‘Tina’ star Daniel J. Watts says Ike Turner ‘has paid his dues’
It’s rough playing a wife-beating coke addict, even one who was a musical genius. Just ask Daniel J. Watts, who finds himself defending Ike Turner.
“Someone asked me, ‘How do you reconcile playing this role every night?’ ” the actor tells The Post. “Well, you can’t tell Tina’s story without Ike — there’s a big, 16-year hole!”
Over breakfast near the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, home to “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” the soft-spoken 37-year-old with the easy smile seems as unlike Ike as you can get. It’s a lot easier to imagine him as Sammy Davis Jr., the other musical legend he was playing in Los Angeles when the Turner tuner’s people came calling.
“Crazy, right?” Watts says. “Everyone loves Sammy, but no one says, ‘I love Ike.’ I went from playing the most beloved entertainer of all time to one of the most hated . . . and, perhaps, most misunderstood.”
Watts believes it was “Tina” star Adrienne Warren, then burning up the stage in London, who put him on the short list for Broadway. They met 10 years ago, when they did “The Wiz” at City Center, and Watts still calls her “my baby sis.” An audition and two callbacks later, he got the gig, and immersed himself in the life of Ike.
From the 1999 memoir “Takin’ Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner,” Watts discovered a man who, like himself, grew up in the rural South. But being the only black child in his third-grade North Carolina class in the ’80s was easy compared with growing up in the Jim Crow South, where Turner came of age in the 1930s.
“His father was ‘courting’ a white woman and a mob beat him to within an inch of his life,” Watts says. “Ike said it took him two years to die.”
Turner was 6 or 7 at the time. As he wrote in his memoir, a neighbor started paying him to feed her chickens on his way to school — and invited him into her house, to molest him.
Watts believes that those early sexual experiences shaped and shadowed Turner’s life. He was married at least four times before meeting and wedding Anna Mae Bullock, the singer he renamed Tina. They met in St. Louis, where Turner was a very busy man.
“Ike had the keys to different women’s houses all over St. Louis,” Watts says. “He said that at one point he had, like, 38 sets of keys!”
‘You can’t tell Tina’s story without Ike — there’s a big, 16-year hole!’
Determined to dig deeper, the actor flew into Memphis, Tenn., and drove past cotton fields to Clarksdale, Miss., where Turner’s old house is still standing. “Someone else is living there and they have a ‘Beware of dog’ sign,” Watts says of 304 Washington St., “so I didn’t go over and knock and say, ‘Can I look around?’ ”
But the town does have a blues museum, and the plaque out front honors Turner. By the time he died, in 2007 at age 76, he’d won five Grammys, and his 1951 single “Rocket 88” was finally recognized as the first recorded blast of rock ’n’ roll. Nevertheless, Watts says, “as a black man in America, even if Ike was a saint, he’d never have been able to have the career Elvis had.”
In time, drugs took their toll. “Ike got hooked on cocaine when he realized he could stay up and be more productive,” Watts says. “Tina was never interested,” though she popped Valium to escape their marriage.
Her star rose when she left him, becoming a powerhouse on her own. Her memoir-turned-movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” wrecked what was left of Turner’s career and reputation, unjustly or not.
“I think Ike has paid his dues,” Watts says, and suspects Tina feels the same. He says director Phyllida Lloyd told him about the singer’s response when she saw the musical in London.
“Tina got misty,” he says. “She said, ‘Ike would have loved to have seen this.’ ”
Source : Barbara Hoffman Link