The Stand is, in the opinion of many, horror legend Stephen King's masterwork. His 1978 novel was a massive 800+ page tome about — and stop me if any of this seems familiar — a deadly plague that swiftly covers the globe, wiping out all but a small portion of humanity, with the survivors subsequently drawn to one of two messianic figures, one of goodness and one of evil. The book followed over a dozen major characters and countless minor ones, and that was all before the 1,100+ page unabridged edition was published in 1990. For a novelist whose works have been adapted into movies so many times (often more than once), The Stand has always been the most daunting. ABC tried it once, with a four-part 1994 miniseries event directed by Mick Garris that starring the likes of Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan, and Ruby Dee. It was ambitious for its time, but it was very much a TV movie.
Over the years, several feature film adaptations of The Stand have been attempted and eventually abandoned, including one by the Harry Potter team of David Yates and Steve Kloves, and one by Ben Affleck. But now it's finally here: a 10-episode limited series for CBS All Access, helmed by The Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone. One look at the cast says a lot about this adaptation, which appears to be taking liberties with certain characters and moving them in new directions. At the very least, the new cast feels remarkably different from the 1994 cast.
EGOT-holding legend Whoopi Goldberg is an inspired choice to play the role of Mother Abagail, originally played by the late Ruby Dee. Described in the novel as 108 years old, Abagail Freemantle lives alone on a farm in the tiny town of Hemingford Home, Nebraska. After the plague hits, the survivors are drawn to her as a quasi-religious figure, and she aims to gather them to send them to a greater purpose.
Taking on the role originally played by Gary Sinise in the 1994 miniseries is James Marsden, best known for playing Scott Summers/Cyclops in the X-Men films, and for his roles in Westworld, Hairspray, as Liz Lemon's late-seasons love interest on 30 Rock, and most recently on the TV series Dead to Me and Mrs. America. Stu's an interesting role for Marsden, though perhaps less so if you know that Marsden was born and raised in Oklahoma, not too terribly far from the East Texas town Stu hails from. He also, at age 47, is a bit more grizzled than his younger, baby-faced roles. In the novel, Stu is a widower who comes into early contact with the "superflu" virus before ultimately meeting up with — and leading — Mother Abagail's contingent.
If you've read much Stephen King fiction, you're likely familiar with Randall Flagg in some form or another. He's the recurring avatar for evil in the King universe, appearing in everything from the Dark Tower series to Hearts in Atlantis to The Eyes of the Dragon. His incarnation in The Stand, where he's also referred to as the Dark Man or the Walkin' Dude, is said by King to have been inspired by real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather. In this version, he'll be played by Alexander Skarsgard, who came to fame as a vampire on HBO's True Blood and won an Emmy for his work as an abusive husband in Big Little Lies.
In one of the big changes in Boone's adaptation of The Stand, the character of Larry Underwood — originally written as a white guy from New York City, will be played by Black actor Jovan Adepo. It's a welcome change considering that, aside from Mother Abagail, there were no major Black characters in either King's novel nor the original miniseries. Larry is an upstart rock star as the story begins, and he ends up leading a caravan of survivors to Mother Abagail, along the way falling into a complicated relationship with Nadine Cross. Jovan Adepo is an incredibly talented young actor who made his feature film debut as the son of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences. Since then, he's appeared on The Leftovers and Jack Ryan, before his Emmy-nominated performance as young Will Reeves on HBO's Watchmen.
Here's another character who's presented a bit differently than in the original miniseries. Glen, a retired sociology professor who encounters Stu on the road, was played by the 80-year-old Ray Walston in the 1994 miniseries. Here he'll be played by the 57-year-old Greg Kinnear. We'll see if Glen is treated as the same font of intelligence and wisdom, and if he's still joined by his Irish setter named Kojak. Kinnear earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as a gay artist living next door to Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. Other notable roles include playing the dad in Little Miss Sunshine, Meg Ryan's self-obsessed boyfriend in You've Got Mail, and a ruthless billionaire on the final season of House of Cards.
Australian actress Odessa Young appeared in the 2015 film The Daughter opposite Geoffrey Rush, the 2018 indie Assassination Nation, and most recently opposite Elisabeth Moss in Shirley. She'll be playing Fran Goldsmith, a college student in Ogunquit, Maine, who at the beginning of the story is dealing with a troubling unplanned pregnancy. She ends up meeting up with Stu on the road to Nebraska to meet Mother Abagail.
One of the biggest changes from the first miniseries is that while the writers in 1994 combined the book characters of Nadine Cross and Rita Blakemoor into one tremendously troubled character, here they're back to being two distinct characters. Nadine is the one who meets Larry on the road to Nebraska and who also has a dark connection to Randall Flagg. She'll be played by Amber Heard, best known for starring in The Rum Diary opposite her eventual husband (and eventual ex-husband) Johnny Depp, as Mera in the 2018 blockbuster Aquaman, and in the 2019 indie Her Smell.
Brazilian actor Henry Zaga played Josh Diaz on MTV's Teen Wolf, Brad on the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and Jake on the miniseries Looking for Alaska. In The Stand he plays the pivotal character Nick Andros, who was played by Rob Lowe in the 1994 miniseries. In the novel Nick is a deaf man who gets attacked by thugs in Arkansas as the story begins. He experiences a premonition of Mother Abagail and is drawn to her in Nebraska.
One of the most enigmatic characters in The Stand is the Trashcan Man, a pyromaniac who traipses across the newly abandoned America. He begins the novel incarcerated in a mental institution, only to break out and begin setting fire to a series of abandoned towns before being drawn to the Nevada desert by Flagg, who views him as a key component to his plans for humanity. He's played by Ezra Miller, an enigmatic character in his own right, best known for his roles in films like We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Justice League, in which he played The Flash.
Nat Wolff is likely best known for his roles in films like Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, where he first worked with director Josh Boone. He also co-starred with his brother Alex (who you may know from his role in Hereditary) in the Nickelodeon tween series The Naked Brothers Band. He plays Lloyd Henried, whom Flagg recruits after liberating him from a prison cell in the novel's early going.
Harold Lauder is 16 years old in King's novel, the younger brother of Frannie's best friend, who dies of the plague. In the novel, Harols is overweight, with bad skin, and an insular, nerdy nature. He holds a torch for Frannie that ends up curdling into something dark and sinister inside him.On CBS All Access he'll be played by Owen Teague, who most recently played a formerly bullied high school kid who ends up sleeping with his bully's mom in the HBO miniseries Mrs. Fletcher. Teague is no stranger to the Stephen King universe, having starred in the recent It films as the villainous Patrick Hocksetter.
As mentioned above, the 1994 ABC miniseries kind of absorbed the Rita Blakemoor character into the Nadine Cross character. In the novel she encounters Larry in New York City, and they share a harrowing escape via the Lincoln Tunnel. Rita is older than Larry and a troubled personality. She's played by Heather Graham, who experienced the height of her career in the late '90s in films like Boogie Nights and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. She most recently starred opposite Will Arnett in the Netflix series Flaked, and in the TBS comedy Angie Tribeca.
In the novel and the original miniseries, Tom Cullen is an intellectually challenged man who Nick Andros meets while traveling through Oklahoma. One of Tom's quirks is that he spells every word as "m-o-o-n." He'll be played by character actor Brad William Henke. The former NFL player has appeared in October Road, as one of Margo Martindale's sons on Justified, and as the loathsome prison guard Piscatella on Orange Is the New Black.
The character of Ray Brentner was actually Ralph Brentner in King's novel and the 1994 miniseries, an Oklahoma farmer who befriended Nick Andros and Tom Cullen on the road. In the new miniseries, they've gender-swapped the character, giving us Ray Brentner, played by veteran actress Irene Bedard, who may be best known for providing the voice for the title character in the 1995 Disney film Pocahontas. She later played the mother of Pocahontas in the 2004 Terrence Malick film The New World. She also starred in the 2005 TNT miniseries Into the West, on an episode of Westworld in 2018, and in Spike TV's adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist.
The Stand premieres Thursday December 17th on CBS All Access.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: The Stand (2020), CBS All Access, Alexander Skarsgard, Amber Heard, Brad William Henke, Ezra Miller, Greg Kinnear, Heather Graham, Henry Zaga, Irene Bedard, James Marsden, Nat Wolff, Odessa Young, Owen Teague, Whoopi Goldberg