How Jeff Daniels made "Mockingbird" his own without channeling Gregory Peck


On “Salon Talks,” Jeff Daniels shared a moment from the first time that writer-director Aaron Sorkin approached him about starring in his Broadway production of "To Kill a Mockingbird.” Daniels, an Emmy Award winner for Sorkin's "The Newsroom," asked him, "So I should read the book?"

Sorkin's critically acclaimed stage version offers a unique interpretation of its narrator Scout, played by Broadway veteran Celia Keenan-Bolger, and of the character Gregory Peck made indelible in the 1962 film.

"I wouldn't have gotten it if I hadn't done 'Newsroom' for three years," Daniels told SalonTV’s Mary Elizabeth Willams. He recalled that during the promotion for 2015's "Steve Jobs," Sorkin told him, "Scott Rudin just got the rights to 'Mockingbird,' and would you like to play Atticus?" It was a challenge Daniels couldn't resist — and an excuse to finally read the Harper Lee classic.

"After 'Newsroom,' I'm of the age where, if I'm not challenged, I just lose interest,” Daniels said. “I was not going to be that actor standing next to some 28 year old making ten million who barely knows his lines and I'm playing his father. All of a sudden, here's Atticus Finch, and you're going up against Gregory Peck on Broadway in this whole new adaption? Let's rise to that."

And in creating a show that honors the source, but feels uniquely modern in its examination of family, race and justice, Daniels says, "We were going to screw with it. We were going to take all those people who were holding the book in this first preview and go, 'You need to put it down.'"

Watch the episode above to hear more from Daniels on how he prepped for the role. Plus, Keenan-Bolger opens up about being an adult playing the child role of Scout, something Daniels called “a big gamble” that he and others were concerned audiences might find tough to embrace, and taking the show on the road to Washington D.C. “The play can withstand all kinds of different iterations,” Keenan-Bolger said.


About “Salon Talks”

Hosted by Salon journalists, “Salon Talks” episodes offer a fresh take on the long-form interview format, and a much-needed break from the partisan political talking heads that have come to dominate the genre. “Salon Talks” is a destination for information through conversation. Viewers can expect discussions with A-list actors, artists, authors, thinkers, and newsmakers as we explore the full range of the human condition. The show streams live on Facebook and Twitter and each episode is published in full on Salon.com.


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