Writing superstar Stephen King on the long road from the novel to the silver screen
A bestseller has made it to the screen after many attempts
STEPHEN King was just 22 years old when he wrote The Gunslinger, the first instalment of The Dark Tower. Now, 35 years later, his magnum opus is the inspiration for an action film starring leading men Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.
In this Q&A the best-selling author, who worked closely with director Nikolaj Arcel as a producer on the film, talks about building film franchises and taking his story in a new direction.
Q: Most Stephen King fans thought The Dark Tower film might never happen. Did you always have faith?
A: I don’t worry about it. The books are done. When I was working on the books I was totally concentrated on those. It never seemed likely to me that someone would come along and want to make a film out of it. There were things from time to time when people would talk about the possibility, but I never took it seriously. Modi (Wicyzk, co-CEO of Media Rights Capital) came along, and he got really interested in it. This was after Ron Howard had gotten interested in it. They eventually made it happen. I started to think two years ago maybe that it really would happen. We all got together and talked about it in Sarasota. People were really serious and they started to spend serious money. I said, well, let’s see what happens.
Q: What changed over the years?
A: I don’t know. You know what, I think that a lot of filmmakers were interested in the visual possibilities and the sweep of the story. Of course, there was an influence probably by the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings movies. Every studio is looking for a tent-pole project where it’s possible to not only do a movie, but to do a series of movies. I like that and I think a lot of viewers do too. They like being part of a long saga type thing. I think those things all played a part. The thing that’s most exciting to me is that this is a risky project, in that it’s not backed up by a bunch of comic books. There was a Dark Tower comic book, but the books are the thing that people think of the most. So I think people were excited by that. The creative people were able to say, this is something entirely new that melds the Western with fantasy, let’s go out there and see if we can make this happen. And finally someone did.
Q: When the story starts Roland has the Horn of Eld, which he is given at the end of The Dark Tower series of books. So is this more of a continuation of the story?
A: I don’t want to give too much away about the books to people who haven’t read ’em, but there’s this thing that people say in the course of all the books. They talk about ka, which is fate, and they say ka is a wheel and it always goes around and comes back to where it starts again. That’s an idea I got from Eastern philosophy. I don’t want to get high-faluting about it, but there is this idea that you’re going to live your life over and over and over again, with variations, until you get things right. Akiva Goldsman’s idea and Nik’s idea was to bring this in and say, maybe this is the second time around for Roland Deschain and this time he’s going to try to get it right. Things are not exactly the same as the book, but people who read the books will see all the touch points that they know from the books. At least in this first movie, but you can only do so much at one time.
Q: This is the first of a proposed saga spanning movies and television shows?
A: It does need room to breathe. I like Akiva as a writer very much. I think he’s very, very talented. The other thing about Akiva is that he’s comfortable with fantasy. Akiva’s done a number of different things and he came in and said, well, look, why don’t we start in the middle of the story, and see if we can make that thing work? Ron Howard had talked about this really creative idea of saying, let’s push the story forward with Roland in a series of movies and maybe we can do his back story, his growth from a child to an apprentice to a gunslinger, as a TV series. That’s the long-term plan.
The Dark Tower opens on Thursday.
Idris Elba and Tom Taylor in a scene from The Dark Tower.