With Castle Rock coming to Hulu next year, the cast and creators of the show took a break from production on the fifth episode of the 10-part series to come on down to New York Comic Con f0r a panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Beforehand, however, Flickering Myth had the pleasure of asking a few questions to stars Bill Skarsgård, Melanie Lynskey and Andre Holland, as well as executive producers and masterminds behind the Stephen King-inspired show, Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw.
The show takes place in Castle Rock, Maine, a common setting for many of King’s works (including Needful Things, The Dead Zone, Cujo and more), which Shaw describes as “the worst luck town in the world.” Between “two serial killers, a homicidal rabid dog [and] demonic trucks,” the town is an “archaeological site” of sorts “where there are horrors, nightmares and stories behind every door.” Each season of the show will tell a different and original story (not unlike, for example, FX’s Fargo) based around a specific horror mystery relating to King’s fictional town.
Instead of playing a killer clown as he did in It, this time around Skarsgård portrays a prisoner at Shawshank, who is directly connected with André Holland’s Henry Deaver, a death-row attorney. Henry, the son of Sissy Spacek’s Ruth, returns to Castle Rock in order to work on a case involving a young boy and finds himself recounting things about his past that he previously let go of. Lynskey plays a real estate agent named Molly Strand, who tries to stay optimistic about selling houses in the clearly cursed town, even though she has a hard time interacting with people.
What input or advice did Stephen King give you in approaching the show?
Dustin Thomason: He’s been a really amazing collaborator. First when we came to the show, we came to J.J. [Abrams] and then to Stephen [King], altogether, to say ‘We want to play in your universe. We were incredibly surprised, and now knowing a little more about who Stephen King is perhaps less surprised, that he was so willing to let us expand upon what he had done. To use these characters. Every time we’ve asked him ‘Can we do this thing to one of your iconic characters?’ he always says ‘Yes,’ and I think it’s because he wants these characters to find new life as well. It’s been really great to be able to talk to him about these characters that we all know and love and feel like he really has our back in terms of how we use them in hopefully original ways.
Sam Shaw: We’ve come to a point in this culture where it’s sort of like comics book have become our Shakespeare. How many times on screen has the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents been enacted? How many times have we seen it and reimagined it and reinterpreted it to reflect the times? I think the same is true of Stephen King in a way. So many of us read those books as adolescents and were f**king scared out of our wits, and maybe it’s because they scarred us that they hold this purchase on our imagination, but it felt like it was a really exciting challenge to try to re-engage with that material, now in 2017, in the age of terror, in a moment when so much of our national identity crisis is caught up in questions about what scares us and what we do when we’re afraid and whether we behave rationally or irrationally and what we do to feel safe at night. It was really fun to dig into the material in a contemporary way.
What’s it been like interacting with the rest of the cast? Between Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn and more, it’s a really great cast.
Bill Skarsgård: It’s been great. Yeah, I’ve been working with some really cool actors. I really love working with sort of the senior guys, like I did a scene with Scott Glenn… Terry O’Quinn. I’m a fairly young actor and [it’s fun] to get to work with these people that have done it forever. And Sissy Spacek is, of course, a legend. And their stories, they’ve been doing this truly since the golden age of American films, throughout the 70s, and they’ve worked with the best directors ever and it’s fun trying to absorb as much as you can from their experiences and talent.
Melanie Lynskey: It’s very intimidating and terrifying, you know? You just sort of hope that you’re up to the challenge. From New Zealand, I dreamed of doing this for a living, but I never thought it was possible, so then you’re getting to work with Sissy Spacek and it’s like ‘What is this life?’ But all of these actors are so wonderful. André Holland is someone I’ve admired for years and getting to work with him is amazing.
André, do you have a personal connection to Stephen King? Did you read his books when you were younger, did you see any Stephen King movies? And how did that inform your performance in the show?
Holland: I watched some stuff. Pet Sematary was one we watched in my house. It gave me nightmares for many years, so much so that I refuse to watch Bill [Skarsgård]’s movie. Because… I need to sleep. I didn’t read a lot of the stories, but we watched a lot of movies. My mother’s a big fan too, so she’s kind of my fact checker. Whenever I have questions, [I go to her].
What’s it been like working with Hulu? As an actor, do you have more creative freedom?
Holland: They’ve been very supportive to me as an actor. I feel like we’ve got license to get in there and make the choices that we think are right. They’ve been very supportive financially in terms of giving us what we need to tell the story the way that we want to. And also it’s a really exciting time to be in business with Hulu because they’ve had a good year. In a way, I think that their format really lends itself to this story. It allows us to go into more detail with the characters as opposed to a 90 or 105-minute movie. I think it’s the right place, and I think it’s the right time.
How has your experience with Moonlight influenced your career moving forward? Have you brought anything from that movie to future projects such as Castle Rock?
Holland: It’s influenced me a lot. Working on Moonlight was really incredible because I saw Barry [Jenkins] and Tarell [Alvin McCraney], our writers, literally build that. I worked with Tarell for many years, he’s a playwright first, so he and I had done a bunch of plays together. I read his early draft of Moonlight 10 years ago, and so to see where that started and where it got to was really inspiring to me. So much so that that’s really what I want my next year to be about – creating content for myself. Tarell and I are working on the new thing, which we’ll be shooting next year. It was just a really inspiring experience. On a business level, so many people saw Moonlight and appreciated it that it definitely helped me in terms of getting some meetings that I maybe wasn’t able to get before.
Other interesting tidbits revealed during the roundtable from Thomason and Shaw were that viewers can expect “surprise guest appearances,” they hope to interpret King in a way that “harkens back to [Brian] De Palma, [David] Cronenberg and [Stanley] Kubrick,” and the much-written-about Castle Rock sheriff, Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn), will serve as an “intersectionality” between the books and new characters.
Additionally, fans of The Shawshank Redemption, in particular, have a lot to look forward to, as Shawshank State Prison will play an important role in season 1.
On top of the aforementioned names, Castle Rock also stars Jane Levy (Don’t Breathe) and is executive produced by J.J. Abrams; check out the NYCC trailer for the 2018 show right here.