Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson, Jeff Daniels discussed on 1A with Joshua Johnson


Thank you, Diana, and Ashley for sharing your thoughts. We'll get some more of your thoughts and questions in just a moment. But let's add one more voice to 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 of itself. 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 glad to be in the room and then but I had no visions of being part of a Broadway production. And even then I just it was just today, works out that was, you know. Would artists get together and do this. And then later on. After that, Scott reached out and asked if I would be a part of the production to come. I was very excited. Safes excited nervous. No. Is this kind of a daunting thing? I I was excited. Nervous came later. When I started to 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 need meet periodically. And so it was it was just a stupid for us in a sub basement, no windows. No one looking at us. And so we got to do our own thing in 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 basement time to go to the Shubert. Why do we, we just stayed on darkened safe? It's. What was your relationship to, to kill a Mockingbird before you are part of that workshop, I didn't have as much of a relationship with new of it? I had read exits of it, and I think it's seen the movie years ago, as a child, and I liked the movie, but I haven'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, as far as this sense of nostalgia to most people. So I was aware of its of its prominence to, to to this country. It's got to be an interesting way to approach it. I mean, a lot of people think of Atticus Finch, 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 remember very different play. But I remember when they adapted. Shrek for the staves that the actor who played donkey had never seen the movie. You've never heard any Murphy voice, the character. So he brought something completely different. So 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 liberty to create because we were making a new play. And that was from from the beginning we were making own play. We were not ever asked to although we knew there was a great deal of pressure to live up to the book. We will never asked to do the book, as far as the creative team doing own thing. So that gave us a great deal of freedom, and there was no way, I was going to watch the film in. 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 Bengo Akina bay meets his lawyer Atticus Finch played by Jeff Daniels. Listen, Don Robertson. Yes. I'm Atticus Finch. Yes. Vernon Hockney told you how come? Yes, you tell you why. No, not really. I'm alive. I know the facts your case, if you so choose, I will defend you, an 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 I can't and a must give you my best advice. You wanna be my lawyer? Tom, very less thing. I won't in the world be lawyer right now negro man what teenage girl. It wouldn't be going in with a win and hands but I'm compelled to defenders officer of the court. And in that capacity of taking a Salam 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 you did not could not commit. That's Jeff Daniels. Atticus Finch and Binga Aquino bay as Tom Robinson in to kill a mocking bird, 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 the 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 'em until being horrifyingly mutilated beyond. Recognition. How do you deal with the present reality in the story, but has so much of a kind of a history etched in stone? It, it makes it more difficult. Because it's a very, it's a real thing, that's happening on that stage and enough that stage. So it's one thing to betrays a story on 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 at a comes at a cost, but it's I think it's a, it's a worthy end ever. I think is important to, to tell the story of Emmett till what I'm up there to tell the story of Sandra bland on. I'm up there to tell story to Martin, I'm up there. As much as I can contribute to that conversation. So it's if you're fortunate to be able to have that opportunity to, 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, we're telling but the opportunity for the conversations that we get to have about race in this country because of the story, we're telling 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. I couldn't agree more with what Bank just set, which is that, you know, in addition to. The great pleasure and satisfaction of, of that, too, 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 and among teachers and students, we do any New York City, public school student can see this play for ten dollars. And we do a 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 on some of whom have never seen a play before. So this vol experiences is new and exciting for them. But just going back to your question. There are new conversations that we can have now in addition to the conversations we had back when I was reading the book 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, 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 the ears back of basically white America. Liberal. Merica comes in, and they go we had no idea. It was that tough, and it's a slap in the face. It's a wake-up call. That's Jeff Daniels. Speaking to Nicole Wallace on MSNBC banking about that aspect that, that you may be reaching people in this audience who consider themselves woke white people, and that this may still kind of really punch them, right? Between the eyes. I it's. It's been an interesting thing I mean, ever since I well prior to this. But Ferguson really was like one of the top enough points when, when white people started to really vocalise all no, I didn't realize it was this bad or, or that things with this, blatant. And, and a lot of people, including myself were, we were not shocked at how bad things that how how little was acknowledged seen as real amongst amongst lot of white people. And so, again, getting to be able to do this place. There's a there's a, a place every night where we get to come to meet, and discuss these thing, the audience, 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. Views but still benefactors from this very racist system. So there's kind of this weird economy that, that exist that we, we know but to varying levels, but it's still in its prevalent all our lives, whether we're the benefactors or subject to. So it's been interesting. It's 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 move me thinking about it. However, I realized another white savior movie, which Atticus Finch 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 to kill a mocking bird was a feel good story for 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 social opposition, William Faulkner's intruder in the dust till something like the same story, and African American being unjustly accused of a capital crime in a small southern town, but gives the African American defendant agency in his defense. His white lawyer merely acting under his direction. Aaron what about that, this white savior trope as it might relate to this story? What do you think? It's a very big subject very important subject. So I make if you an answer that's longer than you wanted. Feel rock me anytime you want. I get it completely. In the play I let me say in the play is opposed to the movie. There are a number of white savior things from the book that, that were kind of turned on their head for instance. My favorite scene in the book, growing up my favorite scene in the movie, and I would watch this. When I watched the movie, I'd watch this scene. I got a lump in my throat. I'd get goosebumps, and it's a lot of people's favorite scene is the end of the trial Atticus has lost in the entire courtroom as cleared out Atticus putting stuff back in his briefcase. The courtroom is cleared out, except for everybody upstairs in the balcony in what was called the colored section they're all Atticus turns around to realize, they're all standing silently in respect, and gratitude and Atticus, walks by the Reverend Sykes, who.

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