Mark your calendar, Dark Tower fans: in a revealing interview with EW, author Stephen King and director Nikolaj Arcel brought the long-awaited movie closer to reality by announcing that production will begin in just seven weeks, with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey officially onboard.
King tweeted the news to his exuberant fanbase:
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 1, 2016
King also confirmed the casting news we told you about last month – Idris Elba will play the iconic gunslinger Roland with Matthew McConaughey as his arch-nemesis Walter o’Dim/ the Man in Black, a role he may reprise in a rumored Showtime miniseries adaptation of The Stand. Actress Abbey Lee (Fury Road) is expected to play a character named Tirana, about which little is known.
The Dark Tower story comprises eight novels, short stories, and a comic prequel, so there’s no way to do justice to the story in a single movie. The film has been described as the first piece of a much larger project, encompassing three features and two seasons of a TV series – at least that’s the plan as it was pitched by producer Ron Howard back in 2010. At the time, there had already been several years of discussions with other interested parties, but the project was deemed too big and, as a fantasy/sci-fi combo, too risky to wrangle onto the screen.
Still, Howard stuck with the idea, bringing Akiva Goldman (A Beautiful Mind) in on the scripting, and kicking the story around with King. Here’s what the author said about Howard’s relationship to the project:
“Ron has been a huge supporter of this project from the very beginning. I think the reason was his wife was crazy about the books. He came up to Maine, and we talked about it for a long time in the backyard. We were actually playing catch. We had baseball gloves, and were saying, ‘We could do this with it… We could do that with it …”
But King also notes that people in Hollywood are reticent to try new, unproven things, so the author is still hedging his bets on whether the trilogy/series idea will come to life. “There were a lot of people who had trouble with that concept at first. It’s tough to get show-people to actually try something new […] But little by little, people started to get on board with the idea.”
The first film won’t be a perfect reproduction of the book’s storyline – it isn’t even a direct adaptation of the first book in the series – but King has promised fans that it will faithful to the story. ““[The movie] starts in media res, in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning, which may upset some of the fans a little bit, but they’ll get behind it, because it is the story,” King says. Arcel dropped the hint that the film would be set in the present day, and that there is plenty of material to adapt if a film series takes off.
One promising sign is the level of involvement King has had. While many authors sign away their rights to comment when they sell the option on their story, King is notoriously film-friendly, and active in the development process. Several years ago he told Deadline:
“We try to make these people understand, the people that are doing the deal, that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I’m not a hard guy to get along with. In all the time we’ve been doing this, I’ve never put up a red light to anybody about anything that they wanted to do. Because if they want to make changes, if they want to be a little bit out on the edge, I’m all for it. I like it.”
That helps his fans breathe easy, knowing their favorite works are being watched over with the care of a storyteller. A case in point for Tower: the first line of the film will be the first line from the written series. “It should start that way. I’ve been pretty insistent about that,” King told EW.
But he’s also open to the inspiration and evolution of the screenwriters (Goldsman, Arcel, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Jeff Pinker), and producers, including Howard, Goldsman, Brian Grazer, and Erica Huggins. Regarding the main character, Roland Deschain, the reluctant chosen son of an ancient line of heroes, King says, “I visualized [Clint] Eastwood as Roland. I loved the Spaghetti Westerns and all those widescreen close-ups of his face, especially the ones where he’d been left out in the desert and was all covered with blisters and sunburn. I thought, ‘That’s my Roland.’”
But Arcel’s idea was to cast Idris Elba, a move immediately embraced by fans (here’s our coverage on the announcement). Says Arcel:
“For me, it just clicked. He’s such a formidable man. I had to go to Idris and tell him my vision for the entire journey with Roland and the ka-tet. We discussed, who is this character? What’s he about? What’s his quest? What’s his psychology? We tried to figure out if we saw the same guy. And we absolutely had all the same ideas and thoughts. He had a unique vision for who Roland would be.”
And what does the director think of the small outcry about the change to Roland’s race (he’s mentioned as white in the books)? Both King and Arcel are unconcerned, though Arcel acknowledged that race does impact one crucial relationship in the books, “Some fans are asking, understandably, ‘What about the racial tension? But as the story progresses that will be made clear, how we’ll deal with all those things.”
And for King, “[T]he character is still the character. It’s almost a Sergio Leone character, like ‘the man with no name. He can be white or black, it makes no difference to me. I think it opens all kinds of exciting possibilities for the backstory.”
Arcel also knew exactly who he wanted to play the antagonist, a shadowy sorcerer who weaves around the edges of Deschain’s journey. In the film he’ll need to be flesh-and-blood, so the director turned to Matthew McConaughey, whose recent turns in True Detective and Mud have shown him to be more than a romantic comedy lead. Here’s Arcel’s take on the villain:
“He is this timeless sorcerer, and being a Stephen King fan, I’ve read and experienced Walter in various iterations. He has a very interesting way of seeing the world. He sees it with a sort of delight, even though he is obviously on the wrong side of the light-and-dark spectrum. He’s someone I’ve been having a lot of fun with.”
The two stars are already having fun too. Remember the first line of the book? Today Elba tweeted this:
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) March 1, 2016
— Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) March 1, 2016
Adapted series have performed well at the box office in recent years. Everything from Twilight to The Lord of the Rings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe leaves audiences clamoring for more. But King has spent more than forty years working on his Dark Tower material, so he’s pacing his expectations:
“Other people have tried fantasy spectacle. Sometimes it works, sometimes it works really well when it’s based on a series of books, like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, and sometimes it doesn’t. What I have to go back to is this: We have Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, two great actors. You’ve got a great production team and Akiva Goldsman as the primary script writer. The team is in place, so we’ll hope for the best.”
The Dark Tower is set to hit theaters on January 13, 2017.