Stephen King can’t tell you how to actually start a fire. If lost in the woods, like a Jack London character craving light and heat, all the author could do to ignite a blaze is reach into his pockets and hope for the best. “I’d use a Bic lighter,” he jokes.
King gets much more flamboyant in his fiction, with characters who channel fear, anger, or sorrow into all-consuming infernos in everything from Carrie to The Stand to his most iconic tale of pyrokinesis: Firestarter. That 1980 best seller, about an extraordinary little girl on the run from government agents who want to weaponize her, combined some of King’s favorite themes: a child learning to manage hidden strengths, a defiant mistrust of authority, and a twisted yearning to see the world burn. (Or, at least, to roast those who have it coming.)
A new film version of Firestarter debuts today in theaters and on the Peacock streaming service, with Ryan Kiera Armstrong as young Charlie McGee and Zac Efron as her protective father—whose own telepathic ability to “push” people into doing things is gradually killing him.
The film, produced by Blumhouse (the maker of Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Get Out), often ventures astray from King’s novel, especially in Michael Greyeyes’s role as John Rainbird, the black-ops agent tasked with hunting down the father and child. But that’s okay with King. Now that his stories are in a second or third generation of being adapted for the screen (like It, Pet Sematary, The Stand, and the upcoming Salem’s Lot), the author says he’s more interested in remixes than fidelity. “I’m always curious about what people do with the basic materials that I’ve given them,” King says.
He spoke exclusively with Vanity Fair about the strange origins of Firestarter, his complicated experience with the 1984 Drew Barrymore version, and which parts of the new movie he wishes he’d thought of himself.
Read the Vanity Fair interview HERE.