Castle Rock creator Dustin Thomason has the world at his fingertips, the world of Stephen King that is. So, how does one handle the formidable task of incorporating King’s banefully beloved characters into an iconic town built on evil? Fan Fest News had the opportunity to join a roundtable interview with Dustin and find out.
Media: So what are you allowed to tell us about season two?
Dustin: I might be allowed to tell you more than the others. As I’m sure some of our other friends have told you, season two is the story of what happens when this iconic villain of Stephen King’s, Annie Wilkes, crashes into Castle Rock. And in the trailer, there’s that moment where Tim’s character says,
“You know this town already had a host of problems and now you brought your problems to us as well.” – Reginald ‘Pop’ Merrill, Castle Rock
And basically, “We really didn’t need those problems.” So it really is the story of what happens when she comes into this powder keg and throws gasoline and a match onto the already ready to explode Castle Rock.
But it’s also a tale of two cities. It is a tale of Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot. Obviously Salem’s Lot is a setting that a lot of people love from the book of Salem’s Lot. And the idea of the season was to try and kind of reinvent Salem’s Lot a little bit. and reinvent the relationship between Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot. To show a kind of contrast of Castle Rock being a town, as we saw in season one, that’s sort of the town that time forgot. You know not a lot of job opportunities and a pretty empty town versus Jerusalem’s Lot which is a very vibrant town now having this Somali immigrant population that has come in and brought new life to a kind of dying Maine town.
Media: Annie in particular… I love that she’ll do things that are morally ambiguous upfront. Can you speak about her character in that respect? Is she meant to be morally ambiguous or are we meant to root for her the entire time? Because I want to root for her.
Dustin: You know I think part of what I always find interesting about the book of Misery and the movie of Misery is that it is all from Paul Sheldon’s point of view. So you have this writer who’s very self-important, who has a lot of opinions about who he is in the world and he sees this woman, who obviously is, you know, doing some not so nice things to him. But right from the beginning, he has some very strong opinions about her and they’re pretty negative opinions about her. It fascinated me to think about, who is that woman and what would happen if we kind of turned the story on its end and focused on her side of the story and how she got to that moment.
So when you ask, “Are we supposed to feel for her?” I mean I really do hope, and I think Lizzie’s performance will sort of bring people in and make them feel something for Annie in a big way. At the same time, she’s still Annie Wilkes and so there’s still going to be those unpredictable moments or those moments when she’s cornered, where something happens and she lashes out. I think that’s baked into the nature of who this character is. That said, I do think that a big change between the book and the movie and this season [occurs]. I do hope that, as you say, people will feel for her and feel for the things that she cares about.
Media: Did Stephen King have any input into the creative process?
Dustin: You know when I first started thinking about and really talking about doing this as season two, I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page about Annie. Because Annie is one of his great creations. It’s not like season one where he also had input but we were inventing new characters, we were taking new settings. This is like we were running right into the heart of one of his greatest creations. I wanted to make sure that he was happy with the direction that we were going.
We talked first about what would she be like before and how and where would she be in her arc of mental illness. In her arc of fandom. In her arc of obsession. All of these characteristics. He wrote me a long message that I blew up and I put in the writers’ room. And every time we asked ourselves, “Well what would Annie do in this situation?”, we would kind of look back at that and see is there any guidance in this bible.
Media: What was in that message?
Dustin: What was in the message? I can’t give you all the contents of the message, because they sort of give away too much about the experience of the season. But you know certainly, he was of the mentality that Annie’s pathologies began earlier, much earlier in her life. And even in the book and the movie you see the scrapbook that she’s collected of all the terrible things that she’s done. But I think for Stephen, even in the idea that we were doing sort of a prequel, before she’s done all of the horrible things, he was sort of pushing me to think about the way that she would be struggling with mental illness, which is sort of at the heart of this season in a way.
Media: Was it a friendly message or in a way threatening of please don’t screw this up?
Dustin: No Stephen’s incredibly supportive and lovely. He’s the nicest guy in the world. I think [he] wants creators to kind of take what he started and do their own thing with it, but also is willing to share his feelings. And I think [he] likes the show. I know he likes the show.
Media: What was it like as a writer and a developer developing what is her psychosis? Like knowing the endgame but putting life and depth to the mental illness?
Dustin: Terrifying. You know if you go online you can see all the many diagnoses of Annie Wilkes. Psychiatrists have written articles about what is Annie Wilkes’ diagnosis. And to me, it almost doesn’t matter what her exact diagnosis is. What I was interested in was usually people who struggle with mental illness, they truly struggle with mental illness. It’s not just like, “Oh I accept my mental illness.” They often have perceptiveness about their own condition. And I was always interested in a woman who was really fighting some of her worst instincts, who wants to be good. Who wants to medicate herself and to not give in to those demons. So that was sort of where we always started, that you could really find yourself connected to her if you felt that she was struggling to be good.
Media: You mentioned the bible before. I’m curious if the bible is a list of areas of the Stephen King universe that you are able to explore. Like what is in this bible?
Dustin: Oh sorry, when I said bible I really meant like what Stephen said about Annie Wilkes. Putting it up on the board and that was our bible for this season. And to your question of the larger tapestry…
Media: Do you have guidelines?
Dustin: Yeah, I mean there are some guidelines. But the truth is we’ve been able to… in season one we told this new story that was kind of like writing a song in the key of Stephen King. But it was all new characters, except for Alan Pangborn, and it gave us total flexibility to kind of do anything we wanted in season one. Obviously, in season two we’re taking Annie, and taking Ace Merrill, and taking Pop Merrill and running a little bit more into the heart of some of the sort of iconic characters.
“Any part of what we set out to do was to make sure, in this story, that we were being true to the creations that Stephen had created, and that we were honoring them, doing them in the right way.”
If anything we had bibles for this season that were, you know, here’s the Ace Merrill bible, here’s the Pop Merrill bible, here’s the Annie bible. And of course, we diverted from some specifics of details. In order to tell a new story, I think you have to do that a little bit. But it was always front and center of our mind, like every piece of characterization and character that Stephen had laid out for us, that we would always return to those and make sure that we were honoring the spirit of what he tried to create.
Media (Linda): Stephen King he has some pretty hardcore fans, to say the least. Have you gotten any kind of negative feedback from somebody upset with what you have done with any of the characters?
Media: Did you get an Annie Wilkes letter?
Dustin: I haven’t yet. You know people watched season one and they had different feelings about the beginning and the end. I think that it was interesting to sort of see people process that in different ways. Some people love it and some people hate it. I think that part of what was also interesting in that way is that Stephen wrote Misery 33 years ago. Misery is a story about toxic fandom before anybody knew those words. Like I honestly don’t know if anyone else had written a story about a fan having gone too far.
And by the way, I can be a very critical fan of things too, and have my own opinions. I didn’t sign the Game of Thrones petition, but I was amused by it. What Misery gave us a chance to do, and all of the writers a chance to do was to kind of think about those questions and the time that we live in. And maybe not take it on in exactly the way that Stephen did where she’s obsessed with writer. But instead, sort of tell a different story about obsession and about love gone too far.
Moderator: You guys, I’ve got to wrap him. Thank you so much.
Thank you to Mr. Thomason for a glimpse into creating Castle Rock. Catch the premiere this Wednesday, Oct. 23, only on Hulu.