'The Mist': What to Expect From Spike's Stephen King TV Adaptation

"You couldn't ask for a more timely metaphor for what's going on in the world right now," showrunner Christian Thorpe tells THR about his take on 'The Mist.'
Courtesy of Spike TV

Thirty-seven years ago, horror master Stephen King unleashed a monstrous mist upon the world. Nearly three decades later, the legendary Frank Darabont descended into that same fog, emerging with his own haunting take on King's ethereal evil. 

Now, 10 years after the legendary Shawshank Redemption director's journey into the sinister smog, a new man is entering the fray: Christian Thorpe, creator and showrunner of The Mist, the Spike TV adaptation of King's classic novella. As was the case with Darabont's adaptation, Thorpe views The Mist as an opportunity to meditate on the far-reaching ramifications of fear, and how it drives good people to do bad things — timely topics, to be sure.

"It's one of the reasons why I said yes to doing it," Thorpe tells The Hollywood Reporter about the resonant themes reverberating throughout The Mist. "Obviously Stephen King is a tremendous writer and a favorite of mine, but the chance to adapt one of his works, and one of the works that's so unfortunately incredibly timely, is what sealed the deal. You couldn't ask for a more timely metaphor for what's going on in the world right now."

Here's what Thorpe tells THR about his version of The Mist, including how the memorably dark ending of Darabont's adaptation will impact the television series, the levels of violence the show is able to reach, a preview of the show's three lead characters (including one revised version of a key figure from King's novella, played on the show by American Horror Story and Six Feet Under veteran Frances Conroy), and more.

What are we getting into as we step into The Mist?

We are getting into a story about radicalization. That's what this is really overall about. What I loved so much about the original King novella was the metaphor of what people do when they are blinded by fear. In the novella and the movie, it's about religious fundamentalists. For the purpose of this show, I really wanted to expand on that notion and have it be about radicalization in every way — in ideology, faith and your personal life. It's a story about how in dangerous times, everyone wants someone to blame, and everyone wants someone to take them to the promised land.

How much does the show lean on the source material and the film adaptation?

It has both characters and locations in common, but we did invent our own storyline and our own characters with which to tell this story. We were incredibly conscious of keeping the DNA and the heart of the show, the overall metaphor and the overall King feel. But I had a conversation with him at one point. I sat down and wrote him a very long email about what I wanted to change for the purpose of this show and the kind of story I was hoping to tell, and how I wanted to still keep it true to the source material. I received an incredibly nice and generous email back: As long as I didn't do anything ordinary, he was completely on board. (Laughs.) It was an incredibly wonderful and generous thing for him to say. The novella is about 200 pages, and it takes place in one location. You need to change things if you're going to turn this into an ongoing series. He completely understood and was behind that.

You mentioned "the overall King feel." I'm curious: What is the essence of a Stephen King story, in your mind?

For me, it's about the characters. Even if you take away the horror and even if you're not a traditional horror fan, then there's always still a great story underneath with great characters who have an emotional and internal conflict. We were very cautious about this in the writer's room. We wanted this to be a show about the characters and their reactions to the Mist, and less about the Mist itself. To me, that's what King does so well. He takes something otherworldly and he grounds it in a very, very natural cast of characters. That's what makes him a master of his craft.

With that in mind, who are the characters that are fueling this show?

We have Kevin Copeland, who is played by Morgan Spector. He's sort of the modern-day liberal man who believes in all of the right values: kindness, forgiveness, love, charity. But he's also a man whose convictions have never been tested. It's incredibly easy to have all of the right values if you have everything in life. I wanted to create a character and test his convictions as much as possible, and see if they are actually true to his heart and coming from his soul, or if he's actually a very different man underneath it all and is just so far untested. 

We also have Alyssa Sutherland playing Eve. She grew up in this small town. She had a wild childhood and some wild teenage years, where she was very sexually liberalized and open minded. She's always wanted to escape this town, but then she met Kevin, and he wanted to stay around, and so she stayed around as well and became a teacher. She's working at the public school, and the rest of the town can't really let go of her past. They keep reading her liberal view of sex into everything that she does. There's definitely a subtext of misogyny that we wanted to tap into there, the hypocrisy with which society has surrounded female sexuality. 

Then we have Frances Conroy as Natalie Raven. She's sort of our spin on the famous Mrs. Carmody character from the novella, the character Marcia Gay Harden played so amazingly in the movie. She's a different character here. She definitely has some flavors of that. She's someone with a little bit of knowledge and a lot of faith. She's a faith-based person, but not necessarily of an organized religion, as was the case with the original Mrs. Carmody.

Do you view the Mist as a character? How do you take that high concept and infuse it with some personality and agency?

In the book and the movie, what's in the Mist are these giant monsters, and we sort of wanted to stay away from that. We didn't want to do a monster film. We went and pitched it as "Ingmar Bergman's Jaws," which is a joke, of course, but there's some truth to it in terms of how we see the Mist and the monster. It's less about "the shark," and more about how people react to the shark. We deliberately wanted to keep the Mist and what's in it vague, and personal, because we were interested in how our characters react to it more than the monster itself.

In that regard, can you speak to the violence of this show, and what you've been able to get away with? For instance, the pilot begins and ends with some very jarring images. What's your philosophy in terms of how far to push the violence?

We haven't had any restrictions from Spike. They have been incredibly good sports. They've encouraged us to do what we feel we need to do in terms of violence. To me, it's always about whether or not the gore has a purpose. I don't want to do it just to be a sadist. If it has a purpose, we can use it. If it lands with impact on the characters who witness it, then I'm good to go. I won't be holding back.

Frank Darabont's film adaptation ends on an even darker note than King's original work. Has the ending of the movie impacted your ideas for the show in anyway? Do you find your take on The Mist driving toward a similarly dark place?

What I can say about that is ... I personally thought Darabont's ending was a stroke of genius. I loved it. But one of the benefits of The Mist already being adapted for the big screen is that it kind of in a strange way freed me up to do our take on it and our spin on it. For the hardcore fans, there's already one great adaptation out there that they can go to. I see no reason to do the exact same thing once again. In a way, the fact that that movie is out there and was so well done frees us up creatively. As for where we're ending up? Let me just say that we definitely have an ending that has an awareness of the two original endings — both the King novella and the Darabont ending.

And how far away is that ending, in your mind? Does this series have a shorter arc, or do you view it as an ongoing story? 

It's an ongoing series. I have an end game in my head. I don't know how many seasons yet we will need to tell that story, but I know where it's heading. I would say at least for now and in season one, it's more a series about people searching for answers than the answers themselves. We do have answers, and we will be able to provide them down the road if we think they're going to provide interesting story material.

The Mist premieres June 22 at 10 p.m./9 p.m. central on Spike. 

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