The “Guilty” that sends an innocent man to his death in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird was just one of the powerful indictments that gave both the 1960 novel and its 1962 movie adaptation the ring of a clarion call, rebukes of injustices from the entrenched racism of the Deep South to the casual cruelty captured so brilliantly in that title.
Aaron Sorkin’s incisive Broadway adaptation expands that roster of mockingbirds by at least one: the sexual other, personified by little Dill Harris, played with a striking blend of vulnerability and backbone by the Tony Award-nominated Gideon Glick.
Perhaps we’ve always known about Dill, the fatherless out-of-towner who finds friendship and adventure in summertime Maycomb, Alabama, the odd little boy who will, in a sense, grow up to be Truman Capote, Lee’s lifelong friend and inspiration for the character. But Glick, Sorkin and director Bartlett Sher have expanded and sharpened this portrait of a young outsider, both gifting and burdening him with an incipient self-awareness. We see it in Dill’s quiet study of the handsome Jem (Will Pullen), his camaraderie with the boyish Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), and in his own dawning realization that he belongs with all the other misfits of Maycomb who risk their lives simply by being.
In one of the play’s loveliest moments – Sorkin at his best, beautifully performed by Jeff Daniels and Glick – Atticus, usually annoyed by Dill, suddenly seems to see in this feisty kid what we see, and the recognition conveys equal parts admiration and concern. What, he seems to be wondering, will become of Dill Harris in this mean world?
To Kill A Mockingbird is playing on Broadway at the Sam. S. Shubert Theatre. Adapted by Aaron Sorkin from Harper Lee’s novel, the play is directed by Bartlett Sher.
This conversation with Gideon Glick, who plays Dill Harris, has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Deadline: What did Aaron Sorkin and Scott Rudin see of Dill in you when they reached out?
Gideon Glick: That’s a good question. I know they wanted a gay actor to play Dill. Dill is young Truman Capote, and there is a queer sensibility to him, and I would imagine that’s why they brought me in, though I don’t have the actual answer to that. But I also think, because the character is oscillating between the more mature voice then a youthful voice, I am quite youthful and boyish, and so, I think that has been helpful in terms of kind of straddling the two sides of the character. And that happened intuitively as I read it the first time.
Deadline: Dill is such an interesting character. As you say he’s based on Truman Capote, and even in the movie it’s not a stretch to see what Harper Lee was saying about him. I wonder if audiences knew they were watching a gay character?
Glick: Yeah, it’s in the book, too. They talk about his voice, the strangeness of him. It’s there. I find it kind of remarkable that that’s not taught in schools. It’s a book about empathy and otherness and walking in another man’s skin, and yet, here you have a young queer child, and the fact that it is based on Truman Capote, Harper Lee said that, and yet, that’s not taught. It’s baffling.
Deadline: Especially when you consider Capote’s first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms, features a young girl character, Idabel, who is based on Harper Lee and who, like Scout, is what then would have been called a tomboy.
Glick: Truman Capote and Harper Lee promised to put each other in their first books, so in Other Voices‘ Idabel is Lee, and Joel is Capote. Capote published Other Voices, Other Rooms in 1948, and Joel Knox is its queer protagonist, a young, queer protagonist. He’s 13, and Joel Knox is a big inspiration for my portrayal of Dill. I find the courageousness of Capote, and that he lived the way he lived in 1948 and that he would publish that book in 1948, such a gigantic inspiration. It warms my heart to see that spirit frolicking across the Shubert Theatre stage.
Deadline: It is remarkable that this classic American story taught for generations has this subtext of sexual otherness in Dill and maybe even Scout. As you say, not taught in school but at least it’s been there for the people who needed to see it.
Glick: It was almost radically queer, you know? We don’t know that much about Harper Lee’s life. She was rather reclusive, but you know…Well, I don’t want to speak out of turn…
Deadline: Two of the story’s three children are what might at the time have been called the tomboy and the sissy boy. There is something radical in that.
Glick: What I find remarkable is how good Aaron’s characterization of Dill is. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to play a lot of queer characters written by queer authors, and Aaron’s not, and still the character has so much humanity and so much soul and heart and integrity. I’ve always been reluctant, I would say, playing queer characters written by heterosexuals just because it’s not necessarily…I don’t know…especially when they’re funny, too! I get nervous as to where the humor is coming from. Aaron did it so beautifully well.
Deadline: Dill is funny but he clearly is not being laughed at. Dill is in on the joke, as was Truman Capote. Capote knew who he was from a young age, and I’m sure it must have been a torment but at the same time, whatever joke there was, he was in on it.
Glick: It’s a survival mechanism.
Deadline: You said that the Capote character from Other Voices, Other Rooms informs your Dill. How so?
Glick: He just kind of permeates, this boy looking for his father, this boy who tells these tall tales, this boy who’s on this quest to come to this foreign town, this big, southern, gothic town. I think of Dill who comes from this Southern Gothic world too. There’s something grand, and I would say my portrayal…See, Dill is different than the citizens of Maycomb, and I think because Harper described how Capote kind of infused Dill, once I read Other Voices it just opened me up. I think of Truman when I’m up there.
Deadline: There’s a moment in the play, with Atticus who, without really saying it, seems to recognize something in Dill that even Dill doesn’t yet know, a sort of “you’re going to have it tough, kid.” You know, a reaching out.
Glick: Twice actually. It also happens with Link Deas [Edit. note: Link Deas, played by Neal Huff, is a character assumed to be the town drunk in the book and play, but who does not appear in the movie]. He and Dill have this father-son moment about where this boy is looking for a father, and they both recognize, yeah, “this is going to be tough for you, kid.” Dill sees the injustice of Tom Robinson and that cruelty, and it opens something up in him. It’s what allows Dill to admit to Atticus that, no, he’s never met his father. His house of cards falls apart.
Deadline: What do you bring to Dill that maybe another actor would not?
Glick: I’ve never really dissected what I bring versus what other actors might, or vice versa. The way I view it is that it’s there in the text, and I’m the interpreter of the text. So whatever’s there, I’m highlighting. And I’m drawn to humor, I’m drawn to sensitive portrayal, I’m drawn to characters that are slightly self-aware. I’ve always played people who are on the fringe, people who are a little strange, a little off. I’ve always been told I’m a little strange and a little off, and I think I imbue Dill with that.
Deadline: So when someone says you’re a little strange or a little off, how do you make that work for you? Have there been moments in your career when it was held against you?
Glick: It’s totally happened. It’s always been somewhat of a struggle when you get feedback about the way you speak or that the way you hold your body isn’t right. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn because it’s been a hard journey but it’s also been a really fruitful journey. People have said to me numerous times, and for very different roles, “Oh, it’s like that part was written for you.” And these parts are so disparate. I think it’s because I am not your regular fare, I am a bit different. So sometimes that is held against you, and then sometimes, it’s magical and it fits like a glove. It’s a blessing and a curse, I will say.
Deadline: How do they say it? When you’re gay, you know what they mean by things like “quirky.” Is that how they say it to you? And what’s your response to that?
Glick: I’ve been told I’m too soft, that my voice is too high, that I’m too quirky, that I’m doing too much. In my head, that’s just me being. I’ve always been told I’m a lot, even in life, so that’s my natural tendency, and so, it’s honest. I’m only concerned with what is honest, and so that’s what’s honest to me, and that’s what’s going to infuse the character. That’s not to say I don’t get lost in the character. I’ve played vastly different people, and it’s just about how the channels align. But to answer your question, it’s all coded words.
Deadline: “Tone it down.” We know what that means. But isn’t it wonderful that you have found this place where it’s celebrated. It’s working for you.
Glick: It’s really remarkable and exciting, and it’s wonderful to look back on all the work that I’ve done, and I’m just so proud of it and see that it’s eclectic and with these amazing artists that I’ve gotten to work with. And it’s been about withstanding that criticism and hardship. I don’t believe in absolutes – I don’t think that only gay people should play gay characters, that only straight people should play straight characters, but I will say that there’s something really profound when a gay man gets to play a gay man…there are nuances there that just will exist because you are bringing your humanity to your work, and you’re bringing all that you’ve persevered. I mean, all gay men and all gay women have persevered. I can firmly say that. That is embedded in our DNA, and that comes through in our work.
Deadline: You’ve been in some big productions. Spring Awakening. You were in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark briefly…
Glick: Actually, for a long time.
Deadline: Tell me that story. And I have a reason for going here.
Glick: It was months of previews, and it wasn’t working out for whomever decided that it wasn’t working out. So they decided to let go of Julie [Taymor, director]. They fired Julie, and then, as a result, they wrote parts out. I was one of the young narrators of the show, the Geek Chorus, like a Greek chorus. Through us meeting to tell the tale of Spider-Man, the story came alive. And it was an interesting concept, and I can’t tell you why it didn’t work.
Deadline: I bring that up to establish that you’ve been in some major theatrical whirlwinds. Spring Awakening, Spider-Man and now To Kill A Mockingbird. What’s it like being on the inside looking out of a Broadway whirlwind, the kind of show everyone’s talking about for better or worse?
Glick: You know, it’s interesting you put in context of those three shows. I would say with Spring Awakening, I was so young and shy and was really trying to figure out what art was versus commercial art. I majored in art history at NYU, and then I did a play. I wasn’t comfortable with the success of it. Spider-Man, the attention wasn’t positive, and people came not to participate as an audience but to laugh at us and see people get hurt and to see this kind of wreck, so that was not a positive experience. And now, with this, I feel I’m much more mature, I’ve evolved as an artist, and the attention it’s getting is really exciting. I’m there every night. I’ve seen people being moved, and I’m very proud of my participation in it. This is a piece that belongs to this nation, and I couldn’t be happier. What else could I be doing but what I’m doing?