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'I just think of how ugly that world used to be': Local kids star in To Kill a Mockingbird

Editor’s note: The classic coming-of-age story, To Kill a Mockingbird, is currently onstage at the Intiman through Nov. 10. Set in a Depression-era small Alabama town, the story examines two children’s changing relationship with their lawyer father as he defends an black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

The cast includes three talented local children. Nick Robinson, 12, plays Jem Finch in his first lead role in professional theater. He’s a tall kid with an open face, who talks easily and articulately about acting. Keaton Whittaker, 11, takes on the role of Scout Finch after appearing in
White Christmas at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Slight and soft-spoken, she too is poised beyond her years. Lino Marioni, 9, is Dill. He’s a little bit of a ham, slipping into a Southern accent while he talks and comparing himself and his fellow actors to the Harry Potter crew.

ParentMap sat down recently with these remarkable young actors to find out how they connect with this classic set in a very-distant era — with some very grown-up concepts.

Q: Tell me about your characters and how they change through the play.

Nick Robinson: Jem is a kid who’s having problems with his dad. He wants to interact with him but he doesn’t know how. Jem is frustrated, but in the end, he sees the big picture about standing in someone else’s shoes. He learns stuff like “never judge a book by its cover,” and patience, and giving it time. To not listen to rumors. Jem is an awesome part. It really requires you to dig down and think.

Keaton Whittaker: She [Scout] definitely changes throughout the show, especially when Atticus shoots the dog. We learn that everyone has their thing. We thought he was a dumb old guy who didn’t know anything. And we learned to respect him.

Lino Marioni: Dill’s a kid who lives in Meridian, not Maycomb. They buy me everything I want, then say [in a Southern accent] now go play with it.

KW: And when he gets to Scout and Jem, he really feels at home.

Q: How do you all like working together?

In unison: It’s fun!

LM: It’s sort of like in Harry Potter. Hermione, Ron and Harry are good friends outside of the movie.

Q: How long have you been working on the play, and what have rehearsals been like?

KW: About 41/2 weeks. It was 10 to 6 mostly every day. I got a tutor.

NR: About 8 hours a day. Especially during tech week, I would go to school, pick up homework, do homework during dinner…

KW: He got way too tired. [All laugh]

Q: I notice all of you are speaking easily in a Southern accent. Tell me about that.

My dad is good at accents. My parents have really…I couldn’t have done anything without them.

KW: I couldn’t have gotten that without my parents.

Q: What has it been like working on a play with such grown-up subject matter?

NR: Our director is amazing. He gets up and takes you aside, tells you to “try this.” He’s grounding.

LM: I just think of how ugly that world used to be.

KW: I learned that what you look like doesn’t matter. Your religion doesn’t matter, either.

NR: I really want to portray Jem well. Some kids may not have seen this play before. If people look at this and think, this is good, I’ll be really glad.

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