Scout’s Honor

Actress and Virginia resident Mary Badham revisits To Kill a Mockingbird, 60 years later.

Headshot: Mary Badham (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade) and Kennedy Center Playbill cover

A then 10-year-old Mary Badham stole America’s heart as the plucky Scout Finch in 1962’s Academy Award-winning To Kill a Mockingbird (TKaM). She claimed her first-ever acting credit and Oscar nomination in one go, alongside her on-screen father Atticus, portrayed by Gregory Peck. Now, 60 years later, she’s making her stage debut in the same story, playing Scout’s neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, in the national tour of Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway play adaptation of the Harper Lee novel. The touring production also features Emmy Award-winner Richard Thomas in the role of Atticus Finch.

An Alabama native like Scout herself, Badham now calls Virginia home. Virginia Living caught up with the actress as the tour landed in Washington, D.C., for a two-week run, one of 40 cities the show will play over the next year.

Virginia Living: What drew you to revisiting To Kill a Mockingbird all these years later?

Mary Badham: It has been an honor being part of this story through the years. It is hard at times, but important, so I keep going. I look forward to the day and time when we don’t have to talk about these issues of racism, bigotry, and hate. I want to make these a thing of the past.

Tell us what it was like making the movie. Did you even know who Gregory Peck was? Did you meet Harper Lee?

Making the movie was playtime and lots of fun. I didn’t know who Harper Lee was or Gregory Peck. Miss Lee came for a visit on the set, we did some press together, and visited her off and on in the last years of her life. The Pecks and Brock Peters [who portrayed Tom Robinson in the film] were lifelong friends. 

Mary Badham and Harper Lee on the film set of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo from Mary Badham’s personal collection.

What did you do post-Scout? Were you involved in theater or movie-making?

I have been involved with this story almost my whole life. I did other work after—TKaM, 1962; Dr. Kildare, 1963; The Twilight Zone, 1964; This Property Is Condemned, 1966; Let’s Kill Uncle, 1966; Our Very Own, 2005; Erasing His Dark Past, 2019. 

What’s the difference between being on a movie set and being on stage? 

Making movies is very different from doing a play. Movies are not shot in order. They stop and start. You have to wait for lights, sound, costume changes, makeup and hair, etc. They are shot in short segments out of sequence.

For theater, you are locked into doing it all in one go. There is safety and terror in that what happens, happens. I love the interaction with the audience. I now see why people love to do theater.

Dorcas Sowunmi and Mary Badham (“Mrs. Henry Dubose”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

How did you get hooked up with the stage production? 

I don’t know how I got here. You would have to ask someone else that question. I was invited to see the [Broadway] play and meet the cast. Some time later there was an invitation to play Mrs. Dubose. I was terrified. Theater was all new to me. I was invited back to New York for a read-through, and before long I was locked in. I had a real worry about playing the character of Mrs. Dubose, as she is a total racist and bigot. I had talks with my Black friends, and they said it was okay. They know who I am and that this was important. All my friends encouraged me to take the role. So once I had time to digest all of it and went to New York to meet everyone, I agreed to take on Dubose. The cast and crew are all so kind and supportive. The cast is amazing. It is such an honor to work with them. We have had amazing audiences and sold out shows for the most part.

What’s the importance of still telling this story in 2022, and how does it resonate 60 years after the film?

Single-family parenting is so hard. Abuse and cruelty to children is still being driven by poverty, lack of self-esteem, and ignorance. Parenting is such a hard job. Atticus Finch is such a great role model. Reading to your children is so important. If you start when they are tiny and make a habit of it, they will learn to love to read. That bond you make through reading and talking together will form a trust in talking about issues as they grow that will last a lifetime. They will learn to love to read and talk to you about subjects of inheritance. They will learn to trust in you as a parent to love them and to listen to them and guide them with intelligence and care. To go out in the world to not just survive, but to thrive.

I hope that people across this country will come and see the play, laugh, and have fun with us, taking away life lessons that we have to offer. I hope that this will be a balm that can help heal our country.

Catch To Kill a Mockingbird on tour near Virginia:

Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Richard Thomas(“Atticus Finch”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

  • Washington D.C., Kennedy Center Opera House, June 21-July 10
  • Charlotte, NC, Belk Theater, July 26-31
  • Durham, NC, DPAC, Aug. 2-7

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