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Before the accident that landed Stephen King in the hospital, he spoke with EW Online about the upcoming film of the "The Green Mile," and he rated Hollywood's past attempts to turn his books into films
Interview by David Hochman
Stephen King has been on the minds of fans lately, but not because of a new novel, movie, or TV show. During a weekend stroll on June 19 near his Lovell, Maine, vacation home, the 51-year-old master of horror was struck by a Dodge Caravan, puncturing his lung, and breaking a hip, ribs, and several bones in his right leg. Though King underwent his fourth surgical procedure on June 25 and now needs extensive physical therapy, doctors at the Central Maine Medical Center expect him to resume normal activities in about nine months.
Fan reaction has been overwhelming: Florists in Maine have sold out of flowers, and residents have held a blood drive for their famous neighbor. Meanwhile, on the Web, the medical center taking care of King has seen a 3,000 percent jump in visits to its webpage, and hundreds of admirers have posted get-well messages on King's official website. Radio stations have been inundated with requests to dedicate a version of the song "Stand By Me" that King once recorded on an album of author-performed songs (The Wrockers' "Stranger Than Fiction"). Bookstores are doing their part too: For example, Borders in New York City has erected elaborate floor displays where fans can leave get-well cards.
Despite his real-life drama, King's series of novellas known collectively as "The Green Mile" is still scheduled to hit the big screen in December. The movie, about an unlikely alliance between a death row prison guard and a gentle seven-foot-tall convict with magical powers, will star Tom Hanks and is directed by Frank Darabont, who hasn't made a movie since the critically acclaimed 1994 prison drama "Shawshank Redemption." A month before the accident, EW Online spoke with King about "The Green Mile" and his assessment of other movies that are based on his books.
EW Online: What is it about the electric chair that inspired so many books and movies, including "The Green Mile"?
Stephen King: For one thing, it doesn't always work. But more than that, it is the single most primitive ritual we have left. If there is any basic act that separates us from the animals, it's the act of deliberately executing the rogue among us. Not a herd pulling him down and chewing him to death, not exiling that rogue from the herd, but deliberately taking him to a place where he'll be killed. I think that's fascinated people, writers, anybody with an imagination, anybody interested in the idea of a last cigarette, a last meal, and then that last moment when old sparky just starts cranking up.
Have you ever seen an execution?
No. The two things that I passed on in my career as a writer in terms of research was the autopsy for "Salem's Lot" and the execution for "The Green Mile." Whether or not I could actually sit there and watch one, I'm not sure. It seems a little bit off. Of course, if the guy sitting in the hot seat had done up a few of mine, I could maybe even pull the lever myself.
When you hand in a script, does it matter to you who is doing the movie?
Sure. Frank Darabont is one of four or five guys out there who know what they're doing. I've worked with some people, or attempted to work with some people, who are totally insane, and they get ahead out there. ["Heaven's Gate" director] Michael Cimino was the worst. When we talked about his ideas for "The Dead Zone," they bore no resemblance to reality as I understood it, or the storytelling as I understood it. Frank is not interested in everybody knowing that this is a Frank Darabont movie. He is not out there dancing and singing in front. He knows exactly what he's doing. He knows what every shot is supposed to be, and what it's supposed to do. There are things about how he works that drive me absolutely nuts. I think he's a total anal retentive, but unlike Stanley Kubrick, he's an anal retentive you can talk to.
Do you like Hollywood?
It's okay. Movies are all public relations. They're all smoke and mirrors. It's all candy froth. It's creative, but on the level of actually making the movies, it's no more glamorous than putting together rides in the carnival.
Can we run through a few of the other movies based on your books? What did you think of "Carrie?"
That's a great film. Even I thought it was really scary. I wanted Brian DePalma to direct it from the beginning, and I liked the way that he used the split screen. I was very impressed by how lush the photography was. Best of all, it didn't look like a horror movie, and that's one of the reasons I thought it succeeded.
"The Shining," you have said, was an "interesting failure."
I'm not able to talk about "The Shining." I made a deal with Stanley Kubrick that I wouldn't, and Stan is dead so I'm not going to go there.
Loved it. It's really a wonderful picture. Dee Wallace deserved an Academy Award for her work. And Jan DeBont, who did the cinematography, deserved an Academy Award for his camera work.
What about "Stand By Me"?
Like "Shawshank," it was so close to the book, I never expected it would be made. I read the screenplay, and I just kind of laughed. Because, I said, "Everything that's in the story is in this, including the pie-eating contest, and they'll never get it made." What I remember most clearly about "Stand By Me" was how bright and fresh the soundtrack seemed. We're now used to movies about the '50s that use a lot of '50s music to pull in our attention. But at that time it was a fairly new technique.
Well, I thought Kathy Bates was great, but the rest -- the James Caan half -- was a disappointment, and not because I don't like James Caan as an actor. The point is, a lot of what "Misery" the novel was about was how writers can live, and people with imaginations can live, even in miserable physical circumstances. People like that use their imagination as a cave where they can have a refuge. But in the movie, that life of the writer was not imagined at all. So James Caan's character falls flat. The movie felt like a 12-cylinder car that's really only hitting on about 9 cylinders.
What did you think of "Shawshank?"
When I read the script, I thought it was too much talk. Too much dialogue, and too much smart dialogue. It went into a lot of things that are supposed to be death for films. It tried to address motivational issues. What kind of film does that? In most movies, motivation is the pretty, promiscuous blond girl in the first reel of a horror movie. It's the first thing to go. So movies like these, smart movies, have a hard time. We want car chases and sex.
Okay, one last one. How about, um, "Children of the Corn I-V?"
The long answer or the short answer?
The long answer.
They all sucked.