Poor Castle Rock.
As readers of Stephen King’s works know, his famous fictional Maine community doesn’t seem to get much of a rest from supernatural or real-world horrors. If the local residents aren’t dealing with a rabid St. Bernard or a serial killer, they are faced with a demon setting up shop in their city. Who said life in a small town was uncomplicated?
Those townspeople are about to be terrorized again in the new Hulu series Castle Rock (Wednesdays beginning July 25), which is described as a psychological horror story set in the Stephen King multiverse and counts J.J. Abrams (who also helped bring King’s 11.22.63 to Hulu as a series) as an executive producer.
We’ve only seen the first installment of the series’ 10-episode first season, so we don’t fully know what horrors may await Castle Rock this time. But we can tell it likely has something to do with a mysterious discovery at the infamous Shawshank Prison — a previously unknown and unregistered inmate is found locked in a long-abandoned part of the facility. This unnerving character is played by Bill Skarsgård, who has already freaked out audiences in another King adaptation with his portrayal of Pennywise in 2017’s first installment of It.
The discovery leads Henry Deaver (André Holland) back to his old town, and we see that Henry has a history of his own with Castle Rock. As he returns to his childhood home, perhaps he and some of the characters he meets will learn more about why the place seems to be Godforsaken.
Along with Skarsgård and Holland, the cast includes Melanie Lynskey, Scott Glenn, Jane Levy and Sissy Spacek (another memorable veteran of a previous King adaptation, who earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her title role in 1976’s Carrie).
Aside from Glenn, who plays former Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn (familiar to readers from The Dark Half and Needful Things), the actors take on original roles created for this series. And the main story itself, while peppered with “Easter eggs” large and small for the author’s fans, is original, as well.
“Stephen King is the seed, and we are the garden,” Jane Levy described it to us.
The actress plays Jackie, the “death-obsessed, self-appointed historian of Castle Rock who knows all about its gruesome past,” and she can speak to the fact that one does not have to be an avid reader of King’s stories — or even really know much about them at all — to get into this series.
Levy admitted that she herself had a very limited awareness of King’s universe before this project (and in fact had not originally even been aware that films like The Shining and The Shawshank Redemption were King adaptations).
“You can come to [Castle Rock] with no knowledge of Stephen King and enjoy it,” Levy assured us, while adding that “fans of Stephen King will get a kick out of the Easter eggs.”
Melanie Lynskey agreed. She plays Molly Strand, a real estate agent in Castle Rock with a rare medical condition who has, as we see in the pilot, some connection to the returning Henry that causes her distress.
“It’s definitely its own world and its own story,” Lynskey said of the series.
The actress came to it from the opposite end as Levy, having already been familiar with King’s stories.
“I was a huge fan,” she said, then laughed as she admitted, “I started reading Stephen King when I was much too young, probably 8 years old.”
Lynskey even got to meet the horror master in 2002, when she costarred in his TV miniseries Rose Red.
“That was a pretty incredible thing for me,” she recalled. “[King] wrote the teleplays for Rose Red, so I got to really investigate his writing and perform something that he had written, which was really a huge deal.”
Lynskey didn’t meet the author this time (“it seemed to me like he sort of gave his blessing and let them do what they wanted,” she said, versus King being particularly hands-on with the production), but the series was still a thrill for a fan like herself.
“When the script came into my inbox and it said Castle Rock, that was meaningful. … They really do a beautiful job of paying homage to his work and to the history of the town, without it being sort of a full-fledged adaptation of anything.”
As a fan, Lynskey was able to assure the rest of the author’s “Constant Readers” that they will enjoy the homages within the series. And not all of the King callbacks are as obvious as Shawshank — some of them even had her stumped.
“The way that Stephen King references came in,” she explained, “a couple of them were too obscure for even me to get, as a fan, and somebody would sort of have to explain like, ‘Oh, it’s this person from this.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so deep! That’s such a deep cut.’ And then a couple of them are more, just really fun.
“[But Castle Rock] is pretty much a stand-alone mystery, and you can absolutely [also] enjoy it without having any knowledge of his work.”