Richard Thomas stars in “Mockingbird”

Richard Thomas stars in "Mockingbird"

How Richard Thomas aims to redefine Atticus as ‘Mockingbird’ comes to L.A.

Richard Thomas stars in “Mockingbird,” an upcoming crime drama set in Los Angeles. The film, out March 12, is the second coming of another beloved “L.A. Times” columnist, the late A.J. Liebling. The project was launched with $300,000 from the Liebling estate and was then produced by a small independent outfit. It is not a studio film but is backed by a small outfit that will make its money, as in the case of “Vera Drake,” by advertising in the “L.A. Times.”

But as with “Mockingbird,” the film is really a love story between its central character, Atticus Finch, and a fellow African-American man, James Baldwin. It’s a tale of a man who is deeply immersed in a world that is racially hostile, but who rises above it to make the country great. It’s been called “an epic quest for freedom and redemption.”

Thomas, the real-life “Mockingbird,” had done some writing at college. His first published play, “The Devil’s Chessboard,” was produced by a small independent company and went on to have its world premiere at the Public Theater. A successful television series followed, and he got to make more writing opportunities, including the screenplay for the film version of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

His most important role came, quite possibly, last year when he became a series regular on the hit HBO series, “Big Love.” It was there, in a TV role that is a tribute to the quality of his writing, he had an opportunity to write a script that would be based on a book by someone else’s.

His chance arose in November 2005 with the release of the new book by Pulitzer Prize winner and civil rights activist James Baldwin. In Baldwin’s telling of the story of Atticus Finch, the lawyer who defended James Byrd – a black man who was accused, falsely, of rape and murder – the central character is a white man, Finch, who takes on the case with the same ferocity, fairness and

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