Tom Robinson, Jeff Daniels, Atticus Finch discussed on 1A
Our conversation here with us at NPR, New York. Benja Akina bay plays. Tom Robinson in this Broadway production. Bengal, welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. What made you decide to play? Tom Robinson the at first, it was the people involved intense to work with Aaron Sorkin with, with Jeff Daniels. It started out as a as a workshop, and that was exciting in Ovid self. So but then when we had the first workshop and we read through this, the first time it was so beautiful. Yeah. I was just I was just glad to be in the room and then but had no visions of being part of a Broadway production. Even then I just it was just a today, works out that, you know. Would you know artists get together and do this? And, and then later on shortly after that Scott reached out and asked if I would be part of the production to come and I was very excited CS excited nervous. No. Is this kind of a daunting thing I was excited? I've nervous came later when I realize the gravity of that was coming together. But it started out in a very organic way for a long time. Like, like I said, we were in that sub basement for about a year would meet periodically. So it was it was just us doing it for us in a sub basement, no windows. No, no one looking at us. And so we got to do our own thing in the dig into the peace over and over and over so nervous didn't come 'til. They said. All right. This is the last day in the basements time to go to the Shubert. Why do we, we stayed on dark safe? It's. What was your relationship to, to kill a Mockingbird before you're part of that workshop, I didn't have as much of a relationship with it? I knew of it. I had read exits of it. And at seem think it's seen the movie use, it goes a child and a lights the movie, but I hadn't hadn't been taught the book as thoroughly as most people had I was in special Ed for the majority of my adolescent, so we had a different education, but I didn't know it was a big thing, as far as education to, to most Americans as far as far as this, this sense of nostalgia to most people. So I was aware of its of its prominence to, to, to this country that's got to be an interesting way to approach it. I mean, you know, a lot of people think of advocacy, Gregory Peck. And so that image is like never gonna go away, but there's also something I think to being an actor who doesn't have all that in the background. I mean, I remember very different play, but I remember when they adapt. Shrek for the stage that the actor who played donkey had never seen the movie. Oh, I've never heard any Murphy voice, the character, so he brought something completely different for you to kind of step into this with more of a virgin perspective on Tom Robinson. That's gotta bring its own challenges to knowing you got an audience, like fist doesn't sound like what I saw with, Gregory Peck. Yeah. It's, it's I took it as as, as a liberty to create because we were making a new play in. That was from, from the beginning, we were making our own. We were not ever asked to, to. Although we knew there was a great deal of pressure to live up to the book. We never asked to do the book, as far as the creative team doing own thing. So that, that gave us a great deal of freedom, and there was no way, I was going to watch the films. And I'm gonna do Brock Peters. I there's no way I just had to whether I was going to fall or rise. It had to be on whatever I brought to that stage. Let's hear piece of what she brought to that stage in a scene from the Broadway at tation. Of tequila Mockingbird. This is where Tom Robinson, played by Bengal Akina bay meets his lawyer Atticus Finch played by Jeff Daniels. Listen, Dom Robertson. Yes. I'm Atticus Finch. Yes. Burn Hockney told you come. Yes. You tell you why. No not. Really? I'm a lawyer. I know the facts your case, if you so choose will depend you in open court in front of a jury not much appears. But still group of people who are not guilty. Verdict is available excuse me. Yeah. Wasn't able to follow that either. Can't tell you how to plead but a cat and mouse, give you my best advice, you won't be my lawyer. Very less thing. I won't in the world. Be your lawyer right now. Negro man. What teenage girl it wouldn't be going in with a winning hand but I'm compelled to depend us off serve the court. And in that capacity of taken a solemn oath to give him a best council, which is that you cannot, and you must not lead guilty and go to jail for a crime that it did not could not commit. That's Jeff Daniels. Atticus Finch, and Binga, Aquino bait as Tom Robinson into kill a Mockingbird. There is no denying the parallel between Tom Robinson and the stories of many black men who came there after Tom Robinson is kind of Emmett till of the literary history until the young black man, who was killed in money Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white girl who later admitted decades later, that she lied about the whole thing, having happened, which ended up with Amatil being horrifyingly mutilated beyond all recognition. How do you deal with the present reality in the story, but has so much? Of kind of, you know, a history etched in stone. It, it makes it more difficult, because it's, it's a very, it's a real thing that's happening on that stage. And on off that stage. So it's one thing to betrays a story on the stage, but knowing that their real faces, and their real lives and the body count is getting higher all the time, and that in that it makes it to me, it comes comes out of cost. But it's I think it's a, it's a worthy end of I think is important to, to tell the story of Emmett till what I'm up this tell the story of Sandra Blanton, I'm up there to tell the story of two Martin when I'm up there as much as I can contribute to that conversation. So it's, it's in a few fortunate to be able to have that opportunity to, to, to, to work that out. I think the most important thing about one of the most important thing about the play is not necessarily the story worth telling, but the opportunity for the conversations that we get to have about race in this country because of. The storytelling Aaron Sorkin. What about for you? How much of the present reality of race factored into the way you wrote this adaptation. Well, first of all, hey, Banka. On the other side of the country. How you doing? I couldn't agree more with what Bank just set, which is that, you know, in addition to. Great pleasure, and satisfaction of, of that two and a half hours that experience that the that we and the audience have in the theater that two and a half hours the opportunity for conversations after that. And particularly conversations with an among teachers and students, we do any New York City, public school student can see this play for ten dollars and we do we've been doing throughout the school year. I think it may be coming to an end. Now, at least for this year special student matinees where the entire theater, fourteen hundred people our students some of whom have never seen a play before. So this, the whole experiences is new and exciting for them. But just going back to your question there, there are new conversations that we can have now in addition to the conversations we had back when I was reading the book in, in school. I wonder also about the kind of audience that you reach with this production in terms of not just school kids, which is fantastic that you can fill a matinee with fourteen hundred teenagers and expose them to Broadway, but Jeff Daniels, the active place, Atticus Finch talked about some of the people that he hopes the play will really impact, here's part of what he told MSNBC's. Nicole Wallace, every night, you walk out there. And we pin ears back of basically white America, liberal merica comes in, and they go we had no idea. It was that tough, and it's in the face. It's a wakeup call Jeff Daniels. Speaking to Nicole Wallace on MSNBC bingo Keno bay. What about that aspect that, that you may be reaching people in this audience who consider themselves, you know, woke white people, and that this may still kind of really punch them right between the eyes? It's. It's been an interesting thing I mean, ever since prior to this. But Ferguson really was like one of the dumping off put points when, when people sorts of really vocalise, all no, I didn't realize it was this bad or, or that things would this blatant and, and a lot of people could myself were, we were not shocked at how bad things where we saw that how like how little it was acknowledged as seen as real amongst among Salata white people. And so, again, getting to be able to do this plays like you. There's a there's a is a place every night where we get to come to meet and discuss this thing, the audience, and the and the people on the stage and you look out there, and this, a lot of white people with disposable income and, and with the ability to come see this production, who have said this before, who have, you know, most likely my, my share we share Saint politics points of view. Still benefactors from this very racist system. So there's this kind of this weird economy that, that exists that we, we know but to varying levels, but, and it's still in its prevalent all our lives, whether we're the benefactors from or subject to. So it's, it's, it's been interesting is been very interesting. I'm Joshua Johnson. You're listening to one A. We should note that not all of you who wrote in our fans of tequila Mockingbird. Here's another message we received fair warning. It contains a little bit of a spoiler. So if you're not familiar with the story of tequila Mockingbird, or the give us about thirty five seconds before you turn the volume backup having said that here's what Jim left in our inbox, Jim from Washington DC when I first saw to Mockingbird it moved me thinking about it. However, I realized it's another white savior movie, which advocacy pinch. Save. Today. But if you think about it the day, actually isn't saved. The black man who is completely innocent winds up not only going to jail being convicted, but then dead, I talked with some people who actually forget that the day never got saved. Jim, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Aaron Sorkin. We got a number of comments about this kind of white savior, trope. Chris in Hamlin. New York emailed, I've always thought that tequila, Mockingbird was a feel good story from my fellow white, folk, the focus of the stories on the white lawyer, who's trying to do the right thing in the face of.