With the 2019 New York Comic Con in the books it’s time to get to all the great things that happened over the course of the four day pop-culture celebration. Bringing hundreds of thousands of fans to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan NYCC is a celebration of all things pop culture from comics, video games, TV, movies, collectibles, posters, and artists. There is always a tremendous amount to do throughout the weekend including panels, exhibit floor, artist alley, and offsite activations.
NYCC brings in a few hundred panels throughout the four days with a tremendous amount of content and discussions for a wide range of topics. TV shows, movies, comics, cosplay and everything in between is fair game for a panel. NYCC continued to utilize all of the smaller rooms, the 2,500 seat Main Stage room, the Hudson Mercantile, the Hammerstein Ballroom, and the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden to showcase all of this content.
Ahead of the upcoming second Season, which premiers October 23, Hulu brought the cast and creators of their Stephen King anthology series Castle Rock for a panel and screening of the first episode to the Hulu Theater at MSG. On hand were Lizzy Caplan (‘Annie Wilkes’), Tim Robbins (‘Reginald “Pop” Merrill’), Paul Sparks (‘John “Ace” Merrill’), Matthew Alan (‘Chris Merrill’), Yusra Warsama (‘Dr. Nadia Omar’), Barkhad Abdi (‘Abdi Omar’), Elsie Fisher (‘Joy’) and Dustin Thomason (Co-Creator and Executive Producer) to discuss the mysterious second season.
Not much has been revealed about the upcoming season as of yet but the psychological-horror series is set in the Stephen King multiverse and will therefore bring together many of King’s most celebrated characters into one story. Castle Rock is an anthology series and each season while taking place in the same area follows its own story. The first season of Castle Rock is set in the town of the same name and weaves the tale of a mysterious prisoner discovered in Shawshank Prison while also combining the tales of characters in many of King’s best works including Cujo, The Dark Half, IT, The Body, my personal favorite Needful Things, and many more short stories.
Season two brings a few new books and stories from King’s universe into the story including mainly Misery and Salem’s Lot. The second season focuses on Stephen King’s nurse-from-hell Annie Wilkes (Caplan) and her daughter Joy (Fisher) who get waylaid in Castle Rock. As a nurse Annie finds herself a job at Dr. Nadia Omar’s (Warsama) hospital in Jerusalem’s Lot but comes under the suspicion of Dr. Omar and her landlord John “Ace” Merrill (Sparks). The season also focuses on the tensions between Ace, a dying Reginald “Pop” Merrill’s nephew, and Pop’s adopted Somali son Abdi Omar (Abdi), Dr. Nadia Omar’s brother. Ace, a character seen in both the Body and Needful Things, is angry when Abdi begins poaching business from his shopping center by building his own Somali Community Center and shopping mall in Jerusalem’s Lot. With season two set in Jerusalem’s Lot the famous setting of King’s vampire horror novel I am sure as the season progresses, we’ll begin to see some strange things happening within both town limits.
While I was at NYCC I was able to attend the panel and see the whole first episode which itself was amazing and I can’t wait to see the whole season unfold and I was also able to sit down with the cast and creators to ask a few questions about their experience working in the Stephen King Castle Rock universe and what to expect from their characters in this season.
Yusra Warsama (‘Dr. Nadia Omar’) and Barkhad Abdi (‘Abdi Omar’)
Q: We haven’t seen anything yet from the show; what can we expect?
YW: There will be supernatural forces at work, so yeah expect that.
Q: Were you a fan of Stephen King before coming into this role?
YW: Yes, in terms of IT and seeing TV movies growing up as a kid those kind of folklore ones growing up in the UK as well as here I assume.
Q: Being a Doctor from Jerusalem’s lot a town infested with vampires do you run into any strange things or cases coming into your hospital?
YW: I think I can say yes. There are interesting things that happen. Yes, definitely. There are things you might… I don’t know I can’t say that…but there’s things, yes.
Q: When you first got your scripts, what surprised you the most?
BA: There was no big surprise for me to be honest. I’m kind of part of the Merrill way of life. He and Ace will have a competition over a mall…there will be a lot of family drama.
Q: From the descriptions you are trying to build a mall. How far are you willing to go to accomplish that? How big are your convictions?
BA: I’m very dedicated in helping the community. It’s like my step-brother took over the other mall and I don’t like how he’s treating my people so I try to build this one.
Q: Do you guys feel pressure knowing that people love Stephen King and jumping into these story lines?
YW: I can’t get into that because if you start thinking like that you can never win because you wish and you hope you connect to the audience and fans but I think it’s just how can I portray this character in the most honest way.
Paul Sparks (‘John “Ace” Merrill’) and Matthew Alan (‘Chris Merrill’)
Q: How are you preparing for the launch of the new season?
MA: Exciting. This season’s going to be intense right out of the gate so I’m excited to see the first episode
PS: Yeah, I’m really curious I think sometimes you have a sense when you’re shooting something how it’s going of how it’s going to fall on people and I think because it’s genre and because we’re scaring people and making creepy things happen; a lot of that stuff doesn’t necessarily happen when we’re shooting and a lot of that stuff gets added so I’m really curious to see what it’s going to look like.
MA: That world was such an intense and crazy experience to work in so I think just seeing that world once it’s put together will be good.
Q: Is it difficult when working like that to turn it off or do you take it with you afterwards?
MA: Sometimes when you are playing a character, especially ones like these, you put a lot of thought and research and effort into creating these characters so when you play it for a certain period of time there’s a sadness when it’s done.
PS: It’s funny I don’t have any problem with playing a character that’s not a particularly nice person or super unethical or awful and dragging that into my real life. I know people like that who don’t necessarily become that unethical but they carry the weight of those people. I’m not really like that as a person. I love to be on set I love to make shows and movies and it’s fun for me so even when we are doing dark, awful, sad things I still like to have fun when I do it. But kind of what you were saying it is hard when you work with a group of people that you like so much and we really liked each other I love Lizzie, Barkhad and Yusra, and sometimes Matthew, Tim.
Q: There are a lot of influences from different Stephen King novels throughout the Castle Rock universe. What were some of your favorite Stephen King novels?
MA: I was just telling Paul I just started reading Salem’s Lot when we started filming this because I wanted to be reminded of that world and how twisted it can be and anything can happen in that world. So that was cool to refresh myself but when I was younger and a teenager I read quite a few of his books. To me Pet Cemetery terrified me at the time. That opened the door to me to the Stephen King world that is a sort of fabric in our history and nowadays seeing so many great shows and movies that are a part of his world it’s very cool and exciting.
PS: I loved the Stand. I think there are probably two different Stephen King readers. I think there are people that just love The Stand like I love that book. I love it because it’s long. I love the fact that it’s split into two books and the first is just kind of watching this plague sort of spread and then people being alone and what do you do in a city that’s still turned on, like all the light are still on, all the things are still on but the people are all dead, what does that look like. I love the sort of struggle between good and evil that the second half of that book has. I feel he has such an interesting take on what is horror and so much of it has to do with us as humans and the things we do that put us in horrific situations like that fact that we forget that bad things happened in the past; it’s so a part of who we are that we forget who we are.
MA: I was just going to say real quick not just the horror element but the characters that he writes come from a place that people can relate to so I feel that’s why I think his works are so popular and so well received.
Q: How do you feel stepping into a second season totally different from the first of an already popular show?
PS: I just think you feel a certain responsibility because you can tell people love this show so don’t f**k it up. I applaud Dustin Thomanson and the writers they really swung for the fences this season. I can remember saying it’s like every episode is an attempt at a finale. They’re big episodes, big reaches at the end and you’re kind of shocked that they can end it like that.
MA: Every time we received a new script it was like oh wow there’s a lot going on.
PS: Which is exciting and fun to be a part of.
Lizzy Caplan (‘Annie Wilkes’) and Elsie Fisher (‘Joy’)
Q: How are you enjoying comic con?
LC: So far so good. It’s very civilized. I feel like these audiences are the kindest and most excited and most true fans but neither one of us has seen the show yet so the idea of seeing it for the first time with all these people is crazy.
EF: People who specifically went to a panel to see our show and probably watch the first season, that’s terrifying.
Q: How do you step into a role that was so iconically played by Kathy Bates and make it your own?
LC: It was definitely a daunting proposition because I am such a fan of that performance and her in general but the scripts and the show did a lot of the heavy lifting for me because that Annie is really on her own which just really changes a person. This Annie has a daughter, she has to interact with the public, she’s moving through the world, and she’s working and just by virtue of that will feel different. I don’t remember Annie going through anything in Misery that really terrified her until maybe the very end. There’s plenty of stuff in Castle Rock that really scares her. So taking a iconic role to somebody who really shows no fear and then putting her in situations where she has to show a lot of fear and experience a lot of fear it just helps put her in different circumstances and that will make it feel like my own and not a terrible rip off of what Kathy Bates did.
Q: Do you think Castle Rock is bringing Stephen King to a new generation?
EF: I think it is an interesting introduction to Stephen King since it is so much its own thing. But I think it is really great for avid fans for King but I think the newer film obsessed generation is really going to enjoy it. There was so much love from last season by younger people; I think it is bringing King into a new generation just in an interesting way.
Q: What kind of relationship do you guys have?
EF: Well she [Annie] only has good intentions and she has very pure love and they have discussed Annie’s conditions. That’s something they have talked about and there’s a lot of understanding between the two.
LC: Totally, its coming from a really good place and it’s the two of them against the world. Joy didn’t really have a say in that arrangement but that’s what it is, but Joy is going through what every teenager goes through. She wants to breakaway from her super close relationship with her mother and forge her own path and become her own young woman and that would be difficult enough for somebody under any circumstances but it’s particularly hard for her.
Q: Speaking of interactions, how are your interactions going to be with other people in Castle Rock through the season?
LC: Annie is very suspicious of everybody. Her initial reaction to everybody is one of suspicion and she keeps her cards really close to her chest and just wants to lookout for her daughter and keep her head down and doesn’t want to have any lasting moments or real true deep moments with other people other than Joy so when people don’t allow her to do that things can get a little messy.
Q: This is kind of like Annie’s origin story. Do you feel there is one bad day for Annie or is it this kind of progression?
LC: There are a few bad days. There are a handful of particularly bad days but I also think she is probably born with some of these mental illnesses and that plus the trauma she experiences; those ingredients bake the Annie Wilkes cake.
Q: Is it easier to be in an anthology series picking up into a new story or a entering a second season and having to continue an old story as new characters?
EF: I like this. I like that Castle Rock has a new story each season but it is set in the same town and there are some people that come back, maybe, and it gives it the sense of being grounded in one place but you still get to follow these new people. I liked that it was shorter commitment then if you sign on to a recurring show roll. We did our seven months, we are done!
LC: Also the first season did the work for us in terms of building the fan base, I was definitely part of that fan base, and so it is kind of nice. I think the second year of an anthology is the only way to go because you know what you are getting into. You know what people think about the show and you do your little bit and then you are out.
Q: What do you think the fan reception will be?
EF: I think the fans here especially are the ones who study every detail. I think Castle Rock fans are so detailed oriented and care so much about the character’s and the show as you should. But it is terrifying because what are they going to point out now.
LC: If people like it it will be great but I always hate that thing have to come out period. The joy for me comes from making it and that’s it and that’s why I haven’t watched anything I have been in quite a few years but I am watching this one.
EF: I think it is also aside from your storyline and ours there is so much there because we had such a big main cast.
LC: I want to see what everyone else did, for sure.
Dustin Thomason (Co-Creator and Executive Producer)
Q: Is it fair to say you are a Stephen King fan?
DT: The only reason I’m here and Sam [Shaw] and I when we created the show the only reason we decided to do it in first place came from being a fan. That was the origin of it because there would be no point in doing this show if you were just doing it as a kind of a job. I don’t think you would have the resonance I hope that it has for for the fans and then and I think creatively for us to be able to return some of these characters is amazing.
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for the second season?
DT: From the beginning when we were talking about the iconic characters of Stephen King and the pieces of the story that we hadn’t seen before Sam and I had always talked about the idea of Annie Wilkes and how she got to keeping Paul Sheldon in a bed and the idea of how she became that person, how she became that super fan. The part of that I think is really interesting is that he [King] wrote that book 33 years ago before the word toxic fandom or any of those ideas were really in the mainstream, he was really ahead of his time. So trying to think about it as a super fan myself, as a Stephen King super fan myself, I think there is always a part of me that really felt connected to Annie and her and her toxic fandom. But the question of how she got there and how she arrived at such a crazy place and what is the humanity that kind of lurks underneath her was really something that from beginning we were always excited to do. Season one we wanted to kind of build or write a song in the key of Stephen King without sort of going so directly into the into the canon but the idea was to be able to do both of those things and that’s where I felt Annie felt like the perfect way to go in season two.
Q: How do you decide what Stephen King property you are going to do next? Is there a grand plan?
DT: There’s a grand plan in in one sense which is the idea that we were always going to introduce threads in each season and then eventually circle back to some of those threads and do it in unexpected ways that maybe people don’t see coming, so in that sense there always has been a grand plan. But if you think about the way that some people plan universes, I would say there are two sides, two ends of the spectrum, one is the JK Rowling end of the spectrum and one is the Stephen King end. In that Stephen takes an approach where the characters sort of emerge and start to speak to him and then find their ways into new stories in kind of unexpected ways whereas JK Rowling sort of had this enormous every character in every move that they’re going to make. I think in an anthology format part of what’s fun about telling a Stephen King story that way is that you get to start over; you get to introduce characters and introduce fans and the audience to a new set of characters in a new story so you don’t have to have seen season one but the people who are watching all along are going to be rewarded as they keep the faith.
Q: How are you releasing the second season and is it a challenge with so many streaming services?
DT: Three episodes on the first night and then weekly after that. It’s funny because a lot of the new streaming services, Apple, they’re all doing weekly release and I think part of it is you know I love keeping up with the conversation on a TV show and I find that when you’re watching… there is something about being able to be a part of a community of people watching a show that feels exciting. I think that is part of the communal experience, the church of Television if you will.
Q: What’s your personal favorite Stephen King material to take from?
DT: I think it’s like choosing among not my children but someone else’s children. I think that the stories and the material each provides a different thing to me. When I think about Needful Things what I love about that story is that it is really about the devil coming to town and leaning into people’s natural bad inclinations and drawing them out of them and making a little deal with the Devil with each of them. That’s a fascinating story to me and even if you take it out of the context of the antique store… it’s fundamentally a universal story about making a deal with the devil and I think it is variations on those themes that excite me most with a story like Needful Things. Then you have a story like Shawshank where obviously the setting, never mind the book and the characters, the setting of Shawshank just has this iconic feel to it and so in season one that was certainly something that was a part of the story.
Q: With the anniversary of Shawshank coming up did you feel you needed to feed that in a little bit.
DT: No, especially because that was really more in season one was the focus of that. I will said that we happen to be in the room with the great Tim Robbins somewhere and it was a dream to work with Tim on the show even though he’s playing a character that’s very different and playing a character that is so fundamentally different from Andy Dufresne was exciting to Tim and exciting to me and in the same way that Sissy didn’t want to play Carrie again but that she was excited to do our version of Stephen King.
Q: Were you trying to get actors that have played roles in previous Stephen King movies?
DT: We didn’t set out to do it. It wasn’t like part of the plan and especially because Bill, who became Bill, IT hadn’t come out when we started filming Castle Rock season one and we didn’t know what was going to happen with that movie. Nobody knew how big it was going to be, none of those things, and so we didn’t set out to create a kind of Avengers of Stephen King casting phenomenon but it obviously happened that way in season one and then I had always wanted to work with Tim, and obviously he has this connection to Shawshank, it felt like an exciting opportunity to keep it going but I would call it more of a happy accident then a sort of intentional thing.
Q: Do you have a plan for how many seasons this will go? Have you planned it out?
DT: Sixty-two seasons, the same number as Stephen’s books, I think. That’s a joke but you could make infinite number of remixed Stephen King stories because they’re so much; there a so many stories, he has written 500 short stories. You could do a whole season of Castle Rock that was just adapting all the short stories that people have never seen. I think that that for me it’s all about the story we set out to tell from the beginning and these threads that sort of spin out over many seasons and how can we get to that. I won’t tell you exactly how long that is.
Q: Are you going to follow themes in additional seasons?
DT: I honestly think that, last season to me the focus was the town and so it was about introducing the town and of course Shawshank and its role in the town. This season Annie is our way in but at the same time it’s really a much bigger story than that and you have this tale of two cities you have Salem’s Lot, you have Castle Rock and so I think part of what feels exciting to me is even if you know Misery arrives on October 23rd the truth is when Misery arrives there’s a lot more to it than just the beginning of Annie’s story.
Q: Have we or will we Randall Flagg?
DT: Randall Flagg is certainly one of the characters that I love most and he appears in so many forms that’s something that I think is very interesting about the Randall Flagg character. You never know which version of Randall Flagg you’re going to get, so I will plead the fifth.
Season two premiers on October 23rd exclusively on Hulu. Check out the trailer below and be sure to follow on social!