Even near death, Stephen King gets ideas for stories.
Diagnosed with double pneumonia, the best-selling author spent three weeks in the hospital and “when it was clear I was going to get better, my wife decided she was going to totally clean out my office and change it around.”
When King got home, she warned him to stay out of the office: “You won’t like it.”
“The first thing I did was to go into my office and it was totally empty,” King says during a Zoom conference. “I was still feeling very rocky and I was on a lot of different medications and I thought, ‘This is what the room would look like after I die.’”
From that came “Lisey’s Story,” an eight-episode limited series that probes what effect death has on survivors.
“It’s a story about love and marriage and the creative impulse,” King says. “It’s also got a kick-ass villain in it, which I liked a lot.”
King, the man behind everything from “The Shining” to “It,” adapted his novel for television – a rarity, considering the number of stories he has written. “My idea is to be all the way in as much as possible or be all the way out,” he says. “And there’ve been a lot of projects and my idea is, go ahead, step back and write books and maybe something will come along that I really love – a passion project – and this was that.”
While “Lisey’s Story” borrows from King’s experiences, it’s not autobiographical. His wife, Tabby, says she understands his “creative muse,” but “leave me out as much as you can…let’s step back from anything that’s too personal.” “So I try to do that,” King says. “I try to satisfy both sides of it – the reality side and the fictional side.”
In the Apple TV+ series, Julianne Moore plays Lisey Landon, a woman who faces realities about her marriage after her husband, Scott, an acclaimed novelist, dies.
While Clive Owen, who plays Scott, had access to King, he didn’t base his performance on him. Instead, he looked at the different stories it juggles – romance, thriller, fantasy. “It almost felt like it was an explosion of inner worlds,” Owen says. “It was about feelings and emotions and exploding into this sort of incredible other place. It’s something very, very intimate and something really epic at the same time.”
For Moore, it was a chance to communicate the universality of relationships. “That gives everybody a way in,” she says.
For Lisey, the goal is to rebuild herself after the loss, director Pablo Larrain says. “In the process, we found the ‘why,’ which is to understand that every relationship has a very particular world.”
Adding to the complexity: the coronavirus pandemic.
“Lisey’s Story” was shut down for a period due to the pandemic.
That added yet another layer to the production. “Now, in the middle of coronavirus, you see it very differently, in the themes of isolation, of loneliness, of how you view the past,” says Executive Producer Ben Stephenson. “Although those things aren’t deliberately there, you can’t help put those in somewhere.”
King says he was taken aback when he saw Moore enter a hospital room wearing a mask: “I just thought to myself, ‘My god, this is what we’re all doing now.’”
Because his books often enter a supernatural realm, some think they’re difficult to film. King disagrees. “I don’t think anything is unfilmable now.”
“Lisey’s Story,” he says, was challenging because it goes into so many different levels of remembrance. Initially, he wasn’t sure what Larrain was trying to do.
“There were these ‘X’ things on the clapper board and I didn’t understand what (Larrain) was up to,” King says.
Adds Larrain: “X is basically a technique of finding things that are unexpected that could be created in a set.”
The finished project will provide the clarity, Executive Producer J.J. Abrams says. “Part of the reason why stories exist at all is to help make sense of things that are often seemingly random and, in some cases, very well-planned. Stories are there to give people a sense of meaning and inevitability and moral, which sometimes life itself doesn’t have.”