Adapting any piece of Stephen King‘s work is a feat. But adapting The Stand? That’s a challenge on a whole other level, and one that CBS All Access it taking on this winter. During a series of interviews that included Decider, series executive producers Benjamin Cavell and Taylor Elmore, and star James Marsden revealed what they have planned for this new miniseries.
Though The Stand is one of the longest books in King’s vast bibliography, Cavell and Elmore opted for a more concise adaptation. CBS All Access’ miniseries only contains nine episodes, the first of which bounces between multiple timelines. Creating this fast-paced first episode was all part of Cavell and Elmore’s plan for the series.
“Obviously having a non-linear narrative differentiates us from the original miniseries, which has the same linear narrative as the book. But also, when we were first sitting down to lay all this out, it felt to me that everyone’s seen Contagion and Outbreak. I love those movies. But did we want to make people sit through three episodes of the world dying before we got to the meat of our story?” Cavell explained. “Look, for me — and I know Taylor feels this way too — The Stand is not really a book about a pandemic. I mean, of course it is, or part of it is or it has a pandemic in it. But really the pandemic is the mechanism by which the world gets emptied out so that our heroes can walk to Mordor to cross a kind of dead world.”
Though the creators eventually settled on adapting the novel into a miniseries, there were initially talks about The Stand being a multi-season project. “It was a lot to do in one season. But as we started parsing out some of the story, started figuring out which storylines we really wanted to focus on, it came together a lot more plainly as a one-season arc,” Elmore said. “They always love the idea of a second season but that would be inventing it from whole cloth, obviously.”
“By the way, they were really open to however many episodes we felt that it was going to take to tell the story,” Cavell added.
There was also King’s coda to consider, a new ending for Frannie (Odessa Young) the master of horror has been working on for years. “The King coda was obviously a little bit of a moving piece within that because we knew he had this thing and it had been germinating and maybe he wanted to do it. So we were kind of leaving the door open to that,” Cavell explained. “But it really came to the place where nine just felt like the kind of perfect number where there are no episodes that feel like we’re treading water. Everything is moving to the climax.”
And the face of this ambitious saga is none other than James Marsden. Marsden plays Stu Redman, an everyday man who comes to be a leader in this new world ravaged by a deadly flu. “I don’t think he’s somebody who consciously makes the decision, ‘I’m going to be the leader of this group.’ I think he’s a man with a very strong moral code,” Marsden said of his character. “He sort of naturally falls into that role because he’s surrounded by so many other people trying to figure out what the hell to do and how to move forward. His views are very un-extreme. He sees everything in a very black and white way. He provides that very calming presence.”
A King fan himself, Marsden noted that performing in a project from the author was “another career bucket list check.” But it’s Marsden’s affinity for his character that likely makes that checkmark feel even sweeter. When asked which King character he identifies with most, Stu Redman quickly came to mind.
“I like the characters that aren’t flashy, that stand for more than what you might see on the surface. He’s the kind of man I feel I could be more like. In that regard I admire his virtue, his commitment to good. I know that’s kind of eye roll. But as far as relating to a character I would have to go with Stu, probably,” Marsden explained. “The other reason why it’s Stu is that I’m from Oklahoma. I grew up outside of Oklahoma City, not too rural … I keep going back to the description of an ordinary person, just a simple man from a simple small town. And this hero, in other people’s eyes, emerges from this man just trying to do the right thing.”
New episodes of The Stand premiere on CBS All Access Thursdays at 3/2c a.m.
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