The challenge for ‘Castle Rock’ was expanding Stephen King’s world without overindulging in it
Horror guru Stephen King, in his career spanning 45 years, has produced a robust body of work that has made him one of the most adapted storytellers in Hollywood. So it’s perhaps inevitable that his universe would get a remix.
Enter “Castle Rock.” The new Hulu anthology drama, from creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason (“Manhattan”), is an original narrative that pulls from King’s extensive catalog. Premiering Wednesday, the series is set in Castle Rock, the ill-fated fictional Maine town that has been the backdrop in “Cujo,” “Needful Things” and other King tales.
The drama introduces Henry Deaver (André Holland of “Moonlight”), a death row attorney who returns to his hometown after a mysterious young man (Bill Skarsgard) is found in a cage inside a hidden area of Shawshank State Penitentiary.
“The town is like the most cursed plot of land on the planet,” Shaw said. “And Henry is a native son of Castle Rock, who has spent the intervening decades of his life trying to put as much mileage between himself and the town as he possibly can. Until he can’t.”
While past film adaptations of King novels and stories such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Dolores Claiborne” have grappled with how faithful they should be to the author’s work, the challenge for the “Castle Rock” producers was expanding the King world without overindulging in it.
“For the viewers, we wanted them to be able to engage with the universe and understand how it fits in the shared universe that came before — at the same time, if you start having Dolores Claiborne waving while she’s walking Cujo down the street, it starts to get weird,” Thomason said.
The long-suffering housekeeper and murderous St. Bernard from King’s oeuvre may not make a cheeky cameo, but fans of the prolific author will recognize the character of Alan Pangborn, a former sheriff of Castle Rock played by Scott Glenn. Then there’s the more indirect infusion of King veterans in the series: In addition to Skarsgard, who will reprise his role as Pennywise in the upcoming “It: Chapter 2,” Sissy Spacek, who made her breakthrough in 1976 as the title character in the big screen adaptation of King’s “Carrie,” also stars in the series.
They’re joined by other alums from King productions: Melanie Lynskey (“Rose Red”), Terry O’Quinn (“Silver Bullet”), Ann Cusack (“Mr. Mercedes”) and and Frances Conroy (“The Mist”).
King, who gave his approval for the show’s concept, is credited as an executive producer. Shaw and Thomason said the author reviewed scripts — describing the hand-offs as “white-knuckle moments” — but otherwise left them to their own devices.
“We were gratified he gave us the keys to the city and let us tell the story of the town that he obviously cares a lot about,” Thomason said. “There weren’t a set of hard and fast rules at all. He gave us license to tell the story.”
The psychological horror drama, which also counts genre veteran J.J. Abrams as an executive producer, serves as Hulu’s second King-inspired project. (The event series “11.22.63,” based on King’s 2011 novel, was released on the platform in 2016.)
“We saw this as a unique opportunity to have a series that’s home to Stephen King’s legendary stories and characters,” said Craig Erwich, senior vice president of originals at Hulu.
Thomason and Shaw said they took a cue from FX’s “Fargo” in crafting an original narrative that captured the tone of a known property — or, in “Castle Rock’s” case, properties — while being distinct from it. (Former Los Angeles Times film editor Marc Bernardin is a writer on “Castle Rock.”)
“It became a really fun approach to the material because it involved a lot of introspection and discussion about what makes a Stephen King story a Stephen King story,” Thomason said.
One question, the duo said, that drove the narrative revolved around the idea of what makes people stay in a town that’s been inflicted with serial killers, devils and rabid dogs.
“In thinking about that question in the real world, we came to the realization that the answer is: everyone,” Shaw said. “People stay because it’s home. We were fascinated with the idea of what it is to live through that experience. And that’s why the Castle Rock that we embraced for this show was not the picket fence Castle Rock of yore, but rather, what does a small town in modern day America look like now?”
If they achieved their mission, it looks pretty Kingsian.
There are twists and turns around every corner at the hotel, set up at Comic-Con ahead of the Stephen King show’s July 25th debut.
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