Matthew Modine: Racism in To Kill A Mockingbird is bigger than US history

The 63-year-old actor, who opened his performance on Monday, also spoke about how the play is about seeing things from another perspective.
Matthew Modine: Racism in To Kill A Mockingbird is bigger than US history

By Charlotte McLaughlin and Ellie Iorizzo, PA Entertainment Reporters

Matthew Modine said the “systemic racism” in To Kill A Mockingbird is “bigger” than its setting in US history as he stars in the West End play.

The 63-year-old Stranger Things and Full Metal Jacket actor plays Atticus Finch, a small-town country lawyer tasked with defending a black man falsely accused of attacking a white woman.

The stage play, adapted by West Wing creator Adam Sorkin, is based on Harper Lee’s classic book exploring racial injustice and childhood innocence in 1930s southern America.

Sorkin’s play has already seen Rafe Spall, known for The Big Short and Hot Fuzz, and Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina actor Richard Coyle take on the role as Finch in the West End.

Meanwhile, Broadway has seen Jeff Daniels, known for Sorkin’s The Newsroom, and The Americans’ actor Richard Thomas take on the character.

Modine, who opened his performance at the Gielgud Theatre on Monday, told the PA news agency: “I think Aaron Sorkin is one of the most important writers in the United States, if not the world right now.

“He’s done a really wonderful job of… presenting it to… today’s audience.”

He said the story, like Lee wrote in her book, is “to help us to get inside the skin of another person and see the world through their perspective”.

BAFTA Film Awards 2018 – Arrivals – London
Aaron Sorkin has adapted Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird into a play (PA)

He said: “That’s very important because when you do that you become more empathetic.”

Asked if people today need more empathy, Modine said they “act on emotion” and “much of social media” is without facts, contemplation or responsibility.

He said: “What I feel that the (former US president Donald Trump’s) administration represented… (is) absent facts and absent knowledge. And look what it did to our country. The United States has divided the country in half…

“While the play is about systemic racism in the United States and the history of racism in the United States, it also has to be bigger than that, you know. This is not something that’s unique to the United States.

“It exists here in the United Kingdom. It exists in Africa. It exists in the Middle East. And so that’s, that’s the genius of a good writer, you know, is to make universal truths that everyone can understand.”

Modine continued: “If you’re a white person who’s had the benefits of living in a white culture, to see things through the lens of a person of colour, and in the misjustice that this character – because of the colour of his skin – suffers from, you know, that he’s found guilty purely because of the fact that he’s black…”

The American actor, also known for The Dark Knight Rises, will star alongside His Dark Materials and Killing Eve actress Cecilia Noble, who plays Calpurnia.

Lee’s novel, which was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize the next year, has sold more than 45 million copies.

The US novelist, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died in 2016 aged 89.

Sorkin won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Social Network and is also known for films like Steve Jobs.

To Kill A Mockingbird is currently booking until February 4th, 2023 at the Gielgud Theatre in London.

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