Jeff Daniels on Bringing 'To Kill A Mockingbird' to Broadway in 2019: 'You Can't Sit on the Porch Like Atticus Finch'

"Where's the guy at the Justice Department trying to get a hold of the unredacted Robert Mueller report? Where are the whistleblowers inside that White House?" Jeff Daniels is looking for a hero. The Tony-nominated actor brings the beloved Atticus Finch back to life in Aaron Sorkin's Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, originally written by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Harper Lee in 1960. Daniels put his political views on blast while discussing how Mockingbird translates in 2019. Told through the eyes of Atticus' daughter, Scout, it shows the trial of Tom Robinson, an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman in the Depression-era, racist town of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus, originally depicted as an omnipotent champion of human rights, tries to teach her goodness will prevail over evil. But in today's version, Atticus isn't always right, and Daniels himself questions if there is actually goodness in everyone, especially with Donald Trump as president. "That's being challenged now in today's America. You can't just sit on the porch like Atticus Finch in the book. You have to become involved. You have to have an opinion."

Jeff Daniels Illustration by Britt Spencer

What it was like to work with Aaron Sorkin on Mockingbird after working with him on Newsroom?

The only difference is that here he had a year and a half to write what was the length of two television episodes. We went through 45 previews before we opened. And he kept writing all the way to the end. He had the time to do the job he wanted—even though he'll tell you, you don't finish a play; it gets confiscated from you.

What do you hope people walk away with after seeing the play?

A lot of what theater does—and this play, specifically—is send people out and say, "Are you changed? Are you thinking about things differently? Do you think there's a race problem? Do you think there's goodness in everyone? Do you believe in compassion? Do you believe in truth? Do you believe in the rule of law?" We're asking because Atticus had to make some adjustments. You have to have an opinion. You can't just say, well I want my taxes lowered and be OK with racism, sexism, bigotry and the lack of civility and decency that is now the norm in this country. You have to decide as a voter—every voter—whether that's OK or not.

How should people get involved?

I know what you can't do. You can't sit there on your phone or watch television and not do anything. Change it. Make it better. Whatever that is, I know what it isn't: It isn't doing nothing and pretending the problems aren't there. —Maria Vultaggio