She played the scout in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.Now she’s back as a racist neighbor

story transcript

Six years after she played the combative tomboy scout To kill a robin, Mary Badham is returning to the Harper Lee classic.

Badham was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1962 film. She was 10 at the time and remains the youngest nominee in the category to this day.

Now, the 69-year-old is working on a stage adaptation of Lee’s 1960 Broadway tale of the same name.

But this time, instead of playing a gruff young girl in America taking an important lesson about bigotry, she’s playing Mrs. Dubose, Scooter’s hostile and viciously racist old neighbor.

Here’s part of Badham’s conversation when it happens Guest host David Cochran.

Mary, how did it feel to be on stage to help tell this story that you first told as a child?

At first, it was scary. But I’m used to it now and the audience loves it.

Why do you find it scary?

Because I’m not a drama person. I don’t do drama. So to me, it’s a very scary thing.

You do it first as the character Scout…in the original movie. But this time you’re playing a very different role. You’re playing as one of Scout’s neighbors, a mean, racist old woman. Is it difficult to play such a role?

It is very difficult to adjust. But I think I found a way to deal with her and introduce her.

What did you have to do to find comfort in this role?

Well, that was never really consolation. I mean, when I’m done, I have to get rid of it. But I basically have to think of it like this: it’s a character. this is not me. I don’t let it, you know, take me.

So you can inhabit the character, but you can’t have the character inhabit you.

Yes, exactly. And, you know, I had to get over it…and it was hard. This is not a comfortable role.

Dorcas Sowunmi (left) and Mary Badham in the Broadway stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. (New York Broadway Box Office)

Sixty years ago, you were nominated for Best Supporting Actress at 10, the youngest person ever to be nominated for an Oscar. How do you think you were so strongly connected to Scout’s character in the original film?

Because the scout is basically me. I am a tomboy. I don’t like dressing up nicely. I’d rather be outside than inside.

I grew up in a very similar environment to Scout…the social structure at the time was that I grew up in Alabama, so it was familiar territory for me.

Well, now you’re sharing the stage with another young girl who’s playing scout. Did you give her any advice on how to do this?

Oh my gosh, no, I wouldn’t do that. These kids find their way to the Boy Scouts easily and do it well. I admire their energy and ability to play their characters so well.

How does it feel to watch someone play the role you became famous years ago?

I like this character.And Melanie [Moore] It was amazing. She’s doing really well and I’m very excited. She was very scout-like and very talented.

You were nominated for an Oscar for playing the Boy Scouts. Gregory Peck won an Oscar for playing Scott’s father, Atticus Finch. In the movie, there is a real connection between the two of you. Does this connection extend beyond the film and beyond the scene?

Oh absolutely. Yes. On weekends I would go home with Pex and play with their kids. My father can’t come out of California. I mean, I think he’s here to visit, but the rest of the time he has to be at home because he has work to do.

It’s great because it allows us to really build a father-daughter relationship. We maintained this relationship throughout his life until his death.

I lost my parents very early. My mother died three weeks after I graduated high school, and my father died two years after I was married. So I…have my dad, I have Gregory Pike, and then I have Brock Peters, who plays Tom Robinson, and they’re my mentor and my guide to life.

They really helped me get through the loss of my parents and then my upbringing… They love reading, they love music, they love art. It taught me a lot and I am forever grateful for it.

A black and white photo of a man in a suit and thick glasses hugging a young girl with a short, boyish hairstyle.
Actor Gregory Peck holds 10-year-old Badham in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Mary Badham personal collection)

The story itself, To kill a robin, is a dark one. The story takes place in Alabama in the 1930s. What stories do you think will still be relevant to audiences in 2022?

It discusses all the things we’re still dealing with, all the lessons we haven’t learned yet.

If you want to talk about single parent parenting and parenting difficulties, [it] It’s never easy. But now I think it’s much more difficult than before. No one will give you a book that will tell you how to be a parent. You know, you end up living, making mistakes and trying to move on.

And then we have the topic of opioids and addiction that doctors prescribe and we’re still dealing with, which is my character, Mrs. Dubos.

We have mental fragility here at Boo Radley, and mental illness in this country is a terrible problem that we have not solved, and that we need to solve with heart, love and understanding.

Of course, there are bigger issues of racism, bigotry, and hatred—so sad that we still have to deal with them. We will have to deal with it. We need to remember that it is very important that everyone has something to give and something to learn from. Whether you are rich or poor, regardless of your race, color, creed, you can contribute. We all need to remember this.

A portrait of a woman with long brown hair with grey accents and loose curls over her shoulders. She wore a lace cape over a beige turtleneck sweater over a black sweater.
Badham said it was challenging to make her stage debut, and even more challenging to play a geeky character. (New York Broadway Box Office)

Many people will watch this show. This will be their first exposure to this. They might go to the movies. They might read this book.what do you want people to get out of it to kill a robin more important than anything?

Knowing and loving each other is the basic, basic thing.

When I went to school I had two things to say: education is the key to freedom, and ignorance is the root of all evil.

We have to put the good in our hearts and work towards it so we can survive or hate will take over and that is it.

So let’s love each other. Let’s take care of each other.educate [and] Read to your child. Love them, let them know you care about them, and they will grow up to be strong people.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Trowbridge. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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