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What's next for ''The Green Mile''

With Stephen King in the hospital, the production of Tom Hanks’ new film is thrown into disarray

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Much has happened since June, when the first in our six-part series of articles on The Green Mile appeared. Back then, the filmmakers’ major concern was that the movie, starring Tom Hanks as a 1930s death row prison guard, was running too long. Stephen King, who wrote the six-part best-seller on which the movie is based, had seen an unfinished print and said the film could use a good 15-minute edit.

What a difference a month makes. On June 19, the day after that article hit newsstands, King was walking near his summer house in North Lovell, Maine, when a minivan swerved onto the shoulder and collided with the author. King landed in a ditch 14 feet away and suffered multiple broken bones in his right leg, a collapsed lung, cracked ribs, a fractured hip, and cuts on his head. He was released from the hospital July 9, after five life- and limb-saving operations, but faces a year of arduous rehabilitation.

”We’re just lucky Steve is still alive,” says Green Mile director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), who read the news on the Internet that night, and later sent a Mile poster signed by the cast and crew. ”They’re stitching him back together with metal wire, but things could have been much much worse.”

Meanwhile, Darabont and his crew are engaged in some stitching of their own. They’re now in North Carolina, scouting locations for the opening and closing sequences, which help complete the story of a Southern prison guard whose life changes after meeting a seven-foot-tall death row inmate with magical powers. The scenes feature Hanks’ character as an old man looking back on his life. They were supposed to have been wrapped last fall, but cold weather pushed the production schedule back, and Hanks had to begin his next project, Cast Away. ”If you would have told me a year ago that I’d be shooting more of this film now,” Darabont says outside the Green Mile mixing stage at Warner Bros.’ Hollywood studios, ”I would have said you were f—ing crazy.”

To make matters worse, a makeup test Hanks did in June turned out to be a disaster. Even with elaborate latex augmentation, the 43-year-old actor simply did not look convincingly old. ”When the angle was just right,” Darabont says, ”old Tom looked completely credible. Then he’d turn three inches and suddenly he’d look like Condom Head. When we saw him outside in sunlight, he looked like the Elephant Man.” The solution: Late last month, veteran actor Dabbs Greer was quietly cast to play Hanks the Elder.

”Everything’s under control,” insists Darabont, and it’s hard to doubt him. He certainly impressed this reporter with the third reel of The Green Mile — 17 minutes of powerful footage featuring what may be the most highly charged electric-chair scene ever put in a movie. It’s a sequence that owes a great deal to the gentleman from Maine. ”I feel like I’m in the service of [King’s] voice when I’m adapting him,” Darabont says. ”I’m just hoping Green Mile the movie hooks audiences as deeply as I think it will.”

Stay tuned…