Cecilia Peck talks To Kill a Mockingbird

Gregory Peck's daughter Cecilia Peck discusses her father's classic role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

There are certain books that are essentially required reading for nearly every American high school student, no matter where they may hail from. One of those literary classics is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which was adapted into the classic film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, still one of the most beloved performances of all time. Universal Studios Home Entertainment is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird with brand new Blu-ray and DVD editions arriving January 31. I had the privilege of speaking with Gregory Peck's daughter, Cecilia Peck, about this timeless classic which finally makes its debut on Blu-ray. Here's what she had to say below.

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It's so great that this is getting a Blu-ray version. I don't think I've seen this since high school, and I loved it back then.

Cecilia Peck: I think it's amazing that you saw it in high school, and that high school kids still watch this movie.

It was awhile ago, but I believe it was in ninth or 10th grade. We read the book, and spent a few weeks on it, and then watched the movie afterward. I still think, to this day, that it's the most faithful adaptation in movie history.

Cecilia Peck: Yes. My son is in seventh grade and he's reading it this year, and he'll watch the movie. It's still in our hearts and minds. It really has stayed with us through all these years.

I believe you were only a few years old when this was released, so I was curious at what age you first saw it, and what you took away from it?

Cecilia Peck: I don't know if I could even tell you when I first saw it. It's always been in my memory. I remember watching the Academy Awards in 1963, and I had given my dad my rabbit's foot for good luck. I remember seeing his hand on his pocket when he walked down the aisle. He was nominated for an Oscar five times before, and hadn't won until that year. I remember just being little and wanting to hear his name announced, and it was. For the movie, I just feel like I always knew the movie by heart, practically.

It was such a fantastic performance and, like you said, he was nominated so many times before, it's kind of amazing that's the first time he won, because he had a wonderful body of work before then.

Cecilia Peck: In a way, it was the role he was meant to play, or that he had waited his whole life for. It was his favorite role, but it wasn't just him though, from Horton Foote's script, to Robert Mulligan's direction, to Alan J. Pakula who produced it, Elmer Bernstein's beautiful music and, obviously, Harper Lee's beautiful novel. It was just one of those productions where everything is right. It was like a family too. I'm still close with everyone who's still here from that film. I'm close with Mary Badham, who played Scout, and Harper Lee.

Did you ever spend any time on the set when you were a kid?

Cecilia Peck: I know that I was there, but I don't remember it. I do have an image of being at the wrap party on the Universal backlot, being in my dad's arms and dancing with him.

You talked a bit about keeping in touch with everyone, so at what age did you kind of realize that this was truly something special, and what made you keep in touch with them throughout the years?

Cecilia Peck: Well, there never was any time when we weren't in touch, particularly Harper, who developed such a strong connection with my father and became close friends with my mother. She was always a part of our lives. She lived back east, and we lived here, but she came to visit and would stay with us. When I grew up and went to school out east, I would call Harper on the phone from college to talk. When I had my first son, he would come to read with her. He's actually named after her. Our son is named Harper. I have gotten to become a part of this film family for To Kill a Mockingbird, and the same with Mary Badham. I used to pretend that I was Scout, and people would ask me if I was and I'd say yes. When I was living in New York, after I graduated from college, I started to be asked to participate in certain events and screenings and readings. All the letters my dad got over the years, from generations of students who have watched it over the years. Then when I made A Conversation With Gregory Peck, the documentary I produced and traveled with him on that show, it wouldn't be just one person in the audience who had named their son Gregory or Atticus. It was dozens. Even when they named him Gregory, they were usually inspired by that film. People had gone to law school because of it. When I made the documentary on my father and traveled with him, I got a larger sense of what an impact it had on so many generations of Americans.

This new Blu-ray has an excerpt from the tribute to your father. How closely were you involved in putting together the special features on this?

Cecilia Peck: Well, yes. My mother contributed so much, and, for me, the most exciting thing about the Blu-ray is for the very first time, my mother made available some of the pages from my father's personal shooting script of To Kill a Mockingbird, with his hand-written script notes. There's so much that went into his portrayal of Atticus. It's so fascinating, and I'm very excited about those being shared for the first time. It's a treasure trove that we've had in our family. There are notes to himself in the margin, after Tom Robinson gets convicted. Atticus is urging him to have faith, and I think he says, 'We'll take it to a higher court. We'll win the next appeal. Don't lose faith.' In the script notes in the margins, he wrote to himself, 'We'll take it to a higher court. We'll take it to the Supreme Court!' Just thinking about his thought process as Atticus is just so moving to read. That's one of the really delightful features. Then my brother and I did a narration for the Blu-ray, with biographies of many of the people involved in the film. I guess it's one of the extra features, where you can watch the movie and listen to these commentaries and biographies. We were able to put in a lot of personal memories and thoughts about knowing everybody who was a part of the film. Our documentary, A Conversation With Gregory Peck is on there as well, and we're really proud of that.

That's awesome. Are there any other projects that you're working on which you can talk about?

Cecilia Peck: I'm almost finished with a film I've been directing and producing, which I've been working on for three years. I'm just editing the final cut, which I'm really excited about. It's a documentary with a challenging subject. It's about a former Miss World who was violently attacked and raped, right before she competed in the Miss World competition, and when she was crowned, she vowed to one day speak out about rape. This film is her reaching out to other survivors, and urging them not to blame themselves. It's using her own rape as a case study, of whether or not it's possible to see justice done and if it's possible to heal. That's been my focus of the last three years.

That sounds amazing. Do you have a title for that?

Cecilia Peck: I have a working title, which is Miss World, but I have to clear it, legally (Laughs). I'm hoping to be able to use that title, because it really is about what she did with that crown, and how she gave it real meaning. Her name is Linor Abargil.

Are you shopping it around the festival circuit when you finish it?

Cecilia Peck: Yes, I am. We already have festival invitations, and I have distributors waiting to see my final cut. I think I'm quite close to bringing it out. If you're on the festival circuit this fall, maybe I'll see you there.

To wrap up, what would you like to say to fans of this timeless classic about why they should pick up this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition?

Cecilia Peck: I think the best part of it is the amazing extras that are brand new to this edition, and also just that this story touches on the most important issues of that time and now. It's also such a beautiful story of a single father, parenting his children with dignity and balancing it against the most important work he can possibly do.

Great. Well, that's all I have. It was a pleasure talking to you, Cecilia, and good luck with your film.

Cecilia Peck: OK, same with you, Brian. Good luck.

The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray and DVD editions of To Kill a Mockingbird will be available January 31.