King me: Stephen King is so unpretentious it’s frightening

WILMINGTON, North Carolina–Look who I found Under the Dome: Stephen King!
The prolific author, who has sold more than 350 million books, joined the cast last Thursday in speaking with about a dozen scribes flown to the set for an International press junket. King wrote the book which inspired the series, which premieres Monday night at 10/9c on CBS and Global.
King is also an executive producer on the show, which launches a 13-week summer run Monday. The relaxed and informal interviews were held on the large “Sweetbriar Rose” diner set inside a main sound stage at Wilmington’s Screen Gems Studios. I was tucked into a booth with a menu; the daily luncheon special grilled chicken salad and iced tea is priced at an affordable $6.95.
Cast and producers all worked the day-long presser. Missing was executive producer Steven Spielberg but we knew that coming down. On hand were a couple of the Lost guys, executive producers Brian K. Vaughn and Jack Bender, as well as long time ER and SVU writer/executive producer Neal Baer.
Everybody was in a good mood and happy to be promoting the series. Under The Dome is basically about a giant, invisible dome which inexplicably drops from the sky and cuts the little town of Chester’s Mill off from the rest of the world. A suspicious sheriff (Dean Norris from Breaking Bad), a local newspaper editor (Montreal native Rachelle Lefevre), a mystery man (Mike Vogel from Bates Motel) and a straight arrow cop (CSI: NY‘s Natalie Martinez) are among those caught inside the bubble.
King says he had the idea way back in the early ’70s, back when he was a school teacher and before he published his first novel, Carrie. Years went by before he revisited the idea and finished the book, which weighs in at well over a thousand pages.

King holds court on the diner set of the series

At 65, he says he still cranks out between a thousand and 1500 words a day. His advice to writers is the same thing my old pal Ray Bennett told me all those years ago at TV Guide: lose the adverbs.
Of his novels and short stories which have been adapted as films and TV shows, King singles out The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand By Me, Cujo and Firestarter as some of his favourites. He also liked the way network TV adapted Storm of the Century.
He always saw Under the Dome as a miniseries and told the showrunners to feel free to “make shit up” as they fleshed it out. “I love television,” says King. “I loved it even back when it wasn’t cool.”
The trouble with some TV shows, however, is that they sometimes fail to build towards an ending, or as King puts it, “they have a beginning and a middle and a middle and a middle and a middle…”
The rise of cable in terms of adult, dramatic storytelling has certainly changed things, he says, although he feels some shows, such as Dexter, have run too long.
The new guys told the author their idea for how to eventually end the TV version of Dome, and King’s reaction was, “I wished I had thought of that.”
Lord of the Flies was an inspiration for King when he was writing Dome. He calls himself a “situation guy” as a writer. “If I see a plot,” he says, “I kill it.”
He’s heard John Irving supposedly writes the last line of his novels first so he knows where it all ends. “This man’s nuts,” says King, who claims he doesn’t even plan “what I’m going to have for dinner.”
It used to bug him when his mother would read the last page of an Agatha Christie novel first. When he asked her why she did that, she told him, “so I can see who did it and I can see how they lie their way out of it.”

King and the cast take a bow on stage at the Wilmington screening

King’s purpose with the book was simply to put people under the dome and to “scare the shit out of you.” In the series, folks on the other side of the invisible barrier cannot be heard. King thinks this is a brilliant ploy by the showrunners, who now won’t have to pay extra for day players.
Spoken like a true executive producer.
King stuck around later for a red carpet premiere screening held in downtown Wilmington last Thursday night at the historic Thalian Hall Theater. During an audience Q&A session he covered his face in shame when somebody brought up another King adaptation shot 27 years earlier in Wilmington: Maximum Overdrive
King even directed that turkey. The only thing he recommends about it now, he says, is the AC/DC soundtrack.
For more on King and Under the Dome check out this piece I wrote for The Canadian Press.

While in Wilmington, Stephen King rode around in this gold Rolls Royce

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