Actors don't often get a second chance to play a favorite role, so Nikki E. Walker is very grateful to have another shot at the central character in Lynn Nottage's play "Intimate Apparel."

Esther is a young African-American woman who wonders if she can expect to find love while she is pursuing her dream to become an independent businesswoman in 1905 New York City.

Walker explored the role in an Indiana regional theater version almost a decade ago, but hopes to go deeper into the character in the production running at the Westport Country Playhouse through Saturday, Nov. 1.

"I have the chance to see it in a new light. It is a wonderful lesson in growth and love," Walker said during a recent rehearsal break. "When I did the play eight years ago, I had never been in love, so I didn't know what that took. ... Now I understand the amount of courage it took for Esther to take that step -- the courage to fall in love.

"I think I have more wisdom now. What is that thing they say? `Youth is wasted on the young,' "

Although the performer believes it is impossible to describe all of the factors that go into the creation of a person on stage, she is always inspired by artists she admires.

"Growing up, I loved Cicely Tyson. I wanted to be her so badly," she said of landmark performances such as "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."

"When I'm working on something I do think, `How would Cicely Tyson have done this?' "

Walker has been thrilled by Tyson's recent Tony-winning resurgence in the hit Broadway production of "The Trip to Bountiful," which has just reopened in Los Angeles.

Walker laughed about the silly discussion of Tyson's "real age" when she opened on Broadway -- some said 79, others said 87.

"Whatever age she is, I hope I'm capable of doing the same thing when I am that age -- just keep getting better and better," she said.

The lifelong quest of an actor to learn and improve hit home for Walker when the late, great Jessica Tandy sat in on one of her acting classes. The legendary artist didn't just watch the class, but took an active part in it, indicating to Walker that "she didn't think she already knew everything."

Returning to "Intimate Apparel" has reinforced Walker's belief in always being able to find room for improvement in a project and a career.

"If you reach a point where you think you know everything, it's time to go, because you know nothing," Walker said.

Walker is certain she will feel stage fright before every performance of "Intimate Apparel" because that's another sign that she has important work to do.

"When you doubt whether or not you should do a role, that means you have to do it. If you walk away, you won't grow and learn," she said.

jmeyers@ctpost.com; Twitter: @joesview

Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court. Through Saturday, Nov. 1. $70-$30. 203-227-4177. www.westportplayhouse.org.