Dig into a Stephen King novel or watch one of his film adaptations, and life’s joys quickly become life’s terrors. Cars are wicked man traps. Prom is a nightmare. Dogs? Total snuff machines.
But ask Pablo Larraín, the director of “Lisey’s Story,” the new supernatural mini-series based on King’s 2006 novel, and in King’s world, terror is joy. Larraín found that out when he visited King at the author’s home in Maine.
“He invited me to stay in a guesthouse, and he said to me, ‘You’re the only guest, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone,’ and walked away,” said Larraín, the Chilean director best known for the film “Jackie.” “I barely slept.”
“The next morning, he walked in with eggs and made fun of me,” he added. King knew he had made him afraid of nothing.
Alone, but not: It’s a theme that courses through King’s sweeping body of work, and it returns for several characters across layers of time and space in “Lisey’s Story,” which begins Friday on Apple TV+. Julianne Moore stars as Lisey Landon, the widow of Scott Landon, a famous novelist (played by Clive Owen) whose childhood traumas drove him to forge a connection to a transdimensional world called Boo’ya Moon.
As vividly depicted in the show, Boo’ya Moon is a place of tranquil beauty, like a Pre-Raphaelite wonderland. But it’s also menacing terrain, where cloaked figures sit silently inside a massive amphitheater awaiting resolutions to earthly traumas.
In recent years, there have been a string of glossy TV adaptations of King’s works, including “The Outsider,” “Under the Dome” and “The Mist.” But “Lisey’s Story” is different. King has said that the novel is one of his favorites, and one that he would want to adapt himself. So he did: King wrote the entire series, something he hadn’t done for a TV series adaptation of one of his own novels since he wrote the ABC mini-series version of “The Shining” (1997).
“I’ve held onto it the way you hold on to something you love,” King, 73, said last month by phone.
As in many King stories, a linchpin of “Lisey’s Story” is mental illness. The wobbly territory between reality and paranoia is sensitively portrayed by Joan Allen in her role as Lisey’s sister Amanda, who is treated at a mental institution for catatonia and self-harm, afflictions that mask otherworldly secrets. (Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the caretaker third sister, Darla.) On the other hand, there’s Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan), a deranged stalker whose single-minded quest for Scott’s unpublished work has violent consequences for the family.
Calling from Maine, King spoke to the New York Times about the many storytelling layers of “Lisey’s Story,” the responsibilities of horror creators and how there may be nothing that generates more scares than the human mind.
Read the edited excerpts from that conversation HERE.