Aaron Sorkin on How He Considered Turning ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ Into a Musical

Jenelle Riley
·3-min read

Aaron Sorkin is widely considered the king of film and TV dialogue. Actors line up for a chance to feast on his words and the opportunity to deliver a Sorkin-penned speech. And yet his monologues never seem out of place; they fit organically into his stories and his characters. Sorkin says there’s a musicality to that.

“If you’re going to write a speech, you want the water to boil, you want to be able to get there,” Sorkin tells Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast. “It’s almost like in a musical. A musical number always works best when it’s the result of words no longer being able to do the trick.” Listen below!

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Just this week, Sorkin landed his fourth Academy Award nomination for what may well be his magnum opus, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” It’s his second feature as a director, a timely yet classic chronicle of the uprising at the 1968 Democratic Convention and the individuals put on trial for conspiracy and crossing state lines to incite a riot.

“Chicago 7” earned six Oscar nods, including best picture and an original screenplay nod for Sorkin (his previous three noms were for adapted screenplay.) Sorkin has already won a Golden Globe for his screenplay and is nominated for a WGA Award. For his work as a director, he received Golden Globe and DGA Award noms – not bad for someone who says “I still haven’t written a screenplay knowing that I was going to be the one directing it.”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” actually began 15 years ago with Steven Spielberg and went through a few more potential directors before Sorkin chose to take it on himself. It’s a perfect fit, given all the hallmarks that Sorkin has spent years addressing: larger-than-life characters, a tense courtroom setting and underdogs struggling against the government. Not to mention his delicious words; in fact, it’s not a stretch to imagine “Chicago 7” as a musical.

“People laugh at me when I say this, but there was about a year in there where I asked DreamWorks, if I could take a year and try writing ‘Chicago’ as a play,” Sorkin says. “And that gave me permission to and I had a really tough time doing it. But I knew in my heart that this, actually, with the right composer and lyricist, can be a great musical.”

Sorkin also talks about working with his tremendous cast, being his own toughest critic and details his experience with his first produced screenplay, “Malice.” While the 1993 Nicole Kidman-Alec Baldwin thriller has a lot of fans, Sorkin notes that he was “the second and fourth writer” on it. It was screenwriting legend William Goldman who was approached about a rewriter and who advised producers: “Why don’t you identify some young – read cheap – writer who I would like and would want to take under my wing to guide them through this.” Added Sorkin, “And they identified me, which was amazing, because William Goldman was already my hero. And so he became my mentor at that point.”

Also in this episode, Variety Senior Artisans Editor Jazz Tangcay recently spoke with Helena Zengel about auditioning for her SAG Award nominated role in “News of the World” and biting her mother during the process. She shares her experience visiting America for the first time, a few of her favorite things and what it was like working with Tom Hanks.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.

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