Tim Robbins, best known for his role as relentless prisoner Andy Dufresne in the1994 classic The Shawshank Redemption, has made his return to the Stephen King Universe! Prisoner #37927 is now taking on a new role as Reginald ‘Pop’ Merrill in Hulu’s Castle Rock series. Fan Fest News had the honor to sit in on a roundtable interview with the intriguing Mr. Robbins as he talked a bit about what brought him back. Time to “Get busy living.” 😉
Media: You are quite familiar to the Stephen King universe having starred in one of the best adaptations of Stephen King[Shawshank Redemption]. So do you see a connection, you know, kind of like a bridge between the two?
Tim Robbins: Yeah. You know, I’ve been asked that question a lot. I actually don’t. Sorry to not be cooperative, but they’re wildly different stories. And that’s a testament to Stephen King and the talent he has to write in so many different genres. And the difference between Castle Rock and Shawshank is just so immense. Even though Shawshank plays a part in Castle Rock, I just view them as completely different.
Media: But the feel of the worlds, is it completely different for you?
Tim Robbins: The world, yeah.
Media: Kind of like the autumnal feel or the creepiness?
Tim Robbins: That’s not in Shawshank.
Media: Have you met Stephen King?
Tim Robbins: Yeah, once. Many years ago.
Media: What did you ask him? Did you ask him about any insight into the writings?
Tim Robbins: No I just told him I loved his writing.
Media: What did he say to you?
Tim Robbins: Not much.
Media: What could you tell us about your character (Reginald ‘Pop’ Merrill)?
Tim Robbins: He’s kind of like the town capo, don. It’s kind of a rural Maine gangster.
Media: Was this meaty for you? Doesn’t sound like something you’ve like…
Tim Robbins: Yeah it’s not a role I’ve played a lot. It’s something I grew up with, in Greenwich Village bordering Little Italy. A lot of my friends were mafia wannabes and the presence was around. That kind of guy, the local don. So I saw how that operated, and kind of always wanted to play that guy. So great opportunity.
Media: Why didn’t you end up with the other guys that you grew up with? So what saved you from…
Tim Robbins: What saved me from being a thug? (laughing)
Media: Yes, in a way.
Tim Robbins: Well a good family. Good parents. And the emphasis on others rather than self… that was instilled in me. And I got lucky. And I often get asked about Shawshank and Dead Man Walking. And this current documentary I’ve directed, it’s in the New York Film Festival now, called 45 Seconds of Laughter. They asked what my interest is, or my propensity towards prison and honestly I don’t see myself as that far removed from people that wound up in prison. Kids I grew up with, that I hung with, wound up in the system. So I never really thought about people in the system as others, I felt that maybe they were less lucky.
Then when you put into the mix the illegalization of marijuana in the ’60s and ’70s and how that led to a prison population that’s higher than any country in the world, I have to just think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” There are people in jail for crimes we’ve all committed. In jail for 30 years for crimes we’ve committed, and there’s something quite unjust about that.
Media: Do you see the world as a better place with the legalization of marijuana, as you mentioned?
Tim Robbins: Is the world a better place? I live in California and it definitely is a better place.
Media (Linda): What were your thoughts when you were pulled back into the Stephen King Universe? Had you been watching Castle Rock?
Tim Robbins: I had watched Castle Rock. I had really liked it. How did I feel about being pulled back in? It wasn’t necessarily being pulled back right into the universe. It was this specific universe. And I liked what they were doing with it, I liked the writing. And the twists that were in the scripts that I read. Expect the unexpected. (smiles)
Media (Linda): Were you on board as soon as the opportunity arrived?
Tim Robbins: Well I went and met with them and asked them where this was going.
Media (Linda): Okay.
Tim Robbins: You know the great thing about these long formats is that you start with an idea, and it depends on how things go. So oftentimes the writers are surprising themselves as they go along. And so each new draft we’d get of a new episode there was always something in it that I didn’t expect. So I liked that.
Media (Linda): That’s fantastic.
Media: How did you prepare for this role?
Tim Robbins: Well, he’s dying, so one of the things I did was I did some research on that and looked at that. I had to do a Maine accent, so I had to do a little bit of work there. But I’ve got to be honest with you, being the guy that’s the curmudgeon is easy. It’s hard work to be charming. (laughing) Particularly at six in the morning. So it wasn’t as much of a challenge as other roles I’ve had.
Media: You are a director as well, so when you are being directed, do you push the director for tips that you would later use, maybe?
Tim Robbins: No, I do keep to myself on that stuff. And I know from having directed that it’s the last thing you want is an actor directing their own scene. So I am malleable and I try to figure out how to best serve what the vision is. If there’s something that I feel is not going to get at the truth of the character or the scene, then I’ll have a discussion. But I’ve always done that from the start. I think it’s the actor’s responsibility to get to the truth, and if there’s something in the way of that then it’s the actor’s responsibility to fight for the truth.
Media: You started out in teenage comedies like The Sure Thing. Was it always like that? Could you talk to Rob Reiner about if you had…
Tim Robbins: Yes. It’s always been that way. And by the way, the better directors want that. Because the better directors know that the actor is your arbiter of truth. And if the actor is just doing what you’re telling them to do, you might be cheating yourself of something deeper, or more fully realized about the character.
Media: Did you like those teenage comedies that were your start?
Tim Robbins: In my generation, we had… it was like a rite of passage to do those teenage comedies. Everyone had to do a ‘get laid’ movie. Everyone had to do a ‘Vietnam’ movie. So I did both. I passed the requirements for actors my age.
Media: Well then you made a movie about a circle (The Hudsucker Proxy).
Tim Robbins: That was an adult comedy. laughing)
Moderator: Okay Tim Robbins, thank you so much.
Media Group: Thank you so much.
Tim Robbins: Thank you guys.
An absolute pleasure speaking with the iconic Mr. Robbins! Catch him in Castle Rock premiering Wednesday, Oct. 23, only on Hulu.