Stephen King talks to us about The Dark Tower
It’s been nearly 40 years since “The Gunslinger,” the first story in Stephen King’s magnum opus “The Dark Tower,” was first published. Now the saga of Roland, Jake Chambers and The Man in Black has come to life on the big screen this weekend in Sony Pictures‘ The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba as Roland (the last gunslinger) and Matthew McConaughey as Walter (The Man in Black). We had the opportunity to take a tour of King’s hometown of Bangor, Maine where we saw sites that inspired (and were inspired by) King’s work, and then got to sit down and talk to the man himself. You’ll find the interview below the tour gallery!
ComingSoon.net: Did you ever think this would happen?
Stephen King: I never really thought about it that much. I mean, there were times when people would express an interest in it and then they’d go away again. Interest came back over time after Peter Jackson’s success with the “Lord of the Rings” movies. It never seemed like a “movie movie” idea as complex and long as it is. They’ve done a wonderful job here of telling a story that’s coherent and has all the elements of the novel “The Dark Tower.” The purists may not like it. I can’t tell about that for sure, because it doesn’t start where the books start, but at the same time, I could follow it anyway because I knew exactly what’s going on. I don’t think about that, I think about writing the next book. I’m more interested in the next thing than the last thing.
CS: Having seen the movie the other day it was kind of like the whole “Dark Tower” series thrown into a blender. Is it like being able to look at the series through fresh eyes for you?
King: Yeah. It is. And there’s so many things in the various stories, the plots are fairly complex and the characters interact and they go back and forth. I think that Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the screenplay, picked out what seemed to him to be the most accessible and human relationship kind of thing between this old guy, Roland, who’s been around for a long, long time, and the kid. And they had a wonderful chemistry when they were doing the show. And it comes through on the screen. So yeah, I mean, they had to make some decisions. Some of those decisions are related to telling a story that the general public will get, not just the the hardcore “Dark Tower” fans, the guys who show up at the fantasy conventions with Roland tattooed on their heads, something like that. So they want to get to those. You have to keep in mind that of all the books that are written, the fans of the “Dark Tower” books are the most zealous, the most fervent fans of all. But they make a small subgroup of the people who read books like “The Shining” or “Misery” or that sort of thing. So you know, they’re an acquired taste. They’re fantasy.
CS: I hate to ask you, because the film actually got negative feedback when Idris Elba was cast as Roland, what do you say to those people and what’s your response to the casting of the two primary leads?
King: Well, what I said in a tweet after all that discussion started was I didn’t care what color he was, as long as he could command the screen, draw fast and shoot straight. So it doesn’t make any difference to me, because I don’t even really see people when I’m writing because if I’m writing about a character, I’m behind their eyes, you know? Unless they walk by a mirror or something, I don’t even really see what they look like. But what really sort of made it an issue in my mind, when they cast Idris as Roland was, all of those books were illustrated to start with, those Grant novels were all illustrated. And in all those pictures, Roland is a white guy, and I never thought about that one way or another. But obviously, that became part of the mindset. But you know, it’s weird, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t he be black? Why couldn’t he be a black guy to do this? It’s like, you know what’s weirder than that? You see this show “Game of Thrones” and Westeros, they’re all British. They’re all British. I mean, Westeros is basically England, right? And nobody ever questions that. So I mean, to me, the idea that a black man would play Roland is minor compared to that.
CS: Do you hope he has a hat in the next movie?
King: It’s funny, isn’t it? Trade secret, in a lot of the pictures, not only is he white, he’s wearing a hat in most of those pictures. And I talked to the producers of the movie about that. And they said that in Western movies where the main character wears a hat don’t do well at the box office. And I said, “Really? Well, Denzel wore a hat all the way through ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ And that did pretty good at the box office.” But they don’t pay attention to that.
CS: A lot of this movie takes place on Keystone Earth, so it would be kind of silly if he was walking around New York looking like Crocodile Dundee.
King: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, have you been to New York lately? (laughs) I mean, they have a guy in Times Square that’s called the Naked Cowboy.
CS: Do you think you’ll ever go back to this world, fill in more of Roland’s backstory, write another “Dark Tower” book?
King: I’ve thought a lot about those characters in the last year or so, because they were making this movie. Actually, the last two or three years, because I had a lot of meetings with Ron Howard, who’s one of the producers and was very instrumental in bringing it to the screen. So I thought about them a lot then. I thought about them again when I did the “The Wind Through the Keyhole,” which was kind of a postscript to the books. And the funny thing about it is, I’m usually all about the next thing. And that’s why, you know, somebody was asking me at dinner, “Are you all bound up in the success or failure of this movie and the other movie?” And the answer is, no. The books are there. The books are done. And that’s sort of where my focus is. But when you do come back to them, like I don’t know. I wrote “The Gunslinger” around 1970, and years went by. I mean, it was after “Pet Sematary” that I wrote the second one, because people asked for it. And then, a couple of more years later, the third one. And then, there was a long stall out.
CS: I remember.
King: And what I’m getting back to is every time that I came back, it was like meeting old friends, you know? And I picked up the story immediately and that was great. And I felt the same way. This is a plug for a wonderful TV series called “Mr. Mercedes” that’s going to start in about a week on DIRECTV Network. And you know, I wrote that book and there was this minor character whose name was Holly Gibney, who was at a funeral and Bill Hodges was supposed to comfort her. Bill Hodges is a cop. And she just walked in and stole a book. And sometimes, that happens with characters.
CS: Your character kind of admits in the sixth book you, yourself, that you lost an outline. Is that an actual story, is that a true story?
CS: You had a long outline for this?
King: I had an outline. It wasn’t particularly long, but it outlined the entire book, you know, the entire cycle of the books. And I did lose that. The only thing I can remember about it is it was written on a typewriter in the campus newspaper office at the University of Maine. It was one of these things that was built to receive teletype as well as type. So it had all capital letters. So I remember the outline, but I don’t know where it went. I don’t even know where the first draft of that book went.
CS: We were touring around today seeing all the sites that had inspired you. What inspires you these days? Has your response to fear or the things that draw fear out of you changed over the decades?
King: I don’t think so, a little bit. I don’t think that I’m as close to the childhood monsters and things that I was close to in my 20s and 30s. It’s just a natural thing. You know, you’re closer to your childhood. You remember more of what your childhood — and then, you get this double dip because you have kids of your own and you see what they’re seeing and you’re close to them and you have them almost as research subjects, you know, kid things, you’re watching what they’re doing all the time. I don’t know. There are things that I’m interested in, but there’s no way to generalize the case exactly. I see pictures sometimes in my mind. You know, it’s like I see dead people. And sometimes I do. But then I think I would like to write a story about that, find out what it’s about. I think that in the last few years, I’ve written more about old people. I’m not sure that’s the demographic I really want to go after because they’re shrinking all the time. But you know, you write what you know. When you’re young, you write about young people.
CS: Is there anything that didn’t make it into the movie that you wish had?
King: Well, there are things I think that the hardcore fans are going to wish were in the movie. And all I can say is that if the movie’s a success, there will be a sequel. I would love to see those doors into our world. And there is some of that in this movie. I would love to see Roland on the beach with those lobster monstrosities and stuff. I understand the rationale behind the movie that’s PG-13, and I was totally signed off on that. I think it’s the right thing to do. I want as many people in the tent as possible for all kinds of reasons. Part of it, having to do with the dynamic between the gunslinger and the boy, because I think that’s a father/son relationship. I’d love to see the next picture be R because I think that’s sort of where we’re coming from now, where the movies need to go. For a long time, PG-13 was the safe spot to go. And when pictures were R, the studio executives would say, “Well, we know that this is going to make 20 percent and 30 percent less money because we’re going to exclude a market, a prime part of the movie going public.” I think that movies like “Deadpool” and “Logan” changed that to some degree.
CS: Do you think it would be strange if they didn’t do “Drawing of the Three” in some way, shape or form next?
King: I think that would probably happen, yeah. I think that would be the logical place to go. I had to think about it in my mind. Like I said, I’m not into that part of it, the creative part.
CS: And in terms of your personal accomplishments, how high do you rank getting blocked by Trump on Twitter?
King: Not very high. Not very high. Getting blocked by Donald Trump on Twitter is a little bit like striking out the pitcher. I thought it demonstrated a sort of, I don’t know, I just think of a little kid with his little lip all the way pushed down, you know, it’s a childish thing to be done.
CS: Well, I thought it was pretty cool.
King: Not that you can’t. You know, thank you. I got a lot of good ink for that, actually. Go me.
CS: They managed to fit in your famous opening line, “The Man in Black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” Were you happy with the way it’s incorporated into the film?
King: Yeah. I am. I was after them from the beginning to get that line in there. Not for me, but for the people who quoted it and stuff. It’s strange to me, but that line has become important to people, because when I wrote it it was just a line. It was a way into the story.
CS: It’s just this treasure trove in your mind. You’re so prolific and you’ve written so much. Where does that keep renewing itself from?
King: I don’t think it does. I think you get a finite number of stories, and when I was, let’s say 25 or 26, it was like people trying to escape a burning building. Inside my head, there were all these ideas that were crammed together, and I wanted to write them all at once. And now, I have less, but I’m grateful to have any, so that’s good. I’m working now, and that’s all I need. It’s a good thing. And I have a few ideas. I don’t know if they’re very good, but they’re ideas.
CS: Can you talk about what you’re working on now?
King: No. There’s a book done for next year and there’s a book that I wrote with my son called “Sleeping Beauties” that’s out next month. And he and I are going to go on tour. It’s nice to be able to write a book with your son. He told me what to do and I did it. This is a preview of the old folk’s home.
The Dark Tower is now playing in theaters everywhere.