When audiences flock to Broadway’s Shubert Theatre to see Harper Lee’s novel come to life onstage in Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird, expectations are high. But it’s what we don’t expect that delivers one of the most affecting moments in the play.
“Aaron always says that Dill is the secret weapon of the show,” says Gideon Glick, now Tony-nominated for his performance as the third in the trio of youngsters in Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Indeed, Dill’s is the story you don’t see coming.
From the moment he enters the story, Glick (as Dill) endears himself to the audience and the Finch family alike.
“My name is Charles Baker Harris, but folks call me Dill. I’m from the bayous of Louisiana, but I spend my summers with my Aunt Rachel,” recites a straight-backed, forthright Glick. He oozes earnestness—a deep desire to be taken seriously—evident from the nine-year-old’s persona, complete with puffed-up chest and the pseudo-adult introduction he repeats word-for-word, cadence-for-cadence to all he meets. But in Glick’s hands, the recitation never grates, it only charms.
“It’s his calling card, but it’s also his way of amping himself up,” says Glick of the line. “He has a habit of ingratiating himself to people that he wants to ingratiate himself to, and he falls deeply in love with this family and so he wants to be taken in by them.” But while this little boy might project fortitude and confidence, there’s a fragility beneath Glick’s surface.
“You’re seeing Dill has a grandness to him,” Glick continues. “The way of masking his deeply vulnerable state. Aaron and I were interested in the idea of this character who is an optimist, who sees the best in everybody—and that’s his coping mechanism.”
Glick creates this juxtaposition of grandeur and insecurity, buoyancy and heavy secrecy, building from the foundation of the character in Lee’s novel. Like his literary counterpart, Glick’s portrayal draws inspiration from Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote and his “self-mythologizing,” as Glick calls it. But the Tony nominee also mixes notes of Joel Knox (a character from Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, inspired by his childhood friendship with Lee), details from combing Lee’s novel, and nuances mined in Sorkin’s script, which “can then free me up to say, ‘OK, here’s the palette and let’s see what happens onstage.”
What happens onstage is sheer magic. Because as Glick struts with a veneer of self-confidence, runs around Maycomb with wide-eyed adventurousness, and loves his friends with his whole heart, we, in turn, love him with ours.
Which is why when his carefully fastened mask slips off in Act 2, it devastates. “This show is about innocence and a loss of innocence,” says Glick. Tom Robinson’s familiar fate rightfully guts the audience, but it’s the second, surprise blow from Dill that shocks in Glick’s intimate scene with Jeff Daniels as Atticus.
“It’s a really hard scene because there’s not actually a lot of words in it and I think there’s a really big leap in it,” says Glick. In that moment, Glick cracks open and exposes his vulnerability—and shatters audiences.
“Dill has built this house of cards to protect himself, to mask the cruelty of the upbringing he is subjected to and then when he sees this terrible injustice to Tom Robinson, it breaks him and he has a very emotional response to it,” he says. “I think that’s what allows Dill to admit the truth to Atticus."
“I love Gideon so much—he’s invested so much in Dill,” says Sorkin. “There was this one moment during previews where he came to Bart and me and said, ‘Hey guys, am I just comic relief in this play?’ We all went, ‘Oh my God, no. You spend the first act making us laugh, which is why we have no idea we are gonna get kneecapped in the second act.’”
But by Act 2, it’s also because we’ve become loyal to Dill—as loyal as he is to Scout in their childhood reality and her imagined memory. “I think [to myself], ‘You’re actually here to help your best friend get to the other side,’” Glick says. “Because why else are we meeting here in this cerebral plane where we are narrating the show? We’re really here for Scout’s subconscious.”
And Glick’s performance will stay in ours for many moons to come.