little space that is ours. Sophie’s working on a script, my sister’s writing for the organization she works for and my brother-in-law is always out in the yard cutting and sewing things. I’m usually on the back porch reading and listening to podcasts, and I will admit to making a few pot holders along the way!”

Any plans to work with Sophie? 

“No, that hasn’t come up. But I’ll be on the porch, she’ll send me pages to read and then we talk about it. I feel like she’s including me, so that’s been a lot of fun.”

Not a lot of people came out as gay when you did. Why did you choose to?

“I had always been out to my colleagues and my family, but nobody cares unless you’re a public person. I was doing an interview and this woman asked about my partner, in a way that it was clear she knew I was gay. In my mind I saw a blinking neon sign saying, ‘This is it!’ I just answered, and it was effortless. It was 1995, and all the hard work had come long before that, with brave LGBTQ people marching and coming out when it was not safe or easy.”

You’ve said you had “the happiest breakup” with actress Sarah Paulson, whom you dated for much of the 2000s. What did you learn from that relationship? 

“I never really talk about previous relationships, but in general, the things I’ve come away with are to just be open, honest and always have your love’s best interest at heart. You have their backs.”

Is there anything on your bucket list? 

“Just to help people who need help, honest to God. I don’t know that I do it well, but that’s what I hope to be able to do.”

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