Hulu's Castle Rock is one of the most anticipated series of the summer, but not too much is known about the J.J. Abrams-produced series set in the Stephen King universe. Luckily, showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, who worked together on WGN America's Manhattan, were on hand at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday to offer fans not only a first look at footage from the psychological horror series, but also a little insight into what the show's first season is about.
The four-minute clip screened for audience members featured nods to iconic King works like Cujo and saw Terry O'Quinn's mysterious character descending into a hatch in what can only be a nod to Lost. But what it really does is briefly but beautifully introduce viewers to Castle Rock, the deadly town at the center of King's extended universe. As longtime King fans, Shaw and Thomason say they were interested in exploring the town and the people who have remained in it even after the horrifying events that have taken place there.
"It felt to us like there was a really interesting way to approach the material, which was to say, what is a town like Castle Rock like now?" says Thomason. "I think we were excited by the idea of coming back to this place that had haunted our childhood dreams and thinking about what it would be like in modern times."
"You wonder who the f-ck stays in a town after like the second serial killer and the demonic truck and the rabid dog," jokes Shaw. "What is this town that has been visited by more than its share of nightmares?"
The 10-episode first season, which was filmed in Orange, Massachusetts, will tackle that and more as it follows Henry (Moonlight's Andre Holland), a death row lawyer who returns home to work with an inmate played by Bill Skarsgard at the infamous Shawshank Prison. Skarsgard is coming off a phenomenal turn as Pennywise the Clown in the remake of IT, but he's not the only Castle Rock actor to have previously starred in a popular adaptation of a King novel; Carrie star Sissy Spacek also appears as Henry's adoptive mother. Her love interest in the series is none other than the classic King character Alan Pangborn (Needful Things, The Dark Half), played by Scott Glenn (The Leftovers), though the character is older and now retired.
"When we first started talking about this first season and thinking about who we want to occupy the soul and history of the town, Pangborn felt like the right choice to us," says Thomason of the decision to include him in the series. "We wanted to see ... what does a guy like that look like as a lion in winter? Once we started imagining that, Scott Glenn's voice started creeping into our dreams. ... I think for us it just sort of felt like there was no one else to play the sheriff of this town, somebody who had kind of its history written all over him and holding its secrets deep inside of him."
Rounding out the cast are Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness) as Molly Strand, a struggling real estate agent who can't sell houses because each one seems to have had something terrible happen in it; Allison Tolman (Fargo) as Molly's sister; and Jane Levy (Subugatory) as Jackie, the unofficial town historian.
Castle Rock is envisioned as an anthology series, which means future seasons won't follow the same hero or heroes as the first season, but there is certainly the possibility of catching up with various characters at different periods in their lives. And while having knowledge of King's extended universe will certainly be helpful for viewers -- there are many Easter eggs peppered throughout the show -- the series is also meant to be pleasurable for someone who has no prior experiences. It's why the writers' room was a mixture of longtime King fans and people who were being introduced to his work in much the same way the audience might be introduced.
But if you're wondering if Castle Rock, like much of King's work, will eventually lead to The Dark Tower -- King's magnum opus that links many of his other books together -- Thomason is hesitant to go there quite yet, noting that he and Shaw wanted the first season of the series to focus solely on the town of Castle Rock so that viewers could settle in and get a feel for it before branching out.
"Once you go to The Dark Tower you can't go back again," says Shaw. "[But] it's not to say it can't ever happen."
Castle Rock premieres Wednesday, July 25 on Hulu.