To Kill A Mockingbird; GLAMoms sit down with Richard Thomas and Jacqueline Williams! | Greater Lansing Area Moms

To Kill a Mockingbird is currently at Wharton Center through October 8th. And GLAMoms had the opportunity to see this powerful Broadway show.  We are also honored to be given the chance to sit down with two of the lead actors! 

Richard Thomas and Jacqueline Williams were incredibly kind and generous with their time even with the very busy schedules they hold. This opportunity felt a bit surreal being amongst the local news stations with their cameras and microphones, GLAMoms does not have fancy equipment 🙂 We sat down with our phones pushed to the side to record and had a lovely 10 or so-minute conversation with these award-winning actors. They were both eager to open up and share what this Broadway show means to them. These two engaging conversations will be a “pinch us” moment we will never forget!

Richard Thomas plays the role of Atticus Finch. A fictional character in Harper Lee‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird.  A  lawyer and resident of the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, and the father of Jeremy “Jem” Finch and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.  He represents the African-American man Tom Robinson in his trial where he is falsely charged with the rape of Mayella Ewell. Read more about Atticus Finch here.  Richard Thomas’s performance is nothing short of brilliant! 

Mr.Thomas is an Emmy Award-winning actor for his performance in the iconic series The Waltons. As well as Last Summer; Red Sky at Morning; September 30, 1955; Wonder Boys; Taking Woodstock; and The Unforgivable. TV: The Americans, Billions, Tell Me Your Secrets, and the Netflix series Ozark and more!

What made you say yes to this role? 

Oh, I mean, how could I say no! I knew when I found out that they were going to adapt this and bring it to New York. I thought this is probably almost certain this will go on tour.  And I love the road.  I like touring a lot. And sure enough, they did. And they invited me to do it on the road. It feels very relevant to me now in 2023. In such a big way.

And I was excited because I always like touring, but this play, to take this story around the country right now just seemed, it just seemed the perfect material for right now. I was so happy that they asked me!

And we hope so many people can see it, especially middle and high schoolers.

Yes. It’s so important. Young people love this book and this story when they read it, but, you know, I read it again as an adult in preparing for this. It’s a whole different book when you read it as an adult in preparing for this. A young adult novel. Especially if you’re a parent, it really it hits home in a lot of different ways. I was happy I read it again.

What do you hope people walk away with when they leave the show?

First of all I want them to be entertained. And I want them to be moved and experience a lot of different emotions and have not been bored and have had a good evening in the theater. And they should feel good and bad according to the things that are, you know, happy and sad in the play.

I think most of all, because this happened to me, doing the play over the course of the last year and a half, rather than going out of the theater, congratulating ourselves on being on the right side of the issues. Like, “I feel good about myself because I’m not the bad guy.” I would love it if people would actually take a moment to examine as I’ve done, where they actually, in terms of their upbringing and their family or their circumstances or their own predispositions, whatever, have actually been a part of the problem. Right. Not so that you, you know, lacerate yourself and feel bad about yourself. So that you join on a personal level, not just to the ideological level.

You join with the issue and find out where you fit within it. That’s what I’d like people to do because we’re all a part of it. Everybody’s a part of it.

We read that your mom was a ballet dancer! Were you a dancer as well?

Yes, my mom was a ballet dancer, my mom and dad both. No, I didn’t dance, but  I studied it. They became teachers after they retired from the stage. And I studied with them quite a bit because it was very useful actually for a young actor.

Speaking of acting, how did you get into this business?

Oh, I started early, I was a baby actor. I did my first job in the summer stock theater when I was six. And I did my first Broadway show when I was seven in 1958. So, it goes way, way back.

For someone just starting out in acting, what advice would you give them?

Oh, I don’t recommend anything. I recommend an easier job 🙂 I never want to discourage anybody. The only thing I tell people, and it freaks people out, especially when their parents are listening, if you want to be in this business, I always say, no plan B. Don’t have a plan B because if you’re busy figuring out a plan B, that’s probably what you should do. Just it’s your heartbeat. Fly without a net, just go for it. And don’t stop going for it until, unless you realize at some point it’s not going to work out the way you want.

But one of the beautiful things about the theater is a lot of people come into the theater wanting to act, and then that doesn’t really pan out. There are so many wonderful ways to have a life in the theater without necessarily being on stage. There are so many different disciplines and ways to be in the world of the theater, so just no plan!

Do you have a pre-show routine?

We all do. Everybody has a pre-show routine. You know, the show itself is a ritual, theater is a ritual, and there are rituals of those that attend. Even if they’re actors who don’t have a thing, they just come in, that’s a ritual.

I come to the theater early. I’m always an hour and a half before the performance to just get in the space, get my head in the right spot for it. I like to say hi to folks, walk around and, you know, sort of visit a little bit and then, just take my time so that I don’t rush so that Atticus can kind of, you know, show up.

And how do you decompress after such an intense show?

Well, first of all, it’s long and it’s late, so I’m tired by the time it’s over at my age. Decompressing is not such a hard thing for me.  I go back to the hotel, I watch the news until that infuriates me so much that I have to turn it off. And then I’ll read and my wife and I will chat and then just sort of drift off.

Does your wife travel with you?

She is now on the tour. She’s always traveled with me a lot, but we don’t have any kids at home anymore, so it’s really easy for us to be on the road together. And it’s fun. We like it.

Have you ever been to East Lansing before?

Never. I’m very excited to be here! It’s a beautiful day and it’s a beautiful place to be. We just got in on Monday night, but I’m excited to explore and it’s a very good vibe. The people have been really nice.

Some fun questions!

Favorite place to vacation?

I don’t vacation very much. My family and I, for about 10 years, every summer would go to the south of France for a nice long stay. We haven’t done that in a few years because of Covid and because I’ve been touring. I was touring another show a few years back. So generally speaking, when I’m not on the road, it’s nice to just be subtle. But the South of France is a place we love to go to.

Text or Call?

Oh, both. Both. It depends on who I’m reaching out to because some people have forgotten how to be on the phone. They’ve forgotten how to talk to people. You know, there are some people who will get back to you quicker if you send an email than if you call them on the phone or a text. It just depends on who my interlocutor is, you know?

Jacqueline Williams plays the role of Calpurnia, also known as ‘Cal”. Calpurnia is the Finch family’s African-American cook, housekeeper and nanny. Calpurnia plays an integral role in the upbringing of Scout and Jem, Atticus’s children. Her performance is powerful and one you will not soon forget. 

Ms. Williams is a multi-award winner whose Broadway credits include Horton Foote’s Pulitzer winner and Tony-nominated The Young Man from Atlanta (Clara) starring Rip Torn and Shirley Knight. Off-Broadway credits include the internationally acclaimed production of From the Mississippi Delta (Phelia/Woman Two) co-produced by Oprah Winfrey, The Talented Tenth (Tanya), and Mill Fire (Widow Three) and more!

What made you say yes to this role?

Oh, who would say No! I am a lifelong fan of the book and the film, and never imagined, there would be this live theater treatment of the book and by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Bart Cher. It was an easy yes.

What do you hope people get out of when they walk away from the show? What do you hope they feel?

It is a wonderful, full journey of an evening. I mean we laugh, we wonder, we cry, we recover and we hope. What I always hope each and every person leaves with is the conversation with each other or at least with themself about what have they done in the past to make things better. What can they do moving forward to make things better? And really the beginning is so simple, that sometimes people make it complicated because it’s so simple. And that is if we just try to have some common respect and understanding of each other, that is the beginning stage of huge, huge progress. And empathy. That is what I hope for every night. 

If you’re a person just starting out what do you wish you would’ve known as far as acting? What would you tell a beginning actor?

I tell beginning actors to read as much as they possibly can. Everything from the Greeks to restoration to all of the classical comedies, just read as much they as can. And see as much theater as they can and if they get the opportunity to sit in on auditions, just to sit there and watch, they can learn a lot!

What brought you into acting? Did you have a mentor that helped you get into this business?

The Christmas play in grade school was my first start in acting, I was 7 or 8 years old. 

As far as a mentor, no. You know I come from shared croppers and cotton pickers, I had to learn on my own as I went along and as I went along there, there were definitely some key people at the high school age and beyond and conservatory. Learning from people as i went along. 

Where did you grow up?

My family’s from Mississippi and my father’s side was from Georgia. I’m the only one of the children who was actually born in the Chicago area. A great city. 

And you have a daughter!

Yes! She is an adult now. She is a professional ballerina, choreographer, and writer. I am so proud of her!

What is your pre-show routine?

Oh, well, you know, I don’t really get into a lot of my prep and process, it changes depending on the demands of the show. I do get there quite early, both Richard (Thomas) and I do. There’s a lot of stuff I have to do before and I wear a wig in the show and I’m first up to get in my wig. I have to get all my makeup done and stuff before half an hour before the wig goes on, I have to be in my mic and be ready.

Now some fun ones!

What are some must-haves with when you travel?

I don’t go anywhere without Tiger Balm for sore muscles and my Liquid IV to stay hydrated. 

I’m very much a homebody when I am not touring. I love everything about home, the people in it, and my things. I also travel with a couple of placemats. I also have a doilie on my nightstand at home. That’s where I put my phone and my glass of water at night, those things make me feel comfortable at whichever hotel I am staying in at the moment. 

Text or call?

Generally, I like a phone call but honestly, I’m pretty busy, so text is probably better, but I do appreciate a phone call. There are some people that don’t like to talk anymore. 

Thank you so much to Richard Thomas and Jaqueline Williams for taking the time to speak with GLAMoms, it was such an honor! Thank you to  Bob Hoffman and Tara Peplowski from Wharton Center for providing us with such an incredible opportunity! There is still time to see this extremely moving Broadway show! It made us laugh, it made us angry and most of all the show will stay with you long after it is over. 

Tickets can be purchased HERE!

Photo credit: Wharton Center Media

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