Inside Aaron Sorkin's 'Mockingbird' story

The Frame


Playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin says he was eager to adapt. Harper Lee's to kill a Mockingbird for Broadway. But he still had some serious. Reservations about the job. I said yes, knowing really it was a suicide mission because people have a very special relationship to the novel. And it's a great book. What could I do but make it less than than what it was? And the acting future of Jesse smollet is still unknown. But his character on empire just made TV history all that up on the frame. Welcome to the frame. I'm John horn when Tony nominations are revealed next week to kill a Mockingbird will likely get a lot of attention almost certainly for Jeff Daniels who plays Atticus Finch, but the adaptation by earned Sorkin was far from easy. Scott Rudin secured, the rights to the patient and got Harper Lee's personal approval of Sorkin. It's the playwright. But then things started to go awry following Lee's death three years ago the estate eventually sued to stop the production. We'll get to the lawsuit in a bit. But when I spoke with Sorkin about to kill a Mockingbird. He I told me why his first draft didn't work. I simply try to do. No harm. I I took the most essential scenes that you need to tell the story, and I stood them up and dramatize them and the whole thing felt like a greatest hits album done by tribute band. And I turned it in and Scott who usually at that point. Would meet with me for days and ended up with hundreds of notes to go back and do the second draft with he met with me for less than thirty minutes and gave me two notes. And the second note was the one that changed everything. What Scott said was that Atticus can't be advocates from the beginning of the play to the end of the play. He's got a change. That's what protagonist does a protagonist has a flaw protagonist put through something and changes as a result. And I thought well, of course, Scott's right? That has to be what happens in a play. I wonder how Harper Lee got away with an Abacus who's the same. At the beginning of the book is at the end of the book, how Horton Foote got away with an Atticus in the movie who's the same at the beginning of the movie is the is at the end of the movie. And that's when I realized that advocates isn't the protagonist in the novel or the movie scout is she's the one who changes her flaws that she's young and the changes that she loses someone for innocence. And while I wanted scout. And dill to remain protagonists in the play. I wanted advocates to be the central protagonist. I wanted him to be put through something. I wanted him to have a flaw on. I wanted him to change is a result. And what happened in that moment was that? I simply stopped thinking about the word adaptation that it. No longer was my goal to gently swallow the novel in bubble wrap and transfer it to a Broadway stage that I was going to write a new play taking the circumstances that Harper Lee put on the table. And that's when things started to take off. So I'm gonna ask you this. Obviously, it's a period piece. But I'm gonna talk about it's modern relevance of which there is a tremendous amount. What was happening in the world as you were adapting or reimagining, but ever we're gonna do whatever verb are gonna use to describe what you were doing with harp. Elise novel to make it a play. Yeah. Well, what was happening in the world. Was Trump was elected president Charlottesville was happening. Charlottesville became an important touchdown in this. And I'll tell you why Atticus in the in the novel. This was in thinking about what flaw can Atticus half. Does he go from being a bad lawyer to a good lawyer, a bad father to a loving father a racist believing injustice in a quality, and obviously no on all three? What I realized was that Atticus already had a flaw. Harper Lee gave him one. It's just that. When we were learning the book, we were taught that it was a virtue advocates says throughout the book that there's goodness in every single chicks, go get along better with all kinds of folks never really understand it until you consider things from his point of view. Climates out of his skin woke rounding he excuses. Bob, Buell's racism by saying the man just losses WPA job. You know, it's he excuses. Mrs Dubose is racism by she recently stopped taking her medicine or morphine. He excuses. The town's racism. This is the deep south things happen slower here, you know, give gift people time and thinking about all that at the same time at Charlottesville happened in it started. What Atticus was saying was starting to sound to me like there were fine people on both sides. Right. And that's when the bells rang, and and I was really able to kind of go from a walk to a gallop. We're talking with earned Sorkin about his ad obtain of Harper Lee's novel to kill a Mockingbird. I wanna play a scene between Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson who's been accused of raping a white woman. And the story can't tell you how to plead, but I can't. And I must give you my best advice. You won't be my lawyer. Very less thing. I won't the world be your lawyer right now negro man, what teenage girl wouldn't be going in with a win hands. But I'm compelled to defend us an officer of the court, and in that capacity of taken Salamo 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. So how do you figure out a way to dramatize what Atticus is going through? And how he's changing the way that he sees an excuses behavior through the play. What tricks? What are the things that you are able to do with the text and through new dialogue and putting dialogue and other characters mouse, they get you to that place where he can evolve for me, a big part of Attica ses journey in this play is going from someone who says, I know these people these are our, friends and neighbors sure some of them may be stuck in the old ways. But there are none of them that are so far gone. They would send an obviously innocent man to the electric chair, and he discovers that he doesn't know his friends and neighbors that to me does a really good job of of reflecting. I think how a lot of us no matter where you are on the political or ideological spectrum the way, a lot of us have felt these last few years that we thought we knew our fellow Americans. But we didn't we were wrong about our friends and neighbors, and that's one of the reasons why this play based on a book that sixty years old that takes place ninety years ago feels so much like today.

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