One of early 2017’s most anticipated films has been in the works for quite some time. The Dark Tower, written by Stephen King over 30+ years, has been in the process of being adapted for some 15 years. This isn’t a property to take lightly, as producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer know full well. But after nearly two decades of attempts, fans will finally get to see the very first big-screen adaptation of The Dark Tower with Idris Elba embodying the role of Roland Deschain in a twist on King’s original story.
Now there has been some griping across the Interwebs regarding these two sticking points of The Dark Tower movie: one, that it will not be a direct translation of the story to the screen, and two, that Elba is clearly not the Clint Eastwood-version of the protagonist that readers have come to know and love in their imaginations. In a long-ranging interview with Deadline that touches on a number of topics other than The Dark Tower, Howard and Grazer revisit the long road to that film’s production, how casting decisions were finalized, and plans for more movies and TV. Check out their reveals below, but some spoilers may follow:
On the path to bringing The Dark Tower to the big screen:
HOWARD: Akiva Goldsman first pitched it to me while we were making A Beautiful Mind and the rights weren’t available. JJ Abrams was working on it at first and then Akiva told me JJ was involved in so many projects he let it go. We started talking about what it could be. I read all the novels and we broke them down. He presented this idea to Stephen King, and this is insider material you might not get, but it was about introducing the Horn of Eld into the very first story. He knew it would allow us to use elements of the novels in a new combination that would give us the latitude to be true to the essence of the novels, but also re-balance and refocus the narrative in a cinematic way. That was the jumping off point that began this process. When MRC [Media Rights Capital] and Modi Wiczyk became involved, that discussion deepened and we focused more on the Jake Chambers-Roland relationship at the very center of the first movie as a way of launching the universe. We simplified the story line, made it less expensive as a result, but we still utilized a lot of those important structural adjustments that Akiva and I had devised going back years ago. One of the things we did was put together a team of Dark Tower researchers, devotees of the books. We wanted to restructure the novels to be most cinematic and Stephen King agreed completely and understood the journey we were on immediately and supported it. We used this group to inspire our thinking and stay in the universe of Dark Tower.
On the addition of writer/director Nikolaj Arcel:
HOWARD: Just about the time Akiva, Modi, Brian and I we were going to give up, Tom Rothman at Sony came aboard and that was an important turning point and that led to Nik. He grew up on the books and always loved them. He really was a great choice to approach the story in the most humanistic and cool way, focusing a lot on the Jake-Roland relationship. He understood the importance of that and connected with both characters. He’s also a strong original filmmaker with great taste. He and his writing partner tackled a rewrite and Nic has done a terrific job staging it.
GRAZER: We’ve definitely been working on it at least ten years, but we found the perfect way to make it. It’s economical, and forced us to focus on the scenes that were the heartbeat of the story. It’s still a big landscape, but the scenes are more bulls eye than maybe it was back then. And we have the hippest cast with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. We never had that cast.
HOWARD: Akiva Goldsman and our Erica Huggins never gave up on it, and Stephen King was just so patient. We kept trying drafts, searching for collaborators. We finally got there with MRC’s Modi and Tom Rothman at Sony. Modi really got these books, and he characterizes himself as a Tower Head. Nik Arcel did a great job directing. We were very excited on that first day and we are very pleased with what we’re seeing. We’ve believed in this for so long.
On Roland, casting Elba, and other actors who almost made the cut:
HOWARD: Back then, we came close to making it with Javier Bardem at one point. I’ve always felt that the essence of Roland was not necessarily the carbon copy of Clint Eastwood, even though that was what they used as the model on a lot of the book covers. The existential Western hero, played by Clint in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Hang ‘em High and those Sergio Leone Westerns, that was what inspired young Stephen King to begin with. But I never felt it was necessarily a look as much as an essence. So did Stephen. In this iteration, when we began thinking about candidates, Idris just felt like a really exciting and dynamic possibility. Idris brings this crucial combination of coiled danger, quiet charisma, undercurrents of complexity and nobility, and a kind of timeless cool. These are the elemental qualities of Roland, in my mind, and I think Idris carries it incredibly well. Then there is McConaughey. I had always thought he would be a tremendous Walter.
On the aforementioned Man in Black:
HOWARD: I worked with him once and long have been a fan since he emerged on the scene. So is Akiva, who wrote the script for A Time To Kill. He and I always believed Matthew would be a great trip and it was a dream come true when he said yes. He brings that combination of diabolical amorality mixed with an intelligence and his own logic that he adheres to, relentlessly. And a kind of wry wit that kept readers and will keep the movie audience off balance in a very entertaining way. You never know what to expect next from the Walter character. Matthew mixes that with an undercurrent of impending violence and danger, in a very watchable way.
On TV plans for the franchise:
HOWARD: It hasn’t, really. We’re developing the television part, now. We don’t know what platform it will be on at this point, but we’re developing the content in hopes for more movies that will cover the epic and the characters involved.