On October 5, more than 18 months after COVID-19 shut down Broadway, To Kill a Mockingbird will reopen at the Shubert Theatre. Aaron Sorkin’s hit adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, now the highest-grossing American play in Broadway history, will return with original stars Jeff Daniels, as Atticus Finch, and Celia Keenan-Bolger, in her Tony-winning performance as Scout Finch. But according to Sorkin, the show will not be exactly like it was during its first run. The Oscar-winning scribe and director Bartlett Sher have spent several weeks in rehearsals making subtle changes to the play that better fit the current time and the societal reckoning brought on by the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred during a global pandemic.
And that’s not the only change. Producer Scott Rudin was replaced on the show after allegations of his physical and verbal abuse and bullying of staff and other collaborators resurfaced in a Hollywood Reporter article in April. His role was taken by Orin Wolf, who was named executive producer. Here, Sorkin speaks for the first time about his reaction to the allegations against Rudin, with whom he’s collaborated on three films and a TV series, as well the play.
The pandemic has been a busy time for Sorkin, who has also been putting the finishing touches on his Lucille Ball film, Being the Ricardos, which will be released by Amazon in December, just in time to be a part of the Oscar conversation. Starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Ball and Desi Arnaz, the film, written and directed by Sorkin, explores one week in the production of I Love Lucy, with a focus on the couple’s relationship.
Ahead of the reopening of To Kill a Mockingbird and as he was busy wrapping up the edit on Being the Ricardos, Sorkin spoke with Vanity Fair about the return of Mockingbird, his decision to part ways with Rudin, and how the pandemic has most affected him.
Vanity Fair: How does it feel to have To Kill a Mockingbird opening back up again, and with Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger reprising their roles?
Aaron Sorkin: Well, I’ve been looking forward to this for a year and a half. We started rehearsal again two weeks ago today, and I was just so happy to be back in that rehearsal room. I was happy to see the team. Having Jeff back, having Celia back, is fantastic. And we’re not just dusting it off. We’re putting it through four weeks of rehearsal and a week of tech and taking a new look at everything we want.
What do you mean by that?
Let me put it this way: I’ve never written anything that I didn’t wish I could have back and do again. And so the two silver linings of the horror of COVID are that my college-aged daughter is home, and the other is we get to look at it all again.
Obviously, a lot has happened in the last 18 months—not just the pandemic, but we also saw the social justice movement that shook the nation. That really ties into the subject of this play. How did that affect your approach?
[Director] Bart Sher and I have that in mind as we reapproach it. However, racism in this country didn’t begin in the last 18 months. It didn’t begin in 1960, when Harper Lee published the novel, or in ’61, when the film came out. So unfortunately, it’s a pretty sturdy story. But that said, there are things that we’re doing in this 2.0 production that I wouldn’t want to give away. But everything that’s gone on—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the BLM movement—is on our minds as we’re doing this.
What were the conversations like with Scott Rudin about removing him from the show?
There was only one conversation. It was a Zoom call with Bart, Scott, and myself, and it was made clear that Scott would no longer have any relationship with To Kill a Mockingbird, either the Broadway company or the London company or the national tour. So Scott isn’t involved anymore. And we brought in a wonderful producer named Orin Wolf, who was already producing the national tour. He’s doing a great job as captain of the ship now.
Does Rudin retain any financial stake in or influence over any of these versions of the show?
Scott’s no longer compensated as a producer of the show—and he’s not pulling the strings from backstage. He has a stake as an investor, which will continue to be honored.