‘Castle Rock’s Co-Creator on Lizzy Caplan’s ‘Terrifying’ Transformation Into Annie Wilkes

Let The River Run
Maura Longueil/Hulu

Fan or not of Stephen King‘s Misery, there’s no denying Annie Wilkes has become one of pop culture’s most iconic horror characters, thanks in large part to Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning performance as Wilkes in the 1990 film adaptation of the novel. In Season 2 of Hulu’s King-inspired hit Castle Rock, viewers will be reintroduced to her through star Lizzy Caplan‘s scary-good performance.

But before Annie once again graces your screens, we caught up with series co-creator, writer and executive producer Dustin Thomason to discuss the latest chapter in this anthology series. Thomason opens up about the Stephen King influences viewers will encounter this time around, how star Caplan transformed into Annie, working with Shawshank Redemption vet Tim Robbins and more.

For the fans who tuned into Season 1, what should they expect from Season 2? There’s a definite tone switch.

Dustin Thomason: When we created Castle Rock, Sam [Shaw] and I talked a lot about at the beginning how Stephen [King]’s books spans such a wide range of tones. Obviously, there’s always something essentially Kingian about any King story, but you look at the range between The Shawshank Redemption and It, and it’s like the tone can be so wildly different. What we loved was the idea that Castle Rock could be a lot of things and that in the same way that Stephen’s library is, you could have a season that was skewed funnier or skewed more as a breakneck thriller.

(Credit: Dana Starbard/Hulu)

People who watched Season 1, they will recognize certain things and as the season goes on, I think they’ll be rewarded for having watched Season 1. But I also think that new viewers can come to it and embrace Annie’s story and embrace the story of Pop and the Somali community and not need any of the context of season one to jump right in.

Annie Wilkes has been seen as a terrifying figure in pop culture, but she’s not the biggest monster in Castle Rock this year and we learn more about her backstory. How many liberties were taken with her origins?

What I will say is that, there were some very sparse details given about her backstory in the movie and in the book in which you see Paul [Sheldon] flipping through this scrapbook of stuff, and you learn a little bit about Annie. But the entirety of the movie and the book are really Paul’s point of view. It’s really Paul’s lens onto Annie, and we wanted to shift the lens this season and really understand what it was that made Annie, and maybe even make people sympathize more with her plight than they thought they would.

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Lizzy Caplan, Elsie Fisher, Paul Sparks, and more of the cast preview a very different looking Season 2 of the Hulu anthology.

Part of what was important was that there were some key touchstones like her relationship with her parents, that felt like they were things that we needed to expand upon and really delve into. But at the same time, I was really grateful that Stephen gave us so much leeway to do our own version of it and to fill in those gaps where they don’t really exist in the book or in the movie. She’s from Bakersfield, California, and that’s a lot of what you know about her early childhood from the book and the movie, and there’s not much else, and we took that and ran.

Lizzy Caplan pretty much kills both literally and figuratively in this season. What parts of her performance do you think fans will be most excited to see?

It was such a delight to get to work with her on this, and it’s not without its intimidation, of course, for a performer when you’re working in the shadow of this giant, iconic performance. I think part of what Lizzy brought to it, and part of what was the real opportunity, was this idea that we were telling the story from her side and so that the sympathetic nature of Lizzy and the way that she brings this mix of wild unpredictability with an endearing quality, was the best mix I could’ve ever hoped for.

(Credit: Dana Starbard/Hulu)

The first episode, she chose this very specific walk for Annie, and it’s this very innocent but also slightly terrifying for its innocence kind of walk. And I think her physicality, and the physicality she brought to the part, is going to really surprise people. And she’s going to go to some places that I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten to see Lizzy go in movies or TV before, in terms of action and physicality all throughout the season, so I’m excited for people to see that.

What should people know about the other half of this season’s story which involves King character Pop Merrill, his nephews and adopted children?

Annie Wilkes does not have a monopoly on misery; lots of people can be miserable [Laughs]. Part of what I loved was the idea that we could tell a story about a woman who was a refugee from her own past and have that brush up against a story about people who were political refugees. The inspiration for that part of the story, was that there are Somali communities in Maine, and they have really turned around some of these small towns and infuse them with economic opportunity.

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From certain action taking place to Stephen King references.

Some of those struggling places in Maine have now been made young again by these Somali communities that came here after the war, and that was just a real-life immigration story that had fascinated us from when we first started researching modern day Maine. And so, the idea of telling a story about how that group of people got to Castle Rock, or to Salem’s Lot, and how they had transformed it, and then integrating that into the fabric of Tim Robbins’ story in Pop Merrill, felt like an exciting combination.

(Credit: Dana Starbard/Hulu)

Speaking of Tim Robbins, he starred in The Shawshank Redemption. This show has included various stars who previously appeared in King-based projects such as Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Bill Skarsgard (It). Is that a goal, to include one cast member from that library?

It’s funny, when we started in Season 1, it actually was not in any way a goal. We love Sissy so much and thought she’d be perfect to play Ruth, and the truth is, when we cast Bill, It hadn’t come out yet. I would call it a happy accident. Once that happened, it felt interesting to think about these amazing, iconic actors who have played a part in the Stephen King universe and how might it be interesting to find a part that they love that and could throw themselves into. And so, I think that felt like the exciting remix possibility when it came to casting once it happened in Season 1, but it actually wasn’t a stated goal from the beginning.

Castle Rock, Season 2 Premiere, Wednesday, October 23, Hulu