‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Brings Original Boy Scout Mary Badham Back to Maycomb 60 Years Later

While Badham has largely stopped playing teenage roles, “The Robin” has been a central part of her life for the six years since. She spent years teaching the book and evangelizing it in schools, universities, and libraries. But over time, her memory of playing a Boy Scout has faded. “That seems to be someone else!” she said with a smile. “I’m turning 70 in October. It’s like a completely different life.”

On the call, Badham discussed coming out of retirement to be “The Robin,” performing on stage for the first time, the challenges of playing Mrs. Dubose, and why the story feels as urgent today as it was in 1962.

ask. What’s it like to perform again for the first time in decades — especially in a live theater setting, something you’ve never done before?

One. Well, acting on stage is totally different from what I’ve done before. Not done. So I was pretty scared until I got into it. But now I’ve gotten to the point where I can enjoy it. When I was a child, [acting] Just game time, so I’m learning to play this now. It’s fun to react with the audience. It gives you unparalleled adrenaline rush. Now I understand why people act because you can feel the energy coming from the curtain even before it is raised.

ask. What challenges did you face playing the mean Mrs. Dubose?

One. Whether I should or not was a tough decision, mostly because she’s such a difficult character to work with. I debated for a long time. But I talked to my friends and everyone said, “Do it. Do it. Do it.” I really had to wrestle with the character. I’m still wrestling with her trying to get into her head and figure it all out. Because she’s really the typical old die-hard, die-hard racist. And I don’t hang out with people like that! [Laughs] I don’t know what’s going on in their minds. But I think I feel good.

A scene from Mary Badham and Gregory Peck in the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird.AFP

ask. Your brother John Badham is a well-known Hollywood filmmaker who directed Saturday Night Fever, Dracula, Blue Thunder and Game of War, among others Movie. Did he give you any advice?

One. No, it’s not. I don’t think he ever cared about my acting. But you have to understand that when I was asked to do Robin, John was studying theater and philosophy at Yale and wanted to work in the film industry in the worst possible way. And then one day he got a call from my mom and she said, “Guess what? Mary’s going to be in a movie!” He was at Yale desperately trying to get his degree, and he was like, “What?!” Now fast forward a year , she was nominated for an Oscar. I don’t think he ever forgave me for that. [Laughs] But his list of awards and movies is way beyond mine.

ask. Was Scout a character you actually played with as a kid?

One. Oh totally!I mean, I used to be A little scout. I don’t like wearing skirts. I’m not a lace, foo-foo kind of girl. I am an outdoor kid. I grew up around boys. I really don’t know girls.

ask. How did you come to star in the movie version of “Mockingbird”?

One. My mum was an actress at the local Town and Gown theatre in Birmingham.The man who runs the theatre, James Hatcher, allows filmmakers [for “Mockingbird”] Use his facility for auditions. He told my mom, “You should bring little Mary in. She’s about the same age.” So my mom said, “Well, she doesn’t know anything about acting, I’ll have to ask Henry.” That was my dad. So she went to ask Dad, he said no. [Laughs] This was exactly what she expected. But my mom is too sharp. She had Dad completely wrapped around her fingers. She said, “Now Henry, dear, what are the chances of the child getting the role?” [Laughs] OK then!

ask. After Robin, you starred in a movie and a few episodes, but you basically quit acting. Why did you give it up?

One. We had a family meeting and Dad wanted me to really focus on my education and be a normal kid. By this point, I’ve seen enough and heard enough about the show to realize that it’s here today, and it’s over tomorrow. Acting is not something I choose to do. It just happened to me.

ask. But you didn’t come back to Alabama for very long.

One. Yes, I know I don’t want to go back. Alabama is not for me. I totally accept it. I can’t live in a male-dominated social structure and have friends of color.

Mary Badham at Gibney Studios in New York in February.TONJE THILESEN/NYT

ask. Over the course of the play, Atticus’ blindfold is ripped off about the racial injustice and racial violence that pervades his community. As your co-star Richard Thomas said, his idealism and sense of justice were really challenged.

One. carponia [the Finches’ Black housekeeper] Has been given a voice that helps to awaken Atticus. She took off Atticus’ rose-colored glasses. The growth you see in Atticus from start to finish is amazing. He believed in the honesty of people, and he believed that fairness and justice would prevail. But not always! I mean, it’s immediately to today. We all believe that justice will prevail, that we will be fine, that people will see reason, but they don’t always do that. That’s why this drama is so important. Bigotry, racism and hatred are everywhere and in all forms, regardless of race, color or creed, and we just need to face that fact and work to change things for the better. That’s what we want this show to do.

Interview edited and condensed.Christopher Wallenberg can be contacted by chriswallenberg@gmail.com.

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