NEW YORK (Reuters) - Best-selling author John Grisham's first novel, "A Time to Kill," has been adapted for the stage and is heading for Broadway next month with an ensemble cast that includes Fred Dalton Thompson of TV's "Law and Order" and Tom Skerritt, an Emmy-award winner for "Picket Fences."
Although many of Grisham's nearly two dozen novels have been turned into popular films, "A Time to Kill," is the first to be adapted for the stage. The play will open on October 20.
"This is a very different novel from all the other John Grisham novels," said Tony award-winning playwright Rupert Holmes, who adapted the legal thriller about racism in the 1980s in rural Mississippi.
"It sprawls and spills over with emotion and some of the characters are so much larger than life that you know they had to have existed because no one would dare invent them that way."
Holmes described the book as Grisham's most human novel and the ultimate courtroom drama, with a tautness that made it suitable for adaption for the stage.
"The reason everyone is in that courtroom is because of a murder that occurred in that very same courtroom in front of that very same judge with the same prosecutor in the room," Holmes said in an interview.
Sebastian Arcelus, who appears as Lucas Goodwin in Netflix's original series "House of Cards," plays Jake Brigance, the young, idealistic lawyer defending a black man accused of taking the law into his own hands after his daughter is brutally beaten and raped.
"The story brings up so many amazing issues that are inherently theatrical and for me, personally, they are of great importance," said Arcelus.
"The moral questions that are embedded in those issues are very timely and we try to approach them from the standpoint of this story and this context, and all the while putting in the context of the '80s in the South."
Skerritt, making his Broadway debut in the play with a cast of 14, portrays a disbarred attorney who helps the defense team, and Thompson plays Judge Omar "Ichabod" Noose.
"He's kind of like the lion tamer in a three-ring circus," Thompson said of his role. "He doesn't suffer fools or anyone gladly."
It was a role close to Thompson's heart. The former U.S. senator and one-time Republican presidential hopeful was a small-town Southern lawyer early in his career, long before he turned to acting.
Skerritt, who recently has focused on writing and teaching in Seattle, said conflicts with his film and television work had prevented him from working on Broadway until now.
"I thought this was some sort of gift," he said. "I'm overwhelmed and excited and scared."
Grisham has sold more than 250 million books since "A Time to Kill" was published in 1988. The novel was made into a film in 1999 starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson.
Although Grisham has had some input in the play, director Ethan McSweeny said both he and Holmes had a real sense of freedom to do what was needed to adapt the story.
"I am determined to leave little Easter eggs for all aficionados of Grisham. There could be a trivia contest at the end," McSweeny said.
Editing by Eric Kelsey and Christopher Wilson