Tom Skerritt is set to make his Broadway debut in A Time To Kill this fall, but the veteran actor admitted that he’s experiencing a bit of stage fright.
The 80-year-old MASH star will play Lucien Willbanks, the mentor to defense attorney Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus). Willbanks was played by Donald Sutherland in the 1996 film adaptation of John Grisham’s best-selling novel of the same name. Brigance was played by Matthew McConaughey in the film.
“My agent said, ‘You have this offer.’ I’m thrilled but terrified. I’ve worked lots in films but couldn’t see eight months on Broadway for little money,” Skerritt confessed. “Years ago, speaking on Don Quixote, I experienced a live audience. I recall that surge of energy. But Broadway?! Holy s**t.”
Skerritt played the title role in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Don Quixote last February.
“I’m terrified. Rehearsals start now. And memorization? My heritage is Irish. I’m the type who’ll just go at it. Grab it by the throat and deal with it,” Skerritt added. “Having never seen the movie, I’ll fortunately come at this with a fresh view.”
Set in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi, A Time To Kill revolves around the rape of a young black girl, Tonya Hailey, by two white racists. The men are arrested, and Tonya’s father, Carl Lee Hailey, hires Jack Brigance because he thinks they will be acquitted. Brigance says there’s a possibility the men will walk, and Carl Lee acquires a rifle and shoots them to death in the courthouse. He then goes on trial, and the district attorney seeks the death penalty.
Tom Skerritt also discussed the transition from his home town of Seattle to New York City for the duration of the play.
“In Manhattan, I’ll stay at a friend’s condo while a Realtor finds a place for my wife [Julie], our daughter, 5 1/2, and our sensitive 100-pound Swiss Mountain dog. I’m concerned about din,” he said.
Skerritt also said the adjustment from his “simple life” in Seattle to being up all night in the Big Apple would be difficult.
“I never lived in Manhattan. I’m from Detroit. I went to UCLA to be a filmmaker and been in Seattle, an outpost with NYC influences, 25 years. Simple life,” he said. “Immersed in civic activities. Go to the movies once a year. It’s outdoors, up early seeing water, mountains, an eagle overhead. Staying up late, dinner late, sleeping late will be difficult.”
A Time To Kill opens October 20 at the John Golden Theatre.