Broadway’s ‘Mockingbird’ nearly got nixed by Harper Lee estate

When Aaron Sorkin was requested to adapt Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the stage, he was thrilled — and terrified.

“Ever have the expertise of being glad you’ve been invited to a celebration, however not desirous to go to the celebration?” Sorkin tells The Put up. “There’s nothing I like greater than writing a play. However what may I do however make the factor lower than what it may have been?”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” opens Dec. 13, with a reported advance sale of almost $16 million. It has more cash within the financial institution than any musical this season.

Jeff Daniels performs Atticus Finch, the small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man wrongly accused of rape.

Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin say that they had Daniels in thoughts from the beginning, a lot to Daniels’ shock.

“I’ve been ready so that you can name to inform me Tom Hanks is doing it,” he informed Rudin.

As soon as Sorkin obtained over his preliminary worry of adapting an important American novel, he got here up with a primary draft he now calls “unremarkable.”

He faithfully tailored scenes from the guide till he obtained to the well-known trial scene, a style with which the author of “A Few Good Males” felt “most comfy.”

Rudin learn the draft and gave Sorkin a be aware that modified every little thing.

“Atticus can’t be Atticus for your entire play,” the be aware mentioned. “He’s obtained to grow to be Atticus.”

Aaron Sorkin
Aaron SorkinGetty Pictures

Atticus is a superb American hero, a paragon of integrity within the guide and the 1962 film, which starred Gregory Peck.

In each the guide and Horton Foote’s screenplay, he’s seen by the eyes of his adoring youngsters, Jem and Scout.

However a hero who doesn’t change in the midst of a play can come throughout as wood on the stage. So Sorkin tore up his first draft and set about making his hero extra advanced.

“Within the guide, Atticus has all of the solutions,” says Sorkin. “He’s carved in marble. Within the play, his basic perception within the goodness in everybody must be challenged.”

Racial politics have undergone a sea change for the reason that 1950s, when Lee wrote “Mockingbird” (it was printed in 1960). Sorkin was decided that his model replicate that, and so he gave vital stage time to a minor character within the guide — Calpurnia, Atticus’ African-American maid.

The alterations didn’t go down nicely with Lee’s property, which almost derailed the manufacturing this 12 months with a lawsuit. The property claimed Sorkin’s script “deviated” an excessive amount of from the guide.

Rudin countersued. He demanded $10 million from the property for scaring away traders. And in a flourish worthy of David Merrick, the legendary Broadway producer who additionally beloved a combat, Rudin provided to stage a efficiency of Sorkin’s adaptation in court docket, with stars Daniels, Celia Keenan-Bolger (Scout) and LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Calpurnia).

“It will have been the primary play ever to open and shut within the Southern District Court docket,” Rudin says, laughing.

However the dispute was settled earlier than scalpers may snap up seats within the court docket room.

Rudin can’t disclose the phrases, however Sorkin is happy.

“I used to be involved we might find yourself with a play that was agreed upon by legal professionals,” the author says, “however that didn’t occur. And I used to be involved that the play itself would grow to be compromised, and that didn’t occur.”

“What we have now is precisely what we got down to do,” Rudin says. “I’d not say it was an uncomplicated highway — or an affordable one — however we obtained there. It has all of the values and morals of Harper Lee’s guide. However that is Aaron’s model of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ”

You possibly can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel within the Morning” on WOR radio 710.

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