Mary Badham

Mary Badham

To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the screen’s most beloved and critically acclaimed films, celebrates its 50th anniversary with a commemorative and to celebrate it has been released on Blu-Ray.

Mary Badham took on the role of Scout in the movie has she looks back at her time working on the movie.

- Why do you think the film has endured?

It’s such a beautiful family story and it is a story of hope. There are lessons we still have not learned yet, especially lessons such as paying attention, getting a good education, being more tolerant of people and taking care of one another.

- How was it revisiting the film for the 50th anniversary edition?

To Kill a Mockingbird has never stopped for me. It is a major part of my life and I have been on the road with this film for about 20 years, speaking at high schools, colleges and universities. I even went to Russia to talk to the people there about it. It is such a wonderful film and a great teaching tool. The book is mandatory in schools.

I am involved in The Big Read, which is where different countries pick a book and they all read it together, study it and they do community projects connected with that.

There is a famous line in the book about standing in another man’s shoes and walking around in them, and one of the cities I went to they took that line and had people send in pairs of shoes with stories attached to them. There was a tiny pair of shoes that a lady had had when she wanted to be a ballet dancer.

She had come from another country, set up in New York and basically lived in those shoes for years. There were two pairs of boots, one worn by the father and the other worn by his son, and there was a little story about where they had been and what they had done with those boots - fun things.

The film and book also create a lot of discussion about what is important in life. It is just wonderful.

-  What are your fondest memories of the shoot?

We had so much fun and there was so much love there. Gregory Peck really was Atticus Finch. His whole personality and the way he raised us as his on-screen children was exactly like Atticus.

I loved the camaraderie, I was surrounded by all these people who were so wonderful, kind and hardworking, and they have remained lifelong friends. The lasting friendships are what I cherish most about the experience, and also the thirst for knowledge I gained because of it.

-  What feedback did you get from Harper Lee about your interpretation of Scout?

She was very complimentary and she is a dear friend. I love her very much. Last year we spent lots of time together and it was wonderful. We rarely talk about it but of course she realises what an impact it has had.

She is very proud of her work. It is the most read book in the world. It used to be that the Bible was the number one book but To Kill A Mockingbird has surpassed it. It is known all around the world and when I went to Russia I was totally blown away.

They approached it as a straightforward 1930s black-and-white story but then we got to talking about what the film and the book are really about - the bigger picture and they totally got it.

- Given that this was your first film, was there anything you found difficult?

The hardest thing was the very last scene we shot, which was the jail scene where there is the mob, and the reason it was hard was because I knew when that scene was finished I would have to say goodbye to all these people I had grown to love.

I had real trouble getting through it. There were lots of tears because I thought I had never see any of them again, but as it turned out we stayed in touch.

- How did it feel walking on to a film set for the first time?

You have to understand that I was like a blank sheet of paper. I had never been to the movies and I did not know anything about the movies or the film industry, movie stars and all that. So I was like a sponge absorbing everything because it was all so new and different.

-  Were you anything like Scout?

Very much so, yes. I am a tomboy, I love being outside and doing physical things like construction, working in the garden and with horses.

That is who I am and it is who I was back then. I think she had a much different upbringing than I did, though. My parents never pushed for an education because I was a female; as a Southern female I was expected to get married and that would be it. I did not have the advantages that Scout had. I think she was a lot more intelligent than I was.

- What lessons did you take away from the movie?

I took away the idea of being strong, standing on my own two feet, and with the big picture in mind. You have to look at everything as a whole, and that takes time and effort.

-  How did your peers at school react to you being in a film?

It became rather difficult. At that age friends are very important and I was starting at a new school. My father put me in an all-girls private school and it was tough because I never did fit in.

I never knew whether people wanted to be friends with me because I had been in the movie or because of who I was. Once you get hurt a couple of times by insincere people it is hard. I became very protective. You never really knew who to trust - other children as well as adults.

-  Is it true Phillip Alford tried to kill you in the tire scene?

Yes, although I am not sure I knew it at the time. I was pretty innocent but I had been raised with boys and I knew what they were capable of. My brothers were nasty too. They were always trying to get rid of me.

- In the Blu-ray and DVD special features Phillip also says you were mouthing the other actors’ words. Is that true?

Yes because not being of the theatre or anything I knew nothing of timing.

If someone paused or hesitated over their lines I would be mouthing the words. Robert Mulligan (the director) would say ‘We can see your mouth moving’.

- How was Peck as a co-star and on-screen father?

He was brilliant. He really, really was. He was so well-rehearsed that he was that character. He was a lovely human being and a real role model.

He was also very patient with me and I do not think he ever lost his temper. I never recall him ever losing his temper in all the years I knew him.

There may have been times when he got rather stern with people, but it was more of a coldness rather than anger. He let the person know ‘Do not cross that line’.

He was firm but gentle, and people had such major respect for this man. He stood tall.

- How did your friendship develop over the years?

If he was going to be on the East Coast and it was possible for me to come and visit he would send me a ticket to wherever he was, or he would stop by my work and pick me up to take me to lunch. It was lovely.

I still keep in touch with his children Cecilia and Anthony. I called him Atticus and he called me Scout. It was very natural - I was his Scout and he was my Atticus.

- Does it bother you that you are associated with To Kill A Mockingbird more than any of your other work?

Oh no. I am very honoured by it. I mean what a role! What a beautiful film. If I had never done another film I would have been fine with that one because it was so perfect.

- What sort of feedback have you had about the film?

When I am doing talks I give a little introduction then open it up to the audience for them to ask whatever questions they want. It depends on the group.

If I am doing a talk with a class of film students, or theatre people, or high school children they are all completely different. That is the beauty of the film.

You can talk about so many different subjects. I have talked about women’s issues and comparison studies on what it was like in the 30s, 50s and 60s, I have talked about working in Los Angeles. There is a wide range of subject matter there.

- You were nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar. How did it feel going to the ceremony?

It was lovely. I had no clue what was going on and I did not realise I had assigned seating, and when I was asked to move so a family could sit together I did as they asked.

When they tried to find me with the cameras I was not where I was supposed to be! That shows how ignorant I was of what was going on.

- Were you upset when you did not win?

I was relieved more than anything else. I was glad Patty Duke won it for The Miracle Worker because I had no idea what I was going to say.

So I was thrilled I did not win, and having since seen The Miracle Worker, Patty deserved it as far as I am concerned. She earned that Oscar with blood, sweat and tears - she was really something.

-  Looking at To Kill A Mockingbird as an adult, what do you see as the core lesson?

There are so many. If you want a word it is ‘tolerance’ and if you want a concept it is ‘education and freedom’. You have to get a good education because ignorance breeds things like bigotry, racism, hatred and small mindedness - all of that stuff is born of ignorance.

It shows us how we need to raise our children. Let them have the freedom to be outside and to read. To put down the technology and get back to what it means to be a family, to all sit down at the table and eat together.

I have little room to talk because it is very hard for me to do that with my family but we need to make the effort when we can.

- How did you feel when you first saw yourself on the screen?

The first time I saw it was at the premiere and all I can say is I was embarrassed. It is like a little kid watching home movies. It is that same feeling of embarrassment.

- Did you have any idea at the time that you were part of something that would still be watched and talked about 50 years later?

Heavens no, but I think Mr. Mulligan and Mr. Pakula (producer Alan J. Pakula) absolutely knew what they wanted it to be.

But we were all pleasantly surprised how amazingly important this film and this book have been.

To Kill a Mockingbird Limited Edition Collector’s Series Blu-ray is out now.