‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Q&A with Mary Badham
CM: Hello, I’m Christopher from South Florida Theater Magazine, the reviewer for tonight’s show of To Kill A Mockingbird. I like to write about art, art in the community, and things like that, so thanks for chatting with me.
MB: Thank you for doing that because we need all the help we can get. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of press outlets anymore. There used to be radio shows and TV shows that people used – they don’t seem to do that anymore either.
CM: First and foremost, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MB: My name is Mary Badham, and I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I had never done acting or anything like that. My mother was an actress. She did theater, opera, and radio. She took me out to try out for To Kill A Mockingbird when they came to town, and I got the film role for Scout. I’ve done some film and some TV, and then I retired at the ripe old age of 14. Through the years, I’ve done speaking engagements for high schools, colleges, universities for To Kill A Mockingbird. When the Broadway roadshow decided to happen, they contacted me and asked me if I would do that. I didn’t know if I could, so I went to New York for a reading, they liked it, and here I am – 400 and something shows later.
CM: So, you’re very familiar with To Kill A Mockingbird. Is it a book you come back to often?
MB: No, but it’s an important piece. It’s still relevant and discusses a lot of problems that we are still dealing with, which makes it very timely, seemingly, in any year.
CM: This is one of those books that people want to ban. Exposing people to this story, even if it’s in a play, to the people of south Florida is good. So, when you are acting, what do you think is more important: the talent or the training?
MB: Sometimes, they go hand-in-hand. It depends on the individual. Some people are just born with natural talent. You may see 30 actors come in to try out for whatever, and there’s one person that stands head and shoulders above the rest. They might’ve not done much at all. It’s weird. Sometimes, training can help people get through things.
CM: When you need to rehearse a scene, and there are other actors involved, how do you practice that scene if they are not available?
MB: I read through it. I walk around and I imagine that they’re there. Everyone rehearses differently. The main thing is to be able to come at it from different angles if you’re not present with other people. It’s important not to let the work get stale. We’ve done, like I said, over 400 some performances, so I’ve watched these actors do it night-after-night, day-after-day. They make it real every time. It’s been fascinating for me to watch that because I’ve never done theater. I don’t know anything about theater, so this has kind of been on the job training. These guys are just amazing. I just feel so honored to be in the presence of these people because they are so, so talented. Melanie Moore, who plays Scout, she’s a dancer by trade, and that’s how she started out, but she’s an incredible actress. She brings something to the role of Scout that’s so necessary, that physical ability, and it translates so well. She performed on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and she’s a powerhouse. Absolutely amazing.
CM: And Mr. Richard Thomas as Atticus.
MB: Richard Thomas… I mean, what’s there to say? He’s a pro and a delight to work with. Everyone in the cast, they’re all wonderful people. They’re not only brilliant actors, but they’re also lovely people. They’re fun to be around. We’ve had so many compliments from dressers and the crews we work with. We have our own crew that we travel with, but we also have a crew that joins us, a local crew. They’ve all said, “You guys are so nice!” Well, yeah! We care about each other. I’ve really enjoyed it.
CM: I’ve never thought about the local crew’s perception of the traveling crew. It’s good to hear they’re happy working with your bunch.
MB: For me, to watch them work, it’s fascinating. When you’re standing backstage, and you look at all the ropes and the steel, everything that’s up above you, it’s what makes it all happen. I was able to make it up into the crown at one of the theaters we were at before, I think it was St, Louis, and I was 40, 50 feet in the air. You’re looking down over the seats and everything, and you got to see where the lighters had to be in this old-time theater. Oh my goodness, it’s fascinating! For me, you’ve got the actors, but the guts of this show really fascinate me. I just love all that stuff, and to be able to climb around, looking at what the ropes control, the precision that’s involved, even for the curtains, it’s got to be precise. It’s got to be done together. To watch them pull those ropes, it’s so interesting.
CM: The magic of the theater.
CM: Even the curtain raising is magical… I like that a lot.
MB: There’s choreography for the sets, too. Things move so fast. Oh, my God. You got to be really paying attention when things come on, when they’re on the stage moving around, and when it comes off. You got to really be awake, because you’ll get run over. It’s moving that fast! I’ve had it more than once where I’m standing there, and someone will yell, “Mary, get out of the way!” To me, I really like seeing all that stuff happen. It’s very much choreographed. They know within millimeters what’s going to happen and where things are going to go. You’ll see what I’m talking about because we have had injuries. We keep our [physical therapy] people working. But that’s part of what makes theater fun. You do not have a static set. It’s moving all the time.
CM: Well, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, I know you have a show to do tonight. Is there anything else you’d like to add to our readers of South Florida Theater?
MB: Well, I just hope y’all come. It’s fun. It’s funny. I want to give people permission to laugh. If anyone’s familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s work, from “West Wing,” say, he moves very fast, things are funny. Come play with us, because we have a good time. Yeah, there’s going to be some heavy duty stuff, and I’m not saying there won’t be some tears along the way, but these kids are moving fast and having fun. We want you to come have fun with us.
CM: Thank you. That sounds great. And I think everyone will! Thank you so much for talking with me today.
MB: Take care.
MARY BADHAM (Mrs. Henry Dubose) (she/ her). At the age of 10, Ms. Badham was chosen for the role of “Scout” for the feature film of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck and earned an Oscar nomination for her performance. At that time, she was the youngest person ever nominated for a supporting role. Since then, she has promoted the book and film’s message about social injustice across the US (including for the National Endowment of the Arts and two White House appearances) and received a US Speaker and Specialist Grant to participate in programs about To Kill a Mockingbird in Russia. Other Film: This Property is Condemned with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, Let’s Kill Uncle, Our Very Own with Allison Janney. TV: Dr. Kildare and Twilight Zone.