How Broadway Frees an Unsung Queer Boy in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Tony nominee Gideon Glick soars as a young character inspired by Truman Capote.

Gideon Glick is a rare bird indeed.

Aaron Sorkin’s new Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Bartlett Sher, brings Harper Lee’s beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to life with Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch, a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama. Bending the laws of realism, the three kids at the heart of the story are played by adult actors; Glick is Tony-nominated for his performance as Dill, a neighbor boy who befriends the Finch children, Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Jem (Will Pullen), while the trial exposes racism and social injustice in their small Southern town.

After making his Broadway debut in 2006 as a queer teen in Spring Awakening, Glick went on to tackle more gay roles in shows like Wild Animals You Should Know, The Harvest, and Significant Other. “The fact that I get to play all these different, rich, textured gay men is a privilege and an honor,” he told NewNowNext in 2017. “If I can make a career out of that, I’d be more than happy.”

Glick, who came out as gay in the seventh grade, now explains why he’s happily outing a literary character you may not have clocked in your classroom.

TKAM/Julieta Cervantes

To Kill a Mockingbird is the highest-grossing American play in Broadway history. Has it gone to your head?

Yeah, I don’t talk to anybody that I used to talk to. [Laughs] It’s really exciting. It’s nice to see butts in the audience, you know? It’s also nice, objectively, to see a play doing so well, especially without any special effects.

How does the timing of this production factor into its success?

Well, the show is about race and injustice. The book was written in the ’60s, looking back on the ’30s, so there was a sense of reflection. Now we’re in 2019, looking back at the ’60s looking back on the ’30s, and the whole point is that there’s a cyclical thing happening, and it doesn’t feel like anything has really changed. I think that’s what audiences are responding to the most. This piece is so important to the nation and to our development as young people, but why do we keep coming back to it? Because it’s so timeless, and that’s also what’s so heartbreaking about it.

It’s heavy stuff, but Dill brings a lot of lightness to the show. Does that come with any pressure?

At the beginning I felt that way: "You’re the comic relief, you have to land those jokes!” That kind of got in my way—the idea of being somewhat mathematical about handling the comedy. It wasn’t helpful. When you just focus on why the character says what he’s saying, everything flows from that and falls together.

TKAM/Julieta Cervantes

Gideon, you’re a 30-year-old man. How old is Dill?

Dill is around 8 to 10 years old.

Audiences are used to seeing adult actors play high school students, but adults playing children is a much riskier challenge. When first approached about this role, did you have any hesitations?

Yeah, 100%. It’s a really tricky balance. But I think it’s very helpful for this piece, because so many people know the book or the movie. There’s something inherently theatrical about having adults play kids, so we know that this piece belongs in the theater. It’s so different and unexpected, so you can leave all your preconceived notions behind and enjoy this piece for what it is.

I read that the original plan was to cast child actors. You stole some poor kid’s gig!

[Laughs] I know, but a man’s gotta work.

How do you tap into a childlike quality without slipping into caricature?

I’m mostly concerned about the spirit of a child, not pretending to be a child. It’s about being a child, being concerned with what these kids are concerned with, rather than trying to show childlike characteristics. How do they entertain themselves in the 1930s Deep South without television? What excites them, what ignites them, what inspires them to speak? If you’re focused on the psychological nature of it, everything else will follow.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for TKAM

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 13: Jeff Daniels takes a bow during curtain call after the opening night performance of "To Kill A Mocking Bird" at the Shubert Theatre on December 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for "To Kill A Mockingbird")

It doesn’t hurt that you have a youthful look that’s helped you play younger for years. Has that ever felt like a curse?

It’s interesting. Celia and I both have a youthful look and youthful spirit. There have been times I’ve wondered if looking boyish would hurt me in my career as I matured. But then I look at someone like Truman Capote, who was boyish and had a high voice until the day he died. There are a lot of people with that same youthful spirit that I can portray until the day I die.

I hadn’t realized until doing research for our chat that Harper Lee modeled Dill on Capote, who was her childhood friend.

Yeah, Truman and Harper Lee grew up next-door to each other in Monroeville, Alabama, which is where Maycomb in the story is based off of, and they promised each other they would put each other in their first books. So Harper Lee is also in his first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms, as a young butch character named Idabel.

What kind of research did you do in preparing to play Dill?

I went down to Monroeville, I spent a couple days talking to people who lived there, walking around, soaking up the hot Alabama sun. I did a lot of research on Truman Capote and his work, on Harper Lee, on Jim Crow South. It was an immersive experience for me. It’s the most research I’ve ever done for a character.

How does Capote inform your portrayal?

It’s a humongous part of it. I’m in no way impersonating Truman Capote, but it’s an homage to him.

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 07: Actor Gideon Glick attends the Broadway opening night of 'Oklahoma' at Circle in the Square Theatre on April 07, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

Although Dill is very young, do you consider him a queer character?

Yeah, I’m portraying a young queer boy in the Deep South, which is what Capote was. Other Voices, Other Rooms was a big inspiration for me, too, because its protagonist, Joel Knox, is a 13-year-old queer boy. Capote was an absolutely remarkable, courageous figure. He was out in 1948, writing queer characters as a queer author. That spirit and audacity really colors in my portrayal.

I didn’t pick up on Dill being queer when I read Mockingbird in school.

If you reread it now, you’ll see it. It’s all there, the references to how odd and queer he is, the way he dresses, the way he speaks. But yeah, I find it really crazy that this is a book about otherness, empathy, walking in another man’s skin, and yet teachers don’t really talk about the Capote connection or that this kid is gay. That’s shocking to me.

It’s clearer now, too, that Dill and Jem have one of the sweetest bromances in American literature.

In this adaptation, especially, their relationship is really something to hook into.

Is it fair to say Dill has a crush on Jem?

Yeah. I don’t know how conscious he is of that, but he loves Jem. Dill doesn’t have a close, loving family, and he doesn’t have many friends, so he falls in love with the entire Finch family. He’s found a place where he can be himself and be loved for it.

Significant Other/Joan Marcus

When we last spoke in 2017, you were starring on Broadway as a hopelessly single gay man in Significant Other. It ultimately closed early, just three months after Trump’s inauguration. Is he to blame?

It was a complex play, a complex character, and not your typical Broadway show, so the fact that it got to Broadway at all is something to be proud of. But yes, let’s always blame Trump for everything.

Your Significant Other character was nearing 30, a milestone attached to anxiety, depression, and desperation. How’s 30 working out for you?

On my 30th birthday, my partner proposed to me with birthday cake. I don’t know if that was because he was worried about my reaction to turning 30, but it was a wonderful way to mark it. Life is good—we just purchased our first apartment, I’m sitting here with my dog… If this is 30, I really can’t complain.

To Kill a Mockingbird is now playing at the Shubert Theatre in New York.

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