Posted: March 24, 2017
Christian Torpe is the creator, executive producer and showrunner for the upcoming TV series The Mist that premiers on Spike on June 22nd. I got an exclusive interview with him about the show, about Stephen King and how he wanted to stay true to the essence of King’s work while adapting the story. Here is what he had to say.
Lilja: How did you get involved with The Mist?
Christian Torpe: I had done a Danish show called Rita that Bob Weinstein really liked. It was a very different genre, but he liked the character work a lot. Megan Spanjian at his company had also read a pilot I had written that was much darker and called me in for a meeting and they asked if I had any interest in adapting Stephen King. I grew up in a very small town where my one weekly highlight was going to the library to see if new King books had arrived, so obviously, I was incredibly intrigued. I hadn’t read the novella in a very long time, went home and re-read it and while it was clear that, being only a good 200 pages, there was not as such a full show in it, it was just such a beautiful, terrifying and – unfortunately – timely story about what people do when they are blinded by fear, that I knew I had to say yes.
Lilja: What is your job description on The Mist?
Christian Torpe: I am the creator, executive producer and showrunner. I also drink a lot of coffee and order a lot of food.
Lilja: What is the series based on, King’s story or the movie version? I guess that you use King’s story as a starting point for the series and then the rest will be your own thing, right?
Christian Torpe: I’ll take these two questions together as they really are two sides of the same coin. Adapting a book, especially a book by someone I love and respect as much as Mr. King, is, well, horrifying. You want to be respectful of the material but in this case there was already one brilliant adaptation of it by Frank Darabont. No point in doing that again. So the question becomes do you leave it, say that it’s already been done, or do you allow yourself to take the source material and reimagine it but staying true to Mr. King’s vision? I chose the latter. It is not the same story as in the book and the movie, nor is it the same characters – but fans of the story will still see clear parallels. I’ve compared it to the way they approached adapting Fargo, not in terms of content, but in how they played with the original material. Some things are exactly the same, some are totally different. Some things you think are the same as in the original, but turn out to be something else entirely. Some things you think make no sense at first but end up tying into the original story. It’s an interesting way of working, in a way you are constantly communicating with the fans in a constant ebb and flow from the original story. Mr. King was incredibly kind in terms of these changes, he told me that as long as I didn’t do anything safe and ordinary, he would be happy. That is one of the most generous things I have experienced.
Lilja: Is there a lot of special effects in the show or are the monsters more hinted than shown?
Christian Torpe: We ended up with a good 1600+ VFX shots in season one. That is A LOT. Majority of these are shots is the mist itself though. We didn’t want it too feel too smoke-machine-y so adding a sense of movement to it, an organic quality without going to magical territory, is something we have worked a lot with. As for what is in the mist and how much we see – you’ll have to wait and see!
Lilja: And this is an ongoing series and not a one season thing if the ratings allow it right?
Christian Torpe: It is developed as an ongoing series, yes.
Lilja: Under the Dome did the same thing a few years ago, starting off with King’s story and then spun on in its own way. That show was a huge disappointment in the King community. Are you worried that King’s fans will feel the same way about The Mist? If not, why?
Christian Torpe: By very nature I am worried and yes, that includes disappointing the fan community. It’s such a weird thing when you do a show like this: you can’t do it without being worried, it is healthy and will make you question yourself; at the same time, you can’t do it by being too worried, it is unhealthy and will make you question yourself too much. You want to be respectful and you want to please, but you can’t be so respectful and such a pleaser that you don’t have faith in what you are doing. In this case, when you go in and reimagine a beloved story, there will always be fans who will be upset. Hopefully there will also be a lot of King fans who see that we are staying true to the essence of Mr. King’s work. Some will love it, some will hate it – what I can say is that it is not gonna be what you expect!
Lilja: Was making sure you had that King feeling in the show something you worked on or did you focus more on making it a standalone show that could survive after King’s story ended? Or both?
Christian Torpe: I am a major, major King fan. No other writer influenced me more growing up. It would be pointless for me to adapt a King story and not try to give it a King feeling. That said, I think you will find that the King feeling in different places than expected. I don’t think I reveal too much if I say that the show is probably more character driven that what you are used to in shows like Under the Dome. It has a slower build, a different pace. In the writers room we referred to it as Ingmar Bergman’s Jaws, which was a joke of course, but at the same time had some truth in it. Genre wise it is a mix of psychological drama and horror. One of the things I loved about the book was that it was never the mist itself that drove the story forward, it was always about how the characters reacted to it. That is something we wanted to honor in the show.
Lilja: Have you gotten any reactions from King on the show? And if so, what?
Christian Torpe: I have - and no words can explain the feeling of waking up and seeing an email from Stephen King in your inbox. It is as exciting and as scary as reading ”It” when you were 12. He was such a gentleman, incredibly generous in terms of the changes I have made. He has also read and seen the pilot and thought it was ”pretty damn good”. Hoping and praying he will continue to think that about the rest of the show!
Lilja: If there is a second season, will you stay on?
Christian Torpe: I hope so!
Lilja: Frank Darabont did a great movie version, did you get any inspiration from it?
Christian Torpe: Of course, it is great movie. But as I said before, it is also so good that I don’t see a point in trying to duplicate it. Both in terms of style and story we are inspired by it but also reimagining it.
Lilja: The ending divided King’s fans (I loved it), what did you think about it?
Christian Torpe: I loved it. It was dark and ironic and brutal. I also loved King’s original ending though. Darabont’s was the political allegory, whereas King’s kept the story in existential metaphor which was beautiful. To me it is not a question of which ending is the best, they are different and it makes me happy that both versions exist. It’s not either/or for me. Where our ending will land I obviously can’t tell you but I can say that it is absolutely one of the places where the show communicates with the movie and the book!