We talk to the master of horror about his new film ‘The Mist’, which opens around Ireland this weekend.
Since his first novel ‘Carrie’, Stephen King has become not only the most successful writer of mainstream horror in the world but also one of the most frequently adapted writers in film history. Classic adaptations like Brian DePalma’s ‘Carrie’, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, David Cronenberg’s ‘The Dead Zone’, and Rob Reiner’s ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Misery’. Yet no other collaboration has been as successful for King than working with screenwriter Frank Darabont. Darabont’s 1994 film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, originally published as one of four non-horror novellas in the anthology “Different Seasons”, has become a classic story of redemption and hope. Five years later, they followed it up with the equally brilliant and bittersweet ‘The Green Mile’. Now the two finally come together again for horror fiction, combining Darabont’s understanding of the human experience with King’s know-how for terror.
The Mist tells the story of David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (9-year old Nathan Gamble), who after a freak storm head to the local store to pick up supplies. Whilst there, an ominous mist rolls into town and while we’re not exactly sure what it is (or more accurately what it conceals), we know it’s not good… With panicked screams coming from outside, the shoppers seal themselves in and wait in hopes the mist will pass. As the story progresses (and fears mount), we learn the truth of the mist and questions of responsibility arise: is this the fault of man, the hand of god? Soon factions emerge and we’re left wondering – who is the true monster of this tale?
Here, Horror-master King tells us how he was never quite happy with ‘The Mist’, that is until Darabont got his hands on it….
Q: What made you decide to work with classic director Frank Darabont again?
A: Well I’d be a fool not to trust Frank because every adaptation he’s done has been terrific and that goes back to the first one. The fact is everything that Frank does has his own personal style, his own personal feeling and I love it. He and I fit together, we’re good together so to speak- we’re kind of like chocolate and peanut butter. It’s always a pleasure to work with him, he’s a real guy, he writes real screenplays that are literate, that you know what’s going to be on the screen because he follows through, he keeps his word, makes good movies and he’s been a good friend.
Q: How did you first meet Darabont?
A: He wrote me a letter and asked if he could adapt ‘The Woman in the Room’ for a short film. This goes back a long, long way. That was at least 30 years ago or, maybe longer. He was working at that time on the west coast and getting into the movie business. But he wanted to do it and I’ve always said when young filmmakers come to me and say I want to make a short film, I make an agreement with them, don’t show it for money without getting a letter of approval from me and Frank was good with that and I optioned him the story for Buck. He did this wonderful little movie and he came back a few years later and said “Would you be interested in me adapting Shawshank Redemption?” which was called ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’, and I said sure but I never thought he’d get it done and he did.
Q: What do you think of his style of writing?
A: I’ve always enjoyed working with Frank because I trust Frank. I trust him as a person but more important than that I trust his creative sensibility. He’s someone who has always dealt with issues particularly having to do with men in conflict and men and women in conflict very well. He understands ordinary people and it’s so rare to see ordinary people in the movies portrayed truthfully and Frank has managed to do that.
Q: How does the film of ‘The Mist’ compare to the book?
A: Well, it’s a very faithful adaptation of my story, which was written even before I knew Frank so we’re talking dark ages here. But my story, which is about people trapped in a supermarket, ended with, well you decide what happened there. It’s not really clear…
Q: What do you think of his new ending?
A: I knew at the time that [my ending] wasn’t terribly satisfactory but I couldn’t think of a better one. Frank and I went around and around about that for years. Literally years! He would do one project then another, there was ‘Shawshank Redemption’, there was ‘The Green Mile’, there was ‘The Majestic’ and he’d talk about ‘The Mist’ and say, “What are we going to do about this ending?” He and I would bat it around and finally Frank said, “What about X?” And I said, “Terrific!” And he did an ending that is unlike any other in this genre and really not similar to anything that’s done in Hollywood. The whole movie has kind of an outlaw, indie feel but at the same time it’s got an adult sensibility that also sets it apart.
Q: What did you think about the casting of your characters?
A: Thomas Jane is great in this movie, he’s terrific. It’s a real ensemble piece, that’s one of the things Frank and I sort of agree on that the best things, the things a lot of filmmakers shy away from are these ensemble pieces. Thomas Jane is terrific as the lead but he doesn’t steal the picture, he’s not the only focus, he’s just where he needs to be. Andre Braugher, what can you say, I loved him in ‘Poseidon’, in fact he was one of the few things I did love about ‘Poseidon’, I love him in this. He brings a weight and gravity to the movie, again I keep coming back to the idea that it’s a very adult picture for this genre, it’s got a very different feel.
Q: What about Mrs. Carmody; she’s particularly terrifying as the self-proclaimed prophet?
A: Marcia Gay Harden is terrific! She’s a little bit younger than the Mrs. Carmody that I envisioned but she does a terrific job. Even Geoffrey Du Monde leading a whole cast of supporting characters that are all spot on. That all goes back to frank Darabont’s direction. He did a terrific job.
Q: Once upon a time you were a teacher, what grade would you have given the film?
A: If a composition was a ‘C-‘ there were a lot of things I could say about that composition. If a movie is a ‘C-‘ I can think of a lot of things to say about that but when it comes to good work there’s only one thing to say which is, “Wow!” And when I saw the film for the first time in a rough cut, I said, “Wow!”