‘Castle Rock’ Showrunners Say the Scariest Part of Stephen King’s World Is ‘the Monsters Are Human’

King luminaries Sissy Spacek and Bill Skarsgard star in Hulu series that’s set in a very familiar place

Last Updated: July 24, 2018 @ 12:00 PM

It may be Stephen King’s world, but “Castle Rock” showrunners Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw are more than happy to live in it.

“The things that are the most enduringly disturbing about [King’s books] are that the monsters are human,” Shaw told TheWrap. “The monsters may be the protagonist.”

The setting for Hulu’s drama is Castle Rock, Maine, a place where monsters a-plenty have roamed around in King’s works. The fictional town sits at the center of the King universe, appearing in numerous books including “Cujo,” “The Dead Zone,” and “The Body” (the novella that “Stand By Me” was based on).

“It took a big leap of faith to even approach him with the idea of coming back to Castle Rock,” said Thomason. “We took some pretty big swings in this first season with some of his cherished stories, locations and even characters.” The showrunners said they were “terrified” of King’s opinion on the finished product, but J.J. Abrams, who’s Bad Robot produces the show with Warner Bros., forwarded an email from King giving them his approval. “About as good a vote of confidence as we could have gotten,” said Shaw.

The series centers on Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a death-row attorney who returns to the eponymous town years after a tragic accident killed his father, for which he is blamed. “Castle Rock” also stars King veterans Sissy Spacek, who plays Henry’s dementia-stricken adopted mother, and Bill Skarsgard as a feral inmate who’s found in the bowels of Shawshank State Penitentiary (yes, that Shawshank). Scott Glenn plays Alan Pangborn, the now-retired Castle Rock sheriff, who has been portrayed in films “The Dark Half” and “Needful Things” by Michael Rooker and Ed Harris.

Though not technically a King character, Jane Levy plays “Jackie Torrence,” a clear nod to Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrence from “The Shining.” The series premieres Wednesday with the first three episodes.

“It can seem like we assembled an Avengers of Stephen King,” said Shaw. Though they had no idea just how big Skarsgard’s turn as Pennywise the Clown would be, which helped “It” storm the box office to a tune of more $700 million worldwide last fall. “When we cast Bill, ‘It’ had not come out yet.”

There have been roughly 90 different TV and film adaptations of King’s works, to varying degrees of success. Self-described “lifelong” King fans, Shaw and Thomason said the trap that many of the lesser adaptations fall into is “this temptation to fixate on all the scares.” Arguing that King invented the character-driven horror genre, they say the scariest part of his works is the terrifying decisions that normal people make, rather than the supernatural monsters.

“‘The Shining’ is terrifying to me because it’s a story of a father who’s taken to this place where he could harm the people he’s supposed to be protecting,” said Shaw. “You’re trying to compact [a novel] into the three-act structure of a 90 minute or two-hour movie, what gets jettisoned is the depth of character.” And some of King’s novels can run over 1,000 pages.

But with “Castle Rock” they get to empty King’s toy chest and create a story designed for the medium of television. “It’s a new story in the key of Stephen King,” says Thomason.

This included using Shawshank in a very different way than the 1994 film. “The story of Shawshank is so specific to Andy Fufresne and Red, and to that story that happens in that time,” said Thomason. “We were really interested in the idea that Shawshank kind of loomed over the town of Castle Rock.”