Castle Rock is a psychological-horror series set in the Stephen King multiverse. The show, which can be streamed on Hulu, combines the mythological scale with intimate character storytelling and weaves an epic saga between darkness and light all concentrated near a small Maine town.
The program is set for a second season premiering October 23, 2019 where a feud between warring clans comes to a boil when budding psychopath, Annie Wilkes gets waylaid in Castle Rock. In order to promote the return, they had a significant presence at New York Comic Con with a panel and roundtable interviews. Present at the interviews were stars Lizzy Caplan, Tim Robbins, Paul Sparks, Yusra Warsama, Barkhad Abdi, Elsie Fisher and Matthew Alan and executive producer, Dustin Thomason.
A DISTINCT SECOND SEASON
Castle Rock involves a shared Steven King Universe throughout but the show is a soft anthology with each season standing on its own. However, there are ways that the seasons interconnect. Thomason said, “We introduce threads and have them circle back in unexpected ways in the same way that Stephen does. If you look at a character like Father Callahan who exists in ‘Salem’s Lot and ultimately you see him in The Dark Tower but kind of in a different context. Or Randall Flagg who appears in many forms across many of the books. Part of what we were excited by was introducing strands. Maybe not always answering every question right away but ultimately circling back in unexpected ways and hopefully broadening out the universe over many seasons.”
KEEPING THE DIE-HARDS HAPPY
All of Stephen King’s stories occur at different points so it was difficult for the creatives to weave the different aspects of the universe together. Dustin stated, “One of the biggest challenges, honestly, is how loyal you are going to be to the canon and to the timelines. Currently, we’re setting an Annie Wilkes prequel in modern day. For people who understood Annie to be existing in 1990, and a prequel should have taken place in the 70’s. I think some people might have a challenge with that at first but I think people are smart and can get their head around the idea that we are resetting the timeline. The same is true if you look last year at Alan Pangborn and Alan Pangborn had a famous relationship in Needful Things with this woman, Polly Chalmers. We took that and translated it into his relationship with Ruth Deaver, Sissy Spacek’s character. One of the challenges is always asking what is the emotional core of the story that Stephen was telling and how do we stay true to that while not finding ourselves trapped by the timelines. If we could only exist in the timelines than I think it would get really hard to tell a Castle Rock story.”
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
The second season expands the universe geographically as the audience is introduced to a neighboring town, Jerusalem’s Lot. Fans would know the place better as ‘Salem’s Lot. Thomason spoke of both locations. “Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot both feature in this season. Part of what seemed exciting was to take Castle Rock and broaden it out and to really look at what is it for two small towns in Maine to be fundamentally different. One of the conceits of the season is that Jerusalem’s Lot has been populated by a Somali immigrant population who have brought vibrancy and life back to the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where Castle Rock is still faltering in a way that it was in season one and is a one industry town with not a lot of economic opportunity. It was interesting to think about telling a tale of two cities as a cornerstone for the season.”
From the description, we already know that Annie Wilkes, of Misery fame, pays a visit. When asked how Caplan would make the character her own compared to Kathy Bates’ version, she spoke of how the current situation helps that. “That Annie, when you meet her in Misery, she’s already very isolated from the world. Whatever her mental issues are they have been allowed to completely blossom by the time we meet her in Misery. Our Annie, she’s still moving through the world. She’s interacting with other people. She has a daughter to look after so I think circumstances does that for me.”
Wilke’s isn’t the only King villain to show up. Ace Merrill, from the film Stand By Me and the novella, The Body, plays a prominent role. Sparks described how not much has changed with his character. “This character, Ace Merrill, comes from Kiefer Sutherland from Stand By Me. I think that we find Ace in the future pretty much where you would imagine where that character would be in the future. He has not changed a lot. He’s still a pretty complicated guy.” He also discussed what drew him to Ace. “I love to play people that are ethically somewhat compromised. I think there’s something really interesting in why people behave the way they behave and we explore that in this.”
Though not as well known as the other two, Pop Merrill, appeared in The Sun God. He plays the figurehead of the Merrill Mob family. Robbins talked about his character. “He is morally complicated. He’s someone that has a past that is full of demons and ghosts. He’s probably the only one in the town that can recognize a certain element of the town that has a tenuous hold on itself and at any time can burst. Because he’s been there as long as he’s been there and experienced what he’s experienced and was one of three that dealt with the evil that has presented itself before, he’s in a position of unwanted responsibility.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Family binds many of the main characters in season two. As mentioned earlier, Annie has a child on the show. Fisher, who plays Annie’s daughter, went into their relationship. “I think that Joy and her mom have normal things that happen in any mother daughter relationship. Joy is going through puberty. She’s being a teen, being a rebel. I think that is just amplified in some ways by Annie’s mental state and what she deals with. There’s ups and downs, highs and lows in any relationship. That just applies to theirs in the worst circumstances possible.”
Sparks and Alan play brothers, Ace and Chris Merrill, who are nephews of Pop. Chris is the only person Ace likes in this world and so that plays a role when Ace takes over the family’s crime operations. Alan said, “When it comes to the brothers, I think they’re just two completely different personalities with two completely different things that anchor them in the town. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a thing but I’m sure there’s questions and concerns with a wild card like Ace taking over things or the possibility of it.”
They are not the only siblings as Abdi and Warsama’s characters are related. Abdi shared, “We are very close. Of course, we’re going to have some drama but we’re very close. She’s my sister. We both got adopted into the Merrill Family by Pop at a young age. We grew up in Castle Rock. She takes the right way. She becomes a doctor. I chose to be part of the Merrill’s so that’s the difference between us.”
Warsama added, “I think we both take care of each other in different ways at times but what I do like about their relationship is that they’re siblings so their baseline connection is love. I don’t know if you guys have brothers and sisters but you can really go out there with your siblings but you’ll always know you have this connection. I think that is something really beautiful that hopefully you can see in this series. I think they fundamentally do love and care for each other. They’ve been through a lot even before they got to Castle Rock as children and before they were adopted by Pop Merrill. They speak Somali in the series and the way that we do that, for me, Nadia hasn’t necessarily been around Somali people in Castle Rock so it’s kind of a secret language that they have for each other so they could communicate and feel safe in this environment and in this new world that they found themselves in.”
SOME THINGS ARE JUST TOO SCARRY
Behind the scenes, both Caplan and Fisher were creeped out shooting scenes at the Marsten House. It had a questionable history being the site of a mental institution, a corrupt almshouse where they would steal from the patients and part of a women’s prison. Even the large, intimidating security guards were hesitant to walk the grounds. The actresses noticed on the first day there were scratch marks on the inside of the doors. This proved to be too unnerving so when they filmed scenes, Fisher shared, “They took the doors off because it was too much. There were just bad vibes there, bro.”
THERE ARE MOMENTS OF LEVITY
Despite the tone and genre of the series, it’s not all horror and suspense. “There’s a lot of emotional range in the show which you would not expect from a horror show like Castle Rock,” Fisher stated. When speaking of Annie specifically, Caplan added, “The character of Annie Wilkes, she really isn’t a straight up nasty villain. She has many different sides to her. She is silly and she can act like a little innocent child. She’s excitable. She’s fun and kind so I do think there’s lots of moments of joy.”
Who isn’t anxious to see the iconic Annie Wilkes hit the small screen on this season of Castle Rock? Stream the first episode on Hulu next week on October 23, 2019.