“You never really understand a person … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” Atticus Finch famously tells his daughter Scout in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. When actors take a practical approach to this empathetic challenge, their interpretations can yield new insights into a classic character—as the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the actor Ed Harris found when translating Atticus himself to a Broadway play.
The act of assuming a new perspective or embodying a different role isn’t limited to the theater or screen. Novels by Zadie Smith and Roxane Gay illustrate the many different identities people perform in different contexts, while the science writer Jennifer Ouellette describes how one’s own sense of self can be reinforced by external props such as clothes and keychains. And for the authors Molly Antopol and Cutter Wood, writing itself is a kind of performance—the imaginative and compassionate feat of fully inhabiting the character on the page.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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For Molly Antopol, writing can feel like method acting
“I feel like I’m able to access much deeper truths about my own life by exploring what I know from different angles, through the lens of character. Writing across boundaries—of gender, of generation, of country—helps me locate what I don’t know in what I know, and try to bring it out onto the page.”