Hallie Foote was only 10 years old when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and only 12 when her father, screenwriter Horton Foote, adapted Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winner into one of the great films of all time—winning Foote the 1963 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Hallie, now 62, says she paid little attention to her father's work as a child, but she certainly has grown to appreciate it—and his vast body of work—over the years, calling him "the great American writer." Now, on the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, she is reminisces about Mockingbird, her father's legacy, and why his work resonates with Christians. She spoke to CT as part of a publicity campaign for a special screening of the film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
I have a very serious question to start our conversation. I understand you played Grandma Lois in Paranormal Activity 3?
Yes, I was! (laughing)
What would your dad say to that?
He would laugh! I had a really good time. And I think that's what he would always want me to do.
Fair enough. Let's talk about To Kill a Mockingbird. How would you describe this movie's legacy?
I think it's remarkable. It's a wonderful movie, and I love the book. It's a theme that's timeless and universal, and people always identify with the things in the book and the movie. And the protagonist, Atticus Finch, represents something about the best in human nature. I think it will continue to resonate for a very long time.
Do you have a favorite scene in the film?
Yes. I love the scene when the children are in bed talking about their mother, and Atticus can hear them from on the porch: "Do you remember her? Do you love her?"
What would you say the film is ultimately about?
It's a very complicated thing, because underlying everything in this story is the issue of race and how it's played out in this country. I think she [Lee] explores that brilliantly. But it's also about a father teaching values to his children by example. He's not the perfect father, and he makes mistakes, but he always tries to do the right thing. And he really loves his children, and shows that even when you don't have a lot, if you have the love of a parent, it goes a long way.
You were about 10 years old when the book came out. Do you remember your dad working on the screenplay for the film?
Not really. We were just kids, doing other things. But I do remember that when my dad got nominated for the Academy Award, he didn't even go out to Hollywood. We all sat around and watched it on TV, and my brother went to bed and said, "He's going to lose." We just didn't think he'd win, because Lawrence of Arabia was winning everything. So when my dad won, it was a nice surprise. [In 1963, Lawrence won Best Picture and Best Director, but Mockingbird won Best Actor (for Gregory Peck) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Foote).]
As you grew older, did you talk to your dad about what it was like writing this particular screenplay?
Yes. He told me that at first he wasn't inclined to write it because he just doesn't want to adapt someone else's work. He just wanted to do his own things. But my mother was always great at counseling him. She read the novel first and told my dad, "You've got to read this." When he read it, he realized he probably should try to adapt it.
And then when he met Harper, he just fell in love with her; he said they had this instant shorthand because they both came from small towns in the South. He understood the people she was writing about. And he read a review of the book that was titled "Scout in the Wilderness," comparing the character of Scout to the character of Huck Finn. Dad said that just unlocked something for him, and that's when he really kind of figured out how to do the story.