Stephen King's TV reign: Author discusses Mr. Mercedes, The Stand, The Outsider
With America experiencing what's objectively its most terrifying year of the 21st century, it's perhaps only appropriate that the master of horror is having one of his best.
Stephen King may be well into his fourth decade as a blockbuster storyteller, yet TV adaptations of his work have never been more popular. There's HBO's stealth breakout The Outsider, which launched in January; CBS All Access' take on King's suddenly timely pandemic classic The Stand which premieres in December, and Audience Network's adaptation of King's Bill Hodges crime novel trilogy Mr. Mercedes, which moves to its new home on Peacock on Thursday, Oct. 15. Not to mention, King released another best-selling book this year (a quartet of novellas under the title If It Bleeds) and has two more planned for 2021.
EW spoke with King about all his TV projects and, of course, dipped a bit into politics as well. We start with Mr. Mercedes, a series that received strong praise from critics (with a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes) yet reached relatively few viewers on the now-defunct Audience Network. King hopes the drama will have a better shot at finding mainstream success when its first two seasons come to Peacock this week.
"I'm so happy that Peacock is doing this because I felt like with Mr. Mercedes at AT&T we had brought a stadium show to a folk club," King says. "Now people are going to get a chance to see it."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The three seasons of Mr. Mercedes went through your three books, and the ending was well-received and sort of tied things up. Fans are wondering if a fourth season could happen; what are your thoughts on that?
STEPHEN KING: I would love to see that happen. I think the actors would like to see it happen because they got into those parts. Actors have a way of doing that. They have a way of settling in — like into a new house. And then after a while, they're really good at what they're doing and dig deeper into the character. So I'd love to see it, but the three seasons are there and they're pretty darn good.
What did you think of the show's decision to rearrange the books? So that book 2 was covered by season 3?
Well, I think they did that because they wanted to finish with the story of Brady Hartsfield. They wanted to keep a timeline, it fit things. Then they had to change things a bit because of the backstory of Finders Keepers. I won't go into all that. I'll just say that it seemed like the right thing to do and it comes to a rather spectacular conclusion. We won't say he lives. We won't say he dies. We'll just say that there's a jaw-dropping moment at the end of season 2. So I think they did the right thing.
Between Mr. Mercedes and The Outsider, we're now in a world in which there are two Holly Gibneys on television, played by Justine Lupe and Cynthia Erivo. Which is closer to how you envisioned her?
[The Outsider showrunner] Richard Price's concept of Holly was a little bit different than mine. My Holly is kind of an obsessive-compulsive person who comes out of her shell a little by little as the books go forward, until she can stand on her own by the time you get to [her story in] If It Bleeds. One of the most interesting things when you watch [Mr. Mercedes] is you see how Holly's clothes change as the series goes on. You can see that confidence. It's genius to see her blossom in terms of what she wears and how her hair is and all that. Justine Lupe got into that character and did a terrific job with it because she had more time to develop Holly [across three seasons].
Cynthia may get that time, because there's going to be a second season of The Outsider as soon as they can get the production going. And she's terrific, but she's more someone who is kind of almost on the spectrum; a little bit of a savant with the memory of license plates and cars and baseball. One of the funniest things is she knows who's won all these baseball games going back to the '50s, but she never watches.
Millions of people watched The Outsider and now millions of people are going to have the opportunity to watch Mr. Mercedes, and Holly is the character that exists in both universes and I'm curious how people like it.
You mentioned how Holly evolved into the lead of a story in If It Bleeds. Has there been any interest in doing a standalone series on the character? Perhaps triple Hollys?
I don't think so. It's really complicated because of the difference in the two story lines makes it difficult to figure out how that could possibly be done in the world of Richard Price's creation of The Outsider. But if Mr. Mercedes was greenlit for a fourth season, that would be in the realm of possibility.
You mentioned The Outsider is doing a second season (note: HBO has not announced an official second season order). Obviously the first exhausted the material in the great book you wrote. Can you give fans a sense of where that story goes in season 2?
I know exactly where it's going because I have seen some of the scripts. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. I'll just say that it's really great and a real spooky paranormal element.
You, of course, have The Stand coming in December. How does it compare to the well-liked 1994 version?
Obviously, they've updated it. So there are cell phones, for one thing, and the technology has changed and they've changed some of the story. But the characters are terrific. Everybody is really good. I don't think anybody can top Gary Sinise as Stu Redmond. But Alexander Skarsgard is a good Randall Flagg, he just knocked it out of the park. It's big, let's put it that way.
Have recent events with the coronavirus pandemic resulted in any tweaks or additions to the content or story during post-production?
No, I don't think so. It's the kind of plague where people don't have to wear face masks, because either you get it or you don't and that's all there is to it. It's not like COVID-19 where you can actually protect yourself. But there are some remarkable similarities in terms of what the government is willing to say and whether or not they're costing lives. The government panic in order to keep people from understanding how serious it is — that has reverberations to what's going on now.
You wrote the final episode with a new coda at the end. Is there anything about that final episode that you felt improved on your novel?
I was able to bring things back around. I've had an idea for that final episode that I always kind of regretted not writing it in the book — the book's long enough as it is. I can't tell you anything about the episode other than to say that I've seen a rough cut of it, and I think it's fine.
Recently there is was news that an Eyes of the Dragon series is no longer in development at Hulu. Has anybody else picked that up?
Not that I know of.
You have a Hard Case Crime book, titled Later, coming in 2021. But I look at your website pretty regularly and it's unusual for you not to have at least two upcoming books on your site. And so I'm wondering if there is another new title you're working on that you can tease?
There will be two next year. I don't want people to get used to that or think that that's the norm. It's not. But it's just the way things happened. So there is another, but I don't want to say anything about it yet.
Brendan Gleeson did such a great job in Mr. Mercedes, now he's playing Trump in The Comey Rule. Obviously, you tend to discuss politics on Twitter. I'm curious if you've happened to see his version of Trump, and if you had any thoughts on it?
I haven't seen it yet. There's so much to watch now on streaming. I'm watching this show called Ratched. Netflix has spoiled me completely. I have not seen any of Lovecraft Country because I'm waiting for the show to finish, that way that I can binge it and I don't have to wait around while a network decides to poop out another episode.
You sometimes get backlash for political tweets. There's been some debate over whether celebrities have a responsibility to use their platform to speak out nowadays. Do you think they do?
No, I don't think they do. But I think they have a right to speak out just like any other American, or anybody else who has an opinion. In other words, I don't think that they have any particular responsibility to talk about the issues of the day, but neither do I think they should get criticism — [saying] "Oh, it's just some celebrity, some Hollywood guy," as if that invalidates an opinion, is just f---ing ridiculous. We have a right to talk just like anybody else.