"There's a certain ease with which a person like that works through society, and there is also a point at which there is a difference between you and the man you're defending — not only in race, but in social class — and nothing you think you can do is going to bridge that gap, so you have to find a way to make the jury understand this case from the standpoint of a murder trial, but also from the standpoint of a racial trial. I always find it so interesting when a character thinks he's got it all figured out but really is so in over his head that he's got to actually figure it all out."
The man he is defending — according to Thompson, the actor playing him — is a fascinating character. "In order for me to understand him, I had to understand the racial and political history of Mississippi, which was so resistant to integration. The year of the play is 1986, but it's obviously informed by that racial and political history that led up to that point. That's 21 years after the civil rights movement ended, and there's a lot of remnants of that type of the segregationist society, Jim Crow and all that sort of stuff. I just paint that as the racial background of the play because one of the big issues of the play is race and justice."
A Time To Kill's opening echoes recent news; earlier this week, in Orange County, NY, a family man — father of two — was jailed for killing a fugitive rape suspect who had been terrorizing families in the area. Said one eye-witness: "I did not see a murder committed."
When discussing his own character, Thompson said, "I think that it's a personal thing. I think if you ask some fathers, 'If something like this was done to your daughter, what would you do?', they'd say, 'I'd kill him. I'd kill him.' Like, almost there's no thought. I could not deal with that kind of situation without taking the lives of the people who would do that to me and my family.
"Is there such a thing as equal justice under the law?" he said. "And, regardless of race, how does someone respond to tragedy and stress when it's committed against you and your family? We live within a country or a judicial system where, if you do take justice into your own hands, then you are against justice and you're on trial. That's exactly what happens to my character. He then becomes the subject of justice, whether it's going to be fair or not."
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