Fair warning, this is gonna be a long post. If you want to read it all at once, your best bet is to set some time aside, say an hour or so.
What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? It's easily one of King's most popular books, and a running joke among "Constant Readers" is that it's both ultra-cliche and yet utterly required that everyone's favorite King book is The Stand. And there's a reason for that. Reading The Stand is an experience like no other. It almost doesn't qualify as just "reading a book" and becomes something closer to "experiencing another world". I talk a lot about books taking me to other worlds, but in this case, it's less like visiting one and more like really living there for a while. If I had to name a book that puts me straight into the characters' heads, that turns them into people rather than just characters, that transports me into their situation and makes me feel like I'm really there, living it, rather than just reading about it, that book is The Stand.
Describing it in a thumbnail sketch utterly fails to do it justice, so I'm not gonna try. Instead, I'm going to assume that you've read this book, possibly multiple times. If you're a Constant Reader and you haven't read this at least once, then you are not a Constant Reader. I personally read the original version, the one released in 1978, once, and this is my second time all the way through the unabridged version, which is one of the longest books I've ever read.
My copy was 1440 pages long. In mass market paperback. Yes, my wrist got strained here and there. If you're thinking "well, I'd rather just read the abridged version" then you better go scour some second-hand stores, because the unabridged version is the only one being sold in chain book stores today. Hint: if there's a Page 1100, you do not have the abridged version.
Personally, I much prefer the unabridged version. This is the one you can immerse yourself in, lose yourself and just live in this world for a while. The abridged version is a novel. A good one, but just a novel. The unabridged is an experience. It'll be the unabridged I'll be adapting, for that matter.
The Stand is also unique on this blog as it's not only another that's already been adapted, but it's also the first casting I'll be doing for a production that's currently being planned as we speak. Hollywood wants this to be made again, and it's been in Development Hell for the past five to ten years, as major directors like JJ Abrams, Ben Affleck and David Yates (Harry Potter franchise) have all been attached and then dropped out. Presently it's in the hands of up-and-comer Josh Boone (Stuck in Love, The Fault in Our Stars).
Now, I'll be honest; I don't think Boone's gonna stick around much longer, either. He's stuck with it longer than the directors who came before him, true, but it's been almost two years since he signed onto this project, and in that time we've heard next to nothing about casting, location scouting, principle photography start dates, or release dates. Boone can't even nail down how this is going to be done. First he said he was doing a three-hour theatrical version. This cannot be done. If you've read the book, you know that there is simply no way to whittle down such a sprawling, yet deeply human story and still have anything resembling something coherent. Then he said he was doing four films, but that was more reason for concern because Hollywood rarely approves multiple movies at once, preferring to release the first one, and if it finds an audience, going ahead with other sequels.
Consider this; The Stand, while loved, is not a recently-popular novel that everyone's talking about. It's almost as old as I am, and it's written by a man whose box-office appeal is decidedly hit-and-miss. So, The Stand, Part I is hardly a guaranteed blockbuster, especially considering that it would be threeish hours of setup only.
But Boone apparently understood that as well, and is now talking about it being an 8-part television series on Showtime, followed by a big-budget three-hour movie, and he stresses that he'll be delivering a cast of A-listers that will "blow peoples' minds". I don't care if it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Denzel Washington and Hugh Jackman if it sucks, which is looking unfortunately likely.
Apparently the studio is determined that this be a movie, and seem to be set on it being their big tentpole project of whatever year it's released in. More stupid short-sightedness from producers. The Stand is not a "summer-tentpole" type movie. It's a gigantic epic, and I'm not even sure it could be effectively communicated in four films. I understand execs are hemming and hawing about this plan as well, for that matter, since it would require everyone who saw the movie to also be familiar with the TV series, and there's no guarantee of that at all.
I mentioned we haven't heard much about casting, and we haven't, but Boone apparently has his requisite supporting man on board, Nat Wolff, as well as having extended an offer to Matthew McConaughey, some sources saying he's been offered the lead role of Stu Redman, and others saying he's actually been offered the role of the antagonist, Randall Flagg. This rumor has been circulating for months upon months now, and we still don't know if McConaughey is going to 'jine up with this project, which to my mind, means he likely isn't.
On a side note, though, it's kinda funny that Matthew McConaughey has apparently been offered both the role of Flagg in this production and the role of the Man in Black in the Dark Tower adaptation that will allegedly be released in just over a year (similar to how my dead grandmother will allegedly be present at my daughter's second birthday). Again, I assume you have read those books, and thus, you know that Flagg and Walter, the Man in Black's "real" name, are in fact, the same man. It's almost as if the producers, like, care and stuff.
I'm not on board the McConaughey train. He'd be great as Flagg, but would make a horrible Walter, and despite these guys being the same man, their personas are different. As Flagg, this being is folksy and very modern in the way he speaks, and even McConaughey's signature twang, which I've never seen him even try to mask, would be fine in that role. But I cannot, no matter how hard I try, picture Walter talking that way.
I don't think Boone is long for this project. I really don't. I think in the next few months, we'll hear that he's left it and that likely the entire thing has been shelved. I almost hope for it because then another writer/creator, my choice would be Frank Darabont again, can come along and take this project where it really belongs, and do it the only way it really can be done.
I think it needs to air on NetFlix as a one-season, 13-episode television series. I say NetFlix for two reasons; their release-all-the-episodes-at-once format encourages binge-watching and they've shown that they have no issue taking on TV series for one season alone. Each episode would be a full hour, and I think that 13 hours would be just long enough to really do this story justice. It's probably as close as any visual format will ever come to watching a novel.
As it's just one season, I think stars who are considered film actors might be more likely to hop aboard, but don't get me wrong, I'm not going for the "all-star cast" that Boone is promising. More like I'm choosing dependable actors that people recognize. As there are currently more cast lists for this thing going around than there are communicable diseases, I'm sure people are going to have issues with some of my choices, but in each case I was trying as much as I can to edge as close to King's depictions of these characters as it's possible to get.
I even have an idea for the opening sequence. Picture scenes of germs under a microscope being looked at, played with, modified, then images of people getting sick, falling over, armies lining people up and shooting them, people in hazmat suits looking through windows, and finally street littered with piled-up bodies and vehicles, and while all these images are playing past us in the very center of the screen, small enough at first that we don't even see it, but getting closer as the credits play on, is a man in denim with glowing red eyes walking inexorably toward the screen.
In the background, we hear a familiar tune...
Take a little walk to the edge of town
Go across the tracks
Where the viaduct looms
Like a bird of doom
As it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie
In the border fires
And the humming wires
Hey man, you know you're never comin' back
Past the square, past the bridge
Past the mill, past the stacks...
And the whole time the Walkin Dude keeps coming, finally close enough that we can see his red eyes and evil, grinning mouth.
On a gatherin' storm
Comes a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat
With a RED RIGHT HAND...
BOOM! Credits end as Flagg's face fills the screen and all goes black, almost as if he's walked out of your TV and left emptiness behind.
Now, some of you are probably saying that there's no need to make this a full thirteen hours, as there's quite a bit of material that shouldn't, and won't, make it to the screen, such as the many times King gives us backstory that's not really needed to tell his tale. Here's the thing, though. I'd like this series to improve upon the only two areas that I felt the novel was a bit weak with. The first is that he doesn't give us more than a couple of glimpses into what's going on in Vegas before the final fourth of the book, and at that point it's too little, too late. We barely know anyone there, aside from Lloyd Henried and the Trashcan Man, and once we do get to know them, we find out that they're not one-and-all bad people, that in fact most of them only went to Vegas because it seemed like that was where the real progress was being made.
I'd like to see the TV series give us more scenes in Vegas, letting us see Lloyd's doubts growing and Trashy's mad devotion to Flagg erasing whatever vestiges of sanity he might have had left, while also letting us get to know some of the other characters, like Bobby Terry, Ace High, Whitey Horgan, Barry Dorgan (one of those last names is going to have to be changed) and Jenny Engstrom.
Another weakness is how in the last fourth or so, everyone starts more or less counting on divine intervention to do their work for them. God even is ultimately the one to step in and save the day, while our heroes do little but watch. A more active role and fewer scenes of "I just know we're supposed to do this!" might be called for. Mother Abigail receiving divine word is one thing. Frannie Goldsmith suddenly realizing they all need to leave the house right now is another.
See my last post about acceptable changes.
Then there's the question, to update or not to update? I'm going with update, because one of the ways this is powerful is how it feels like it could actually happen in our own future. King set the first version in 1980, and the updated one in 1990. As I read, I determined in each scene whether it would be impossible to move this ahead to a time frame we'd think of as modern, and honestly, there isn't.
Updating it would mean acknowledging social media, but that won't be too hard. Just replace the posted signs on campus with conspiracy theory websites and Twitter, replace the independent news rags with blogs, replace the radio host with a podcaster and give Nick Andros a tablet PC in his earlier scenes. You could even have Ray Holt break it when he beats Nick up, and now in a world with no electrical outlets to charge any new tablet he might pick up, he's forced to handwritten notes.
Aside from the obvious reference updates, fewer people using words like the N-word to describe Larry's singing style and Glen's theory about disasters taking place near the end of centuries (seeing as we're at the beginning of one instead), there's not much post-flu that needs changing, seeing as how it knocks everyone back to the stone age, or at least, the 30's. I see no reason that a version of this story released in, say, 2017, couldn't update the setting to 2020.
As I already said, Frank Darabont, the Kevin Feige of the King Cinematic Universe, is my choice to run this show and direct most episodes. He can bring along whatever writers and crew-members he wants from his time on The Walking Dead, which is such a Stand-like show. I didn't cast it with anyone he's known for working with, though. None of them really seemed to gel with the roles.
So, after all that, it's time to start casting. As this is going to be a TV series, I've divided the cast into three tiers; regulars, whose names will appear in the title sequence, recurring cast members, who will appear in multiple episodes but without being named in the title sequence, and guest stars, who will likely only appear in one or two episodes.
And now, without further ado...
While this is mainly an ensemble cast, most feel that Stu Redman is the lead character. He's an East Texan factory worker, described as "old-time tough" and is somewhere around 35 years old. He was played by Gary Sinise in the mini-series, who was so good in the role that some are saying he should be re-used for a future adaptation. I don't like re-using old cast members in the same roles, plus Sinise is too old now, so while he was great, we're gonna go with someone else. Casting Stue was tough, because it seemed like everyone was either too old or too young, and Matthew McConaughey is a bit smirky for this character, who is more of a strong silent type. I'm not saying he couldn't do it, but he's far from my first choice. In fact, Stephen King's first choice, Jake Gyllenhaal, doesn't in any way suggest "old time tough" to me. Stu is a handsome guy, but I don't want a "pretty" actor in this role, which causes problems because it seems like a lot of leading men these days are just "pretty." This led me a bit afield, and I found our Texan in Australia. Joel Edgerton can do any accent you need him to, and with a bit of stubble, maybe a soul patch and sideburns, bicep tats and flannel shirts (hey, Stu is a Texan, y'all), I think he'd be great. He's a bit older than Stu is in the novels, but he can still believably play 35.
Continuing our trip to the dark side, we now come to Harold Lauder, the only other plague survivor from Ogunquit, and as Frannie's luck would have it, someone she was never very fond of. In fact, much time is given explaining all the reasons Harold is something of a neighborhood pariah. He might be at least as smart as Nick, if not much smarter, and as much of an abstract thinker as Glen Bateman, but he's also very self-important and physically unattractive; very overweight with bad skin, greasy hair and other hygiene issues I'd rather not go into. And he's in love with Fran, which comes off as a little kid's crush on the only woman left in town. Having been made fun of or ignored by nearly everyone his entire life, Harold lets his seething hatred fester and becomes a tool for the Dark Man, even as he starts shedding all the things that made him unlikable before. While traveling to Boulder, and especially once he gets there, his weight begins to drop and he starts taking better care of his appearance. By the time things come to a head he's one of the more respected members of the Free Zone. This role will require a physical transformation, and by that I do not mean put an attractive actor like Corin Nemec (who played him in the mini-series) in bad pimple make-up and even worse baggy clothes and try to pretend people think he's hideous. I mean take an actor and Nutty Professor-ize him, then gradually take it down several notches until he looks like himself. I chose Will Poulter, who was recently hired to play Pennywise in Cary Fukunaga's It. But since it's not Cary Fukunaga's It anymore, I don't think Poulter's still attached there. If Fukunaga thought he could be evil enough to be Pennywise, he will nock people's socks off as Harold. He has this ability to radiate cold hatred.
On a similar journey of self-discovery as Harold, but with decidedly different destinations, is Larry Underwood, a young, self-absorbed musician who's just hit the big time right as the flu breaks out. Larry starts off, if anything, worse than Harold, willing to use people, even his own mother, as long as he gets what he wants, but all he wants is to be a major recording star. His first hit, Baby Can You Dig Your Man?, has just hit the radio, and looks like it will be the sort of chart-topper that will give him the predictable Justin-Beiberesque fleeting popularity, but he wishes to be something more. Larry's better nature is gradually revealed as the book goes on. He's many people's favorite character. An actor named Adam Storke, who's done little else anyone would remember, played Larry in the mini-series, and while he wasn't awful he came off more like a slick Hollywood actor than a struggling musician who just hit big. The way he's written makes me think of a young handsome man with longish hair, and a smug expression that gradually softens. Apparently his look and supposed sound was based on Bruce Springsteen, so all these suggestions I hear that Justin Timberlake should play him sound nightmarish to me, and I think they would to Stephen King as well. Larry shows his appreciation for classic rock and blues, which is why he's so disappointed in how his career is going despite his recent success. I don't know how this guy's name came to me, but I went looking for pictures of actor Toby Sebastian, who I have only ever seen in two other places; the lame-as-fuck movie Barely Lethal and as a recurring actor on Game of Thrones. He plays a Larry-like character in the first one, and the second one proves he can act. So he's my choice for portraying Larry. My choice for Larry's singing voice is Johnny Lang, who, if I were in charge, I would also hire to flesh out and provide the music for Baby Can You Dig Your Man? and the only other song Larry wrote that we're told about, Pocket Savior, which I picture being about the kind of man Larry sees himself as; someone pretending to be a hero when inside he's riddled with self-loathing. Lang really is a white singer who sounds black, and once upon a time I thought he should just go ahead and play Larry himself, but I don't think he acts, plus he's getting a bit too old.
Back to the bad side for a moment; Donald Merwin Elbert is another tragic character. A damaged burgeoning psychopath who nonetheless elicits much sympathy. He did from me, anyway. He's a pyromaniac who is referred to as the Trashcan Man, due to how in his youth he spent most of his time lighting fires in people's garbage cans. He was played by Matt Frewer in the mini-series, who portrayed him as an almost comic-relief nutcase from his first scene onward. Trashy has to start out being just a bit "buggy" and get worse as he goes. Trust me, one of the most memorable sequences in the entire book happens with this character, and it won't work if he's all bug-eyes and gibbering laughter. One actor who plays mentally unbalanced characters very well is Jackie Earle Haley, who also has that look of a person who makes people uncomfortable on sight. I think he'd play this role amazingly.
This role is somewhat minor, but has a lot of page-time and thus, will be one of the major on-screen roles, and I think a skilled actor could bring something to it. Ralph Brentner is an aging hick who is the first friendly person who can read that Nick encounters on the road. Ralph is present for much of the more memorable scenes, but his personality doesn't really climb out of the "friendly hick" type role. In the mini-series, he was played by an actor named Peter Van Norden, who did little with the part and few people remember this character's even around, which is a shame because I really liked him. I thought Tim Blake Nelson could bring this part out of its shell and make people feel the same way about this character that I did.
Then there's Tom Cullen. Ah, Tom Cullen, a part that could go so, so wrong so easily. Tom is a big, friendly, child-like mentally handicapped man, and the first man that Nick meets once the plague hits, who, as luck would have it, can't read anything, including hand-written notes, which is, of course, the only way Nick can communicate. Tom remains one of the most favorite characters in the entire book because he's just so pure and innocent and he has so many scenes that make one
tear up...uh, I mean, smile warmly at. Men don't cry at novels, laws no. In the mini-series, Tom was played by Bill Faggerbakke, who was so good in the part that most people want to see him brought back, but he looks like an old man now, and that would be a bit awkward. Tom is of average height but a large, sturdy build (maybe even a bit tubby) and has blonde hair. He has a wide open, friendly face that makes him look like he's in his twenties when he's probably more like 45. So...why don't we cast an actor who has a large, sturdy build (maybe even a bit tubby, could be believably blonde, has a wide open, friendly face that makes him look like he's in his
twenties when he actually is 45? Such as Zak Orth. M-O-O-N, that spells Zak Orth. He looks just like Tom Cullen, doesn't he just? Laws, yes.
We're nearing the end of the regulars now, and the last two roles are among the most important. I figure these two will be listed at the end of the credits as "with" and "and", if you catch my drift. The first is Mother Abigail Freemantle, a 108-year-old devout black woman from Hemingford Home, Nebraska, who is the sort that regularly receives messages from God and does not question His divine will. She's the "Big Good" of this story, a woman who the "good" side rallies around in the Boulder Free Zone. Strangely enough, she doesn't come off as the "magical negro" nor a walking plot device, as she might in other, less talented hands. The only thing I wondered about, as far as her character is concerned, was whether or not she should be kept at 108 or perhaps aged up to 138, so that her roots, having lived through a time when black people were barely better than slaves as an adult can be kept. After all, it could be hinted that there's something mystical about her longevity, couldn't there? But then, that might strain credibility past the breaking point and besides, a birth year of 1912 instead of 1882 might mean that her father might not be the first black land owner in their community, but it still means she would have experienced Jim Crow, having no civil rights, and etc., etc. But what actress can play her now that Ruby Dee, who played her very well in the mini-series, has died? Why not Cicely Tyson, who is 90 and still in very good health, and still acting? Hollywood, make this beast before she dies!
Then finally, there's the Walkin Dude, Old Creeping Judas, the Hardcase, the Dark Man, Randall Flagg himself. Jamey Sheridan played him in the mini-series, and honestly, his portrayal is probably why people got excited about the possibility of Matthew McConaughey taking it this time around. Sheridan played him with a bit of a southern accent and a mullet the size of Mount Everest. Now, like I said, I'm not going with Matthew McConaughey, but I am going with a chameleonic actor who seems able to play almost anything. I only recently learned he was American, because he does accents in nearly everything, and I know there's a bright future ahead for this actor, who is still up-and-coming enough to take a role like this one and not demand extended screen time or too much money. He's handsome but in an off-kilter sort of way, he can make his voice go hard and deep and frightening, or soft and kind as needed. He's got a face that can go from sweet to pure evil in seconds. And yes, this man is also going to be my choice to play all of the Dark Man's other incarnations. I'm talking about Lee Pace, of course.
That's it for the regulars, but as this is a one-season television show, there's a ton of supporting players, and I couldn't help but cast them all. So, here are:
The Recurring Cast
I'm listing these roles alphabetically by actor, as I figure they'll probably all have equal-ish screen time on the show. The first is the Rat Man, one of the more highly-placed members of the Dark Man's crew, a black man who dresses like a pirate and is apparently creepy enough to creep out all the crooks and creepers the Dark Man has gathered. This was tough, but I went with an actor named David Ajala, a Brit who most people probably will recognize best as one of the Joker's creepier henchmen in The Dark Knight. As I said, we're going to be seeing more of him and the other Vegas people, so his role will be beefed up a bit, as will others.
Next up is a role that's a sort of one-scene wonder in the book, but ripe material to get a bit more development in the series. Bobby Terry is a stupid guy who figures out firsthand what happens when you don't follow Flagg's orders to the letter. I see him as being one of the people Trashy hangs around and jokes with, at some point telling Trashy that he's been picked for guard duty at a picket up in Oregon. He'd be played by Ike Barinholtz.
Susan Stern is one of the more prominent female character in the Boulder Free Zone. I'd like to see her character beefed up as a strident liberal who sees the plague and the Boulder Free Zone as an opportunity to correct many of the mistakes she feels America has made. I'd also like to see her friendship with Dayna Jurgens beefed up so that their goodbye is more touching. For whatever reason, I see Jennifer Carpenter in that role.
Missy Peregrym will play Dayna Jurgens. There's not much to this character in the story except that she is sent as a spy to the Dark Man's camp in Vegas and has a confrontation with Flagg himself. Honestly this role could be played by any actress.
These characters won't be around for long, but they make a big impact on the series.
First up, again, alphabetical by actor, is Douglas Bennett, who will play "Poke" Freeman, Lloyd's partner who causes all kinds of trouble.
This is a role I initially wasn't going to bother casting, but when I read the conversation between Frannie and her father Peter about her pregnancy, I couldn't help but see Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan in the role. He fits it like a glove.
The role of Judge Richard Ferris was kind of a nothing role that any older actor could have played, but since he was played by Ossie Davis in the mini-series, plenty of people now see this role as black. There's no reason it can't be. The Judge, who is almost never called by his name, is 70 but "hale and hearty", and one of the three who acts as a spy (or is supposed to). And yes, Constant Readers, his initials made me do a double-take the first time I saw them, as all of the aliases Randall Flagg uses on this plane of existence use the initials "RF", but no, the Judge is not a guise of Flagg. I picked hale, hearty, nearly-70-years-old Ernie Hudson for this brief but memorable part.
I could picture no other actor than Robert Patrick in the role of General William Starkey, commander of Project Blue who memorably oversees the project as the world goes to Hell.
And now I sale into purely uncharted waters. In my early days reading King, for some reason I skipped a large portion of his late 70's and early 80's output, so the next several weeks will be spent with books and stories I've literally never read before. I'm not sure how many of them I'll be blogging about, but I can, for the first time in quite a while, include this:
Next up: The Long Walk!