STACK met with the cast and filmmakers of The Outsider to discuss bringing Stephen King’s grim and gripping best-seller to life as a HBO miniseries. 

Based on Stephen King’s best-selling novel of the same name, The Outsider explores the investigation into the gruesome murder of a local boy and the mysterious forces surrounding the case.

HBO’s 10-episode miniseries follows Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) as he investigates what seems to be an ironclad case. However, contradictory evidence places his suspect, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), in a different city at the time of the murder. The circumstances surrounding the horrifying crime leads Ralph – still grieving the recent death of his own son – to join forces with unorthodox private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), whose uncanny abilities, he hopes, will explain the unexplainable.

In adapting a Stephen King book for the first time, veteran screenwriter Richard Price (TV’s The Wire) rose to the challenge.

“Stephen King gives you a good story and characters but a book is not a teleplay, so you have to convert all that interior monologue into visuals,” he tells STACK when we meet with the cast and filmmakers in Los Angeles.

“What really appealed to me was that it started out like a police procedural, which is probably why they came to me, but then it starts to glide into the supernatural, and I’ve always wanted to write something scary since I was a kid.”

King’s film and TV adaptations, including Stand By Me, The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Mr Mercedes, and IT, have created such a huge legacy, Price admits it was daunting territory.

“He’s not an author, he’s an army!” he says. “He’s a brand name like Jell-O. He transcends authors. He’s an institution. He’s like a boulder rolling downhill, and has been for decades for Hollywood.”

Portraying Glory Maitland, the prime suspect’s wife, Julianne Nicholson was delighted to work with Jason Bateman, although her biggest soft spot is for Mendelsohn. “I love Ben. He’s such an original and a deeply feeling, passionate talent – also a bit naughty,” she laughs. “You never know what you’re gonna get. He delivers every time on excitement. He’s really special.”

Julianne Nicholson and Summer Fontana in The Outsider

Admittedly, it wasn’t the easiest workplace given The Outsider’s dark subject matter. “In Law & Order I was always asking the questions – I didn’t have to suffer whatever the crime was,” says Nicholson. “The circumstances of this story are pretty terrible. If I’m honest, it was not a very pleasant place to live but it’s worse if you’re faking it or trying to get to a place you never get to.

“The day they filmed finding the body was not fun. Even though it’s mannequins and dummies and it’s all make-believe, it was still not a good day. There were a lot of those scenes and days where it’s harder to make jokes.”

Nicholson understands how The Outsider is every parent’s worst nightmare. Portraying the mother of two daughters, and also a mum in real life, she admits, “Anything bad happening to my kids is what scares me the most.”

Co-star Paddy Considine agrees. “As a parent, its the biggest fear that this could happen to any of our children. It’s a primal fear that these dramas play on; a terrifying proposition,” says the Brit actor cast as the story’s actual “Outsider”, strip club manager Claude Bolton.

“I’ve been a big fan of King since I was a kid and one of my secret ambitions was to one day be in an adaptation of a Stephen King book,” he says. “But you can’t go on set thinking ‘I’m in a Stephen King adaptation’; you have to play the character with real feelings.”

Considine had many earnest discussions with Bateman, who did triple duty – producing, acting and directing the first two episodes. “We talked about Stephen King’s fans – how they like to see Easter eggs and small references. At one point I was going to wear a spider ring as a nod to Pennywise and other tiny little things but, little by little, we dropped those ideas because it didn’t feel like it needed that,”

Cynthia Erivo as Holly Gibney in The Outsider

For Erivo, The Outsider was an opportunity to play a woman she believes we don’t often see on screen – Holly Gibney’s extraordinary talents being on the Asperger’s scale.

“I knew there was an oddity about her, and I was intrigued by the fact that, as a woman of colour, you never really get to see these kind of women onscreen. So I wanted to make sure that she was fully human, very much in charge, and that you got to know her as you met her in each episode. I was given a gift of the character, to be honest, and it was written really beautifully for me,” says the Tony Award winner and Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Brit singer/actress.

If The Outsider initially clashed with directing and acting on his hit drama Ozark, then Bateman readily pushed the latter’s schedule so he could work on both. “I’m not a huge horror fan or jump-scare-gore-slasher kind of audience member,” he tells us. “But I really love dread and thriller and tension and all that stuff. So I was excited that this story lived in more of a Stephen King ‘Shining‘ world as opposed to some of his other great stories that live more in the frightening, scare, shock world.”

Fellow director Andrew Bernstein had countless discussions with Bateman about style and tone from the outset.

“We were always very cognisant that this is a Stephen King book and his fans would be watching it. I know he cares deeply about his audience.

“Stephen was never on set and I’ve never met him but certainly when we finished episodes, we sent them to him – and that was a very big moment for all of us. We would wait for his response to see if he liked it. He doesn’t have any approval but he’s Stephen King, so if he calls up and says ‘I don’t like it’, you’ve got to listen. You want him to like it!” says Bernstein, who previously worked on the King-inspired series Castle Rock.

The Outsider is very different from [Castle Rock] where there were Easter eggs everywhere and it was really playing to the Stephen King canon.”

Thrilled at The Outsider’s stellar cast, he’s not afraid to boast; “I think it’s one of the best casts I’ve ever seen on TV, just an incredible group of actors.”

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