Despite all its inherent challenges, it appears that a big-screen version of Stephen King’s The Stand is still on its way. The latest news is that director Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) will direct one gigantic three-hour movie. Here’s a look back at a piece of mine that originally appeared both on Geekscape and CC2K.
Before I offer my (totally preliminary) dream casting choices, let me also share my hopes for what the new film will be: I hope it’ll be The Lord of the Rings. Meaning, I hope that King’s sprawling struggle between good and evil will get the LOTR treatment in the form of three or four epic movies. It’s great material, and I think it’s worthy of that kind of production.
That said, let’s talk about the cast. I’m going to offer my first-string choices, as well as some backups if I think of any. And I am very open to suggestion and correction with any of these.
The Good Guys
The nominal hero of King’s work is about as average a guy as you’ll find. Sturdy Stu Redman hangs out at a gas station, smokes a lot and pretty much minds his own business – and yet, when King’s viral rapture takes away 99 percent of the population, he’s thrust into a leadership role. Gary Sinise memorably played Stu in the mid-90s ABC miniseries, but for today’s purposes, I’d love to see Timothy Olyphant play the role.
Olyphant’s a little younger – and a little prettier – than I imagine Redman, but his performance on FX’s rock-solid Elmore Leonard Kentucky cop show Justified got me thinking that he could dress down for the role.
Other actors who spring to mind include Lost’s Josh Holloway, The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal, Bill Paxton and (for some reason) Jeremy Renner. One stunt casting I thought of: Bruce Fucking Springsteen. I’ll get to this in a minute, but King once envisioned a much younger Boss for another role in The Stand, but today, I think he’d be just the right age for Stu.
And hell – why not ask Dominic West to do it? He’s a Brit who’s already ably played one American archetype – the hardworking, hard-drinking cop – why not ask him to play another hardscrabble American dude?
If memory serves, King said that he always pictured a young Bruce Springsteen in this role, and I think this character would benefit from such stunt casting. Many musical performers have delivered compelling performances onscreen – Eminem in 8 Mile, for one – and for a new Stand, I submit Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan. I don’t know if he has any acting experience, but what the hell. Here’s an interview with him from the 2008 Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Other possible Underwoods include: David Cook, Paul Rudd, Casey Affleck. I guess I have to throw Dominic Monaghan’s name in here, too.
Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom said this of the Bard’s greatest creations: They’re packed with life. Forgive me for taking a swing at King’s masterwork here, but I don’t often feel that way about his characters in The Stand – but Harold Lauder is an exception. He’s the one character (for me) who really has blood pumping in his veins. He makes fascinating, morally complicated (and morally reprehensible) choices, and he undergoes the most radical change of any of The Stand’s major players. For me, he’s the main event.
Harold was also the biggest disappointment in the ABC miniseries, and that’s a shame, because I’m something of an apologist for that series as a whole. It had a lot going for it, including a solid cast. Corin Nemec’s Harold, though, lacked the life that King invested in the character.
Scores of stunt-casting choices occurred to me for this one – Michael Cera chief among them – but King describes Harold as being very heavy-set, and to that end, I’d love so see if funnyman Jonah Hill could tackle the role – and possibly lose some weight to deliver the “Hawk” persona that Harold later adopts.
I like how off-center Hill’s comedic stylings are – he always seems to standing at a 90-degree angle from his material, and I was further dazzled with his performance in The Invention of Lying.
Another possible Harold: Lee Ingleby. Remember the poor, incompetent, doomed midshipman in Master and Commander? That’s Ingleby.
It’s a shame that I find so many of the characters in this book to be so flavorless, because a great female lead would befit King’s Lord of the Rings. But alas – Frannie is who he gives us. I guess her top-of-the-bell-curve-ness ties in with King’s larger agenda to populate his story with heroes drawn from middle America, but it doesn’t inspire me to come up with any great casting choices. Just about any able-bodied young actress could handle the role, and hell – Molly Ringwald was just fine in the ABC miniseries.
So, fuck it – Alyson Hannigan. She’s always a delight to watch, and she’s got just the right level of girl-next-door good looks for King’s rural New England heroine. And maybe the presence of a Buffy alum could pump some life into the role.
Other possible Goldsmiths: Jewel Staite, Elisabeth Moss, virtually any working actress under 26.
As with Gary Sinise and Stu, we’re just not going to do any better than Ray Walston in this role. Once again, King offers up an average American in Glen, the crusty old college professor, and as with Stu Redman, another actor from The Walking Dead comes to mind: Jeffrey DeMunn.
The gray-haired DeMunn would be a no-brainer for the role, and he already has some ties to King’s work via Frank Darabont, who cast him in all three of his King adaptations: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist.
Other possible Glens: Sam Anderson (Lost’s Bernard), David Strathairn, Ian Holm, Hugh Laurie.
King likes his disabled Christ figures, and Nick is the greatest of ‘em all. For the life of me, I can’t remember how King describes Nick in the book, so I’ll use the miniseries Nick as my guide: Rob Lowe. Now, Lowe has aged so preternaturally well that he could probably play the role again today, but the filmmakers probably won’t want to remind fans of the miniseries, so I’ll offer some replacements:
First choice: Shawn Ashmore, aka Bobby “Iceman” Drake from the X-Men movies. He’s got the pristine good looks that I imagine Nick having, and he’s a solid actor, too.
Other possible Nicks: Josh Radnor, Rob McElhenney, Ben McKenzie. Slight stunt cast: Henry Ian Cusick.
In Tom Cullen, we have another of King’s magical disabled people. I’m being hard on King, because his portrayal of Tom’s inner-workings and mental state are vividly rendered in the novel, but all the same, I find Tom the character to be a little trying.
I liked Bill Fagerbakke’s Tom in the ABC miniseries, but I have to wonder if the filmmakers wouldn’t go Life Goes On with this one and cast an actual mentally handicapped person.
That said, I could also see any number of good character actors in the role, including Kevin Weisman, Danny Strong, and hell – Jason Segel.
The Stand really has it all: A disabled Christ figure, a Magical Retarded Person, and in Mother Abigail, we get another of King’s faves: the Spiritual Black Person. To be fair, a great many writers fall into this trap, but all the same – there she is.
On the plus side, Abigail fits neatly into King’s great American myth. Who better to lead the forces of good than a guitar-strummin’, hymn-hummin’ old woman? For all intents and purposes, she’s a priest, but of course King had better instincts than to ask his good guys line up behind a man in cloth. No, Abigail is a country preacher, and her pulpit is her front porch – a fitting spiritual leader for what King described as his “long tale of dark Christianity.”
Ruby Dee played a fine Mother Abigail in the ABC miniseries, but you know who I’d like to see in this role? Whoopi Goldberg. I know, I know – I’m going to get slammed for that one, but I’ve always liked Goldberg since her days on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she demonstrated her chops for genre material.
Several eminent older actresses spring to mind for Abigail, including Cicely Tyson and Gladys Knight.
The Bad Guys
The devil in a denim coat. That’s Randall Flagg.
In keeping with King’s tour of Americana, he offers up an archvillain who hums rock songs, wears cowboy boots and covers his denim coat with dozens of pins. It’s like Satan decided to name your favorite T.G.I. Friday’s waiter as his antichrist.
Randall Flagg inspires the greatest number of stunt casting choices in me, because the role is such a ringer. King practically describes him as faceless in the book, and there are dozens of character actors working today who I think could nail the part.
Billy Bob Thornton is my top choice, but I could easily see these guys in the denim coat, too: Tommy Lee Jones, Ian McShane, Powers Boothe, Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Nick Nolte, Michael Biehn, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen.
Along with Harold Lauder, Lloyd remains my favorite character in The Stand. I always felt like Lloyd was a loser in need of a second chance, and I maintain that if Flagg hadn’t handpicked Lloyd to be his second-in-command, the old crook probably would have made his way to Boulder.
I love Miguel Ferrer, who played Lloyd in the ABC miniseries, and I think that the role could attract some solid talent, depending on how old (or young) they decide to cast the role. Off the top of my head, I’d like to see Walton Goggins in the part, but then I’d like to see him in just about anything.
Other possible Lloyds: Michael Rooker, Robert Patrick.
The Trashcan Man
If The Stand is King’s Lord of the Rings, then the Trashcan Man is his Gollum. He wanders the countryside talking to himself, and he unwittingly brings about the fall of evil. So why not cast our own Gollum in the role?
I submit that Andy Serkis would make a fantastic Trashcan Man, but clearly, there are scores of kooky actors who could do it, including Jeremy Davies, Jimmi Simpson and Crispin Glover.
I know that I’ve left out dozens of minor characters, but I had to start somewhere. I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the casting of this movie. Who would you cast as Nadine? Lucy? Or The Kid?