A splashy two-page ad in the Times just announced a December 2018 premiere for what’s sure to be Broadway’s most talked-about show, a new adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird that’s written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Bartlett Sher. It’s not hard to imagine Sorkin scripting monologues for the legendary lawyer Atticus Finch, but when I caught up with him this past week at the Toronto Film Festival, where his directorial debut Molly’s Game played like gangbusters, I asked how the younger characters Jem, Scout, and Dill are going to speak Sorkin.
“Well, they’re gonna have to,” he replied. “Because I didn’t write their language like they were children.”
That’s not the only way that Sorkin will put his stamp on this material, which was made into a 1962 film that won Horton Foote the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. “As far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on Mockingbird than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s,” said Sorkin. “He becomes Atticus Finch by the end of the play, and while he’s going along, he has a kind of running argument with Calpurnia, the housekeeper, which is a much bigger role in the play I just wrote. He is in denial about his neighbors and his friends and the world around him, that it is as racist as it is, that a Maycomb County jury could possibly put Tom Robinson in jail when it’s so obvious what happened here. He becomes an apologist for these people.”
That adjustment not only gives Atticus a character journey from naïveté to righteousness, it ties the 1930s-set Mockingbird to today’s social climate, a fact that Sorkin says was driven home for him after the events of Charlottesville. “All of a sudden, Donald Trump stood up at a news conference and said there are good people on both sides,” recounts Sorkin. “And I went, ‘Wow, bingo. We hit it right in the middle.’”