Richard Thomas Returns to Charlotte with “To Kill a Mockingbird”
The iconic actor talks about portraying the iconic Atticus Finch with Page Leggett
Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird has been called “the most successful American play in Broadway history.”
The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center has brought the powerhouse play to the Belk Theater this week as part of its Broadway Lights series. Legendary actor Richard Thomas (The Waltons, Ozark, Twelve Angry Men) brings the iconic Atticus Finch to life. The show opened Tuesday and runs through Sunday, July 31. Tickets are on sale now.
Writer Page Leggett spoke with Thomas about the role, the message of the book and the play and his impressions of Charlotte.
I read that you didn’t rewatch the movie To Kill A Mockingbird in preparation for playing Atticus. How did you prepare?
Right. Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation is not an adaptation of the movie. It’s an adaptation of the novel. I love that movie and I remember it well, and I didn’t not see it on purpose. I just felt that once I had reread the novel, that was just unnecessary.
However, now that we’re well into it, I’ll probably take a look at it again. I love the film and I love all the performances and of course, you know, the wonderful Mary Bradham – who played Scout in the movie – is our terrible, racist Mrs. Dubose in the play. So, I really want to watch the picture, in part, to see Mary’s performance now that I’m working with her.
I have also read that Aaron Sorkin, in his adaptation, made Atticus a more fully human, less on-a-pedestal sort of character. Is that true?
A lot of people have said to me: What does it feel like to be playing an icon?
As I’ve said before, icons are unplayable. You can’t play an icon; you can just play a person. And I mean, in the novel, Atticus is very much a real man with real issues and problems he’s dealing with, including raising his children.
In the novel, Atticus is seen through the filter of his daughter’s memory. In the play, Atticus is more of an intimate presence in terms of what he’s going through and his journey. Aaron has given him a real journey and not entirely a loss of idealism, but a kind of loss of innocence about his feelings and about people in general. The play portrays his loss of innocence as well as the children’s loss of innocence. They’re becoming aware of society and of social justice.
So yes, Aaron’s given Atticus a wonderful story, a very personal and intimate storyline that I can share with the audience and hopefully, that brings this great source material a little closer to them. And, it’s all done in the spirit of Harper Lee’s wonderful novel.
To Kill a Mockingbird is timeless, but sadly, it is still very relevant today in what it has to say about racism. Does the cast and crew discuss that?
During the rehearsal process, we had several get-togethers where we talked about the relevance of the play and what the story meant to each of us individually – the African-American actors, as well as the white actors. We could share a lot of that as we were putting the pieces together to understand each other’s perspectives and sensitivities. It was a very important part of the process, actually.
And, sadly, it is still our story. It’s still at the heart of our American life.
The novel and the play are so much about the gap between our aspirations and the accomplishment of those aspirations – how we aspire to be our best selves and how we fall short time and time again. In this case, it’s about social injustice and racism, which is at the heart of American history. And so, it is our story and it continues to be our story. This is the task that we have – to look with a cold eye at the reality of our situation but not lose our desire to do the best we can.
You’ve been to Charlotte before, and I’ve seen you on stage before [in Twelve Angry Men and The Humans]. What are your impressions of the city?
It’s a great city. I love walking around downtown. I’m very monkish when I’m doing a play. I don’t do a lot of stuff. But there is such good eating in Charlotte. I can’t wait to get back to The King’s Kitchen. I love that place. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the country.
So, I’ll be doing that, and my wife will be with me in Charlotte this time. It will be wonderful to be able to share it together.
Read more of Page Leggett’s interview with Richard Thomas by clicking the button below. They speak more about playing Atticus Finch, his time on The Waltons and his recent experience playing a villain in Ozark.
See To Kill a Mockingbird.
To Kill A Mockingbird is playing at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater from July 26-31. Learn more and buy tickets at blumenthalarts.org.
Photo Credits & Captions
All photos above are credited to Julieta Cervantes.
- Main Photo: Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”) and Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”).
- Second Photo: (l to r) Dorcas Sowunmi and Mary Badham (“Mrs. Henry Dubose”).
- Third Photo: Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”) and Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”).
This story was sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts. A portion of funds generated through it will fuel our HUG Micro-Grant Program.
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