As part of their publicity for the release of The Dark Tower, Sony Pictures invited a select group of journalists to Bangor, Maine. Dubbed “19 Hours in Bangor”, the trip was a whirlwind tour of the places that inspired Stephen King’s books. The culmination of the day was an interview with Stephen King himself, followed by a fan screening of the movie. As a lifelong reader of King’s works and a diehard fan, I can honestly say the legendary writer surpassed all expectations.
Bangor is the idyllic New England town personified. Quaint homes and businesses line streets that are surrounded by lush greenery. It’s hard to imagine this lovely setting inspired some of the greatest horror novels ever written. Upon arrival, we were met by Stu Tinker, owner of SK Tours. He’s a lifelong resident and friend of the author. Stu and his wife Penney narrate the tour. We were also introduced to Robin Furth. Robin was the personal assistant to Stephen King and wrote The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance. It’s a vast understatement to say that Stephen King and his family are beloved in the community. King has donated millions of dollars to the town’s welfare, but there isn’t a sign anywhere that reflects his name. He fits in to this day like anyone else who lives in Bangor.
The tour with Stu, Penney, and Robin was quite detailed. I’ll list the highlights of places we saw that pertain directly to the films. The tour began with lunch at Dysart’s Truck Stop. All you fans of Maximum Overdrive have to stop by and try the famous chicken pot pie. The crust is as flakey and buttery as advertised. Next we saw the trailer that Stephen and his wife Tabitha lived in after they were married. It’s incredible to believe this is where Carrie was written.
We visited several more locations before arriving at the R.M. Flagg kitchen store. This small appliance store is where King thought of the name Randall Flagg. So yes, Randall Flagg aka The Man in Black aka Walter, was borne from a place that sells blenders. Stephen King is truly imaginative. Not so far away is Mount Hope Cemetery, King’s inspiration for Pet Semetary. Once again, beautiful and picturesque, King had a rare cameo in the film as the preacher.
Stephen King is a big fan of rock and roll music. So much so, he owns several radio stations in Bangor. The most famous is rock radio 100.3 FM, WKIT. You’ll have to hear Stu Tinker tell the story of how King acquired the station. Let’s just say that Stephen King is not about to let any rock and roll die in his town.
The tour continued with a stop at Stephen King’s actual residence, The Red House. The front gate was open. You can literally stand outside and gawk. The Red House is a gorgeous Victorian mansion on stately grounds. It has gargoyles on the gate with a big “K” at the center. The home is not remotely opulent or ostentatious. It fits in perfectly with every home on the block.
We got a real treat next. Stu took us to the drainpipe at the intersection of Jackson and Union Street. This innocuous grill was the inspiration for the opening of IT. Stu even jammed a clown arm in the drain for good effect. Again, it shows the depth of King’s imagination to be inspired by a sewer. Further up the hill is the Thomas Hill Standpipe. Across the street is a park bench where King would go to work on IT and later on, Dreamcatcher.
The tour activities ended with a stop at Gerald Winter’s book store in downtown Bangor. It is solely dedicated to Stephen King’s work. Any hardcore fan of the author has to visit this place. It has everything you could imagine King related. The good news is that anything in the store can be bought online, in case you can’t make the trek to Bangor. I got a particular kick out of the plane seats from The Langoliers.
After a hurried dinner at the Oriental Jade restaurant, also depicted in IT; we finally came to the grand finale of our day. The interview with Stephen King took place in an empty theater adjacent to the fan screening. I was buzzing with excitement. A lifetime dream was about to come true. Stephen King walks in wearing jeans, a black tee shirt with an alien’s oval head, a red hat, and thick glasses. Thinner than expected, he has a casual, straightforward demeanor. In no way at all does he portray an air of staggering success. He could have been the guy working the fuel counter at Dysart’s truck stop. It was at this point that I really understood why he fits so well and has remained in Bangor. He reflects the modest approach and lifestyle of his community.
At last The Dark Tower was front and center with the author himself. Stephen King was remarkably honest about seeing the series adapted to film. He doesn’t get embroiled into the success or failure of a film. King is happy with the work that was left on the page. He lives in the now, focusing all efforts on the projects currently in front him. King readily admits that the movie will probably not please the diehard fans or Dark Tower zealots. He wanted a story that was more approachable to the general public. King batted down anyone who had issues with the casting of a black actor, Idris Elba, as Roland Deschain. He hilariously compares it to why everyone in Game of Thrones is British. He lobbied for the PG-13 rating, but hopes any sequels with be R-rated. The Drawing of the Three is the next logical film. And he’s still not remotely a fan of Donald Trump. Please see below our complete interview with the iconic Stephen King:
We lurked outside your house earlier.
Stephen King: (Laughs) Did you see the dog?
Stephen King: She was probably in the backyard.
We’ve seen a lot of Bangor today, the places that influenced your stories…
Stephen King: I grew up in a little town in Maine. No graveyards or people actually, just six hundred or so. I went to the University of Maine in Portland, in 1966. I came here after. I was actually only eight miles or so from here when I started to write The Dark Tower. So yes, Bangor is home.
Did you ever think that this film would happen?
Stephen King: I never really thought about it much. There were times when people would express an interest, then it would go away again. Interest seemed to come back around when Peter Jackson had success with The Lord of the Rings movies. It never seemed like a movie “movie” idea to me. It was too complex and long. They’ve done a wonderful job here of telling a story that’s coherent. There are a lot of elements from The Dark Tower. The purists may not like it. I can’t tell that for sure, because it doesn’t start where the book starts. But honestly I don’t think about that. I think about what I’m working on now. I’m more interested in the next thing than the last thing.
The film is like The Dark Tower series put into a blender. Are you seeing it here with fresh eyes?
Stephen King: Yes, it is. There are so many things. The story is complex, the characters interact, go back and forth. I think Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the screenplay, picked out what he thought was the most accessible, human relationship kind of thing. You have this old guy, Roland, who’s been at this a long, long time, and the kid. It comes through on the screen. They had to make some decisions. They had to tell a story that the general public would get, not just the hardcore Dark Tower fans. This is not for the guys that show up at the fantasy conventions with “Roland” tattooed on their biceps. You have to keep in mind, of all the books I’ve written, the fans of The Dark Tower, are the most zealous, the most fervent fans of all. But they make a small subset of the people that read The Shining or Misery. They’re into fantasy.
What was your reaction to the casting of a black actor, Idris Elba, playing Roland and the negative feedback he got online?
Stephen King: What I said in a tweet, after all this got started, was I didn’t care what color he was, as long as he could command the screen, draw fast, and shoot straight. So it didn’t make any difference to me. I don’t see people when I’m writing. When I write about a character, I’m behind their eyes, unless they walk by a mirror or something. I don’t even know what they look like. What made it an issue in my mind, when they cast Idris, was that all of those books were illustrated to start with. Those Grant novels were all illustrated. All of those pictures had Roland as a white guy. I never thought about that one way or another. But obviously that became part of the mindset. But its weird isn’t it? Why can’t he can’t he black? It’s like…okay…you know what’s weirder than that? You see the show Game of the Thrones, Westeros, they’re all British. (laughs) Westeros is basically England. No one ever questions that. To me, the idea that a black man would play Roland is minor compared to that.
Does Roland have a hat in the next movie?
Stephen King: That’s funny isn’t it? Trade secret, in a lot of the pictures, not only is he white, but he’s wearing a hat. I talked to the producers about that. They said that movies were the main character wears a hat don’t do well at the box office. (laughs) I said well Denzel [Washington] wears a hat all the way through The Magnificent Seven and that did pretty good.
Could it have been that much of the movie takes place on Keystone Earth and he’d look like Crocodile Dundee wearing a hat in New York City?
Stephen King: I don’t know. Have you been to New York lately?
I live in New York City.
Stephen King: Well you know they actually have a guy in Times Square called The Naked Cowboy. (laughs)
Do you ever think about these characters? Will you ever write another Dark Tower book?
Stephen King: I’ve thought a lot about those characters in the last year or so, because they were making the movie. I’ve had a lot of meetings with Ron Howard, who’s one of the producers. He was instrumental in bringing it to the screen. So I’ve thought about them when I did The Wind Through the Keyhole, which is sort of post script to the books. The funny thing is that I’m usually all about the next thing. Somebody was asking me at dinner the other day, are you all bound up in the success of this movie or that movie. The answer is no. The books are there. The books are done. That’s sort of where my focus is. I wrote The Gunslinger around 1970. Years went by, it was after Pet Semetary that I wrote the second one; because people asked for it. Couple more years later the third one, then there was a long stall out…
Stephen King: Well, the person you have to thank for getting that done is Julianne.
[Points to the back of the theater to his assistant.]
Stephen King: She got the brunt of the fan mail that asked what happened after the train takes these people. I guess the point I’m getting at is that every time I came back, it was like meeting old friends. I picked up the story immediately. I felt the same way, this is a plug for a TV show, called Mr. Mercedes. It’s going to start in about a week on DirecTV. I wrote that book, and there was this minor character, whose name was Holly Gibney. She just walked in and stole the book. So when you meet them again. That’s always good.
Your character, you in the sixth book, lost an outline for the story. Is that true?
Stephen King: Yes, I had an outline, it wasn’t particularly long but did outline all of the books. The only thing I can remember about it was that it was written on a typewriter in the campus newspaper office at The University of Maine. It was one of these things that was built to receive teletype, so everything was in capital letters. I don’t even know where the first draft of that book went.
They managed to fit in your famous opening line to The Gunslinger? Where you happy with how it’s used?
Stephen King: Yes, I was after them from the beginning to get that line in there. Not for me, but for the people. It’s strange to me how that line has become so important to people. When I wrote that, it was just a line, just a way into the story.
Is there anything that didn’t make it into the movie that you wish had?
Stephen King: There are things that the hardcore fans are going to wish were in the movie. All I can say is, if the movie is a success, there will be a sequel. I would love to see the doors into our world. I would love to see Roland on the beach with the lobstrocities. I understand the rationale behind a movie that’s PG-13. I totally signed off that. I think it’s the right thing to do. I want as many people in the tent as possible, for all kinds of reasons. Part of it having to do with the dynamic between the gunslinger and the boy, because that’s a father and son relationship. I would love to have the next picture be R, because I think that’s where we are coming from now. PG-13 is the safe spot. When pictures are R, studios say that that it will make twenty to thirty percent less money. Because we’re excluding a prime tenderloin part of the movie-going public. I think that movies like Deadpool and Logan changed that.
Do you think it would be strange if they didn’t do Drawing of the Three next?
Stephen King: I think that would probably happen. I think that would be the logical place to go. I had to think about it in my mind. I’m not into that part of the process.
What inspires you these days? What makes Stephen King fearful?
Stephen King: I don’t think that I’m close to the childhood monsters of my twenties and thirties. It’s just a natural thing. Then you get this double dip, because you have kids of your own. You see what they’re seeing. You have them as research subjects, guinea pigs. (laughs) You watch what they do all the time. I don’t know. There are things that I’m interested in, but there’s no way to generalize the case. I see pictures in my mind. I guess I see dead people. (laughs) I guess I do. Maybe I’ll write a story about that, see what that’s about. In the last few years, I’ve written about old people but I’m not sure if that’s a demographic I want to go after. They’re shrinking all the time, but you write what you know.
In terms of your personal accomplishments, how high do you rank getting blocked by Trump on twitter?
Stephen King: Not very high. Getting blocked by Donald Trump is like striking out the pitcher. I have better things to think about. I thought it demonstrated a sort of…I think of a little kid with his lip all the way pushed up. It’s a childish thing to have done. Actually, I got a lot of good ink about that. (laughs)