In the new 10-episode Spike TV series The Mist, adapted from the Stephen King novella (with the addition of new storylines and characters), the residents of a small Maine town are engulfed by a mysterious and foreboding mist that quickly proves to be a real threat. As the town is torn apart and everyone in it is blinded by fear, they’re pushed to see just how far they will go to survive.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, creator/showrunner Christian Torpe talked about how he came to The Mist, what appealed to him about this story, taking the Fargo approach to the storytelling, assembling this cast, setting the tone from the start, why he wanted to present the mist right away, making the mist a character, creating the series bible, and what he hopes Stephen King thinks of the show.
Collider: How did this come about for you? Was the idea of turning this into a TV series brought to you?
CHRISTIAN TORPE: I was approached by the Weinsteins. We had a general meeting. They read a pilot that I wrote, that they liked. I think Bob had seen the show that I do back in Denmark and really liked what I was doing there, and then they asked me if I had any interest in adapting Stephen King. I was like, “I love Stephen King!” I’ve been a huge fan since I was way too young to be a Stephen King fan. So, I read the novella and my first thought was, “Well, it’s a relatively short story.” It’s 180 pages. I didn’t know if there was a show in it, but it’s a story about being blinded by fear, and I felt that was so incredibly timely, unfortunately, that I wanted to take on the challenge.
Did you refer back to the book a lot, or did you look at the movie, at all?
TORPE: I did. I talk about the show as if we were doing the Fargo approach. It’s the same, but it’s not. We’re a cousin of the source material. I think fans of the movie and the book will certainly see that there are pillars or points, here and there. They’ll be like, “Oh, that’s from the original movie.” And then, they’ll be like, “Wait a minute, this has nothing to do with the source material.” If you’re patient and stick with it, maybe you’ll see that it ties into an overall story that is clearly related to the source material.
Did you think about the story you wanted to tell first, or did you think more about the characters whose stories you wanted to tell?
TORPE: I added a lot of different people. The book takes place in a supermarket. We have a whole storyline at a mall that is clearly inspired by that supermarket plot. We have a soldier, played by Okezie Morro, from Arrowhead, and there’s also a little bit of an Arrowhead storyline in the book. There are some elements in there that we’ve taken and expanded, and then there’s stuff that’s brand new that I wanted to add because it’s timely and relevant, or because I had ideas for characters that I thought were interesting or different from what I’ve seen on TV before.
Can you talk about putting this cast together and getting someone like Frances Conroy at the center of it?
TORPE: Frances Conroy is phenomenal. I’ve been a fan of hers since Six Feet Under. She’s been my second mom since that show, and I was so thrilled to get the opportunity to work with her. She’s been so wonderful, and she does phenomenal work. And then, we really wanted a relatively fresh and new cast. We hired Alexa Fogel, who is one of the very best casters around. She did The Wire and Treme, and other incredible shows. We started looking at people and found some great talent that you haven’t necessarily seen in the TV landscape before. Some are from the New York stage. Some are from Denmark. The woman who plays Mia, the drug addict, is a Danish actress (Danica Curcic) I’d worked with before, and I brought her over to introduce her to an American audience. And we found some phenomenal teenagers to play those parts, and I think they’re doing an incredible job. We really lucked out.
The opening scene really sets the tone and gives you a good idea of what this show is going to be. Was that something you intentionally wanted to do, so that people know what this show will be?
TORPE: Yeah, I wanted to set the tone and present the mist. Also, selfishly, what it does by introducing the mist in the opening is that it allows me a lot of story time to dive into the characters afterwards. I wanted the time to dive into their everyday lives and set up their internal relationships, and the dynamics of how they live, work, love, hate and whatever else they do. If I hadn’t presented the mist up front, people would be like, “What about the mist? Where is it? When is it coming?” Now, they know it’s there, and that frees up some time for me to dive into what it’s really all about, which is always the characters and relationships.
Some really bad things happen in the mist. Do you have fun thinking of ways to do horrible things to people?
TORPE: Fun is a weird word, but it’s a creative challenge and it’s been very interesting for me. What you wouldn’t necessarily know from seeing the pilot is that I come from comedy. The stuff I do back in Denmark has mostly been in the comedy and dramedy genre. This has been a very new road for me, but I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.
Were you looking to make that genre shift?
TORPE: Not really. The pilot that the Weinsteins read, that I had written, was my first foray into darker stuff. It’s weird because I’ve always loved reading and watching horror and darker drama, but I’ve never written it before. But then, the opportunity arose and I thought, “Sure, let’s give it a shot!” I deliberately stayed away for awhile from watching too much horror or reading too much horror ‘cause I just wanted to give it my own spin.
Do you consider this to be a horror TV series?
TORPE: Of course, it’s a horror show, but it’s much more about what people will do when they are blinded by fear, how they react and how relationships unfold, and whether or not you give in to the fear or you find a way to rise above it. That’s much more the stories we’re telling than the monster of the week. We wanted to tell a story where, even if you took out all of the scenes with the mist, it was still relevant, timely and compelling. That was important to us. We wanted to take time to develop the characters. Because we go to some touchy and difficult subjects, we wanted to make sure we had the time to take those subjects seriously and tell actual well-developed stories about them.
Did you have any guidelines or restrictions for the horror?
TORPE: I’ve had great collaborators in both Spike and the Weinsteins, who pretty much allowed me to do what I wanted to do. There are some pretty gruesome things in the pilot, but at the same time, the most horrifying moments are very small character moments, just between two people. The fun challenge for me is balancing it.
What are the challenges in making mist a character and giving it its own personality?
TORPE: It’s something that changes throughout the show, which is really what any other normal character would do, as well. The challenges are not being too static about it and allowing it to evolve.
Will we learn why the mist reacts to different people in different ways?
TORPE: I don’t know if I can get too much into it. I think that falls into the watch and see category. You will learn more.
How far ahead did you think about the storytelling for this show?
TORPE: Part of selling the show is also creating a bible where you map out, in pretty great detail, Season 1, and then, in lesser details, the subsequent seasons. There’s always the chance that changes completely because you get new inspiration or a new and better idea, but I have an idea of where I’m going.
By the end of Season 1, will we have an idea of where you’d take Season 2?
TORPE: I hope so. I can’t reveal too much, but yeah, I think you will. I think you’ll have an idea of what I’m trying to say.
What do you hope Stephen King thinks of this show?
TORPE: I hope he finds it scary and contemporary and respectful of his work. He’s been incredibly kind and gracious, and he basically said that he’s okay with me making whatever changes I wanted, as long as I didn’t make it safe and bland.
How have you found working in American television? Is it different from what you expected?
TORPE: A story is a story, no matter where you go. The beauty of stories is that they’re universal. It’s kind of the same. You have a much more compressed timeline. You work both faster and slower, in a weird way. I would never have been able to do a show in six months at home, like I have here. But at the same time, I’ve never wasted – and I use that term lightly – this much time in meetings. You like a good meeting over here.
The Mist airs on Thursday nights on Spike TV.