‘The Stand’ Boss on Why Nick Choosing a Side Is So Important
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Episode 3 of The Stand, “Blank Page.”]
Beware your neighbor. That’s the lesson for those in Boulder as The Stand continues.
Teacher Nadine Cross (Amber Heard) may come across as trustworthy — she’s even being the mother to a kid she found on the road — but she has a terrifying connection to the Dark Man himself, Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård): she’s to be his queen, as she learns from a young age. (Even the clothes she wears are a disguise.) And it’s none other than Harold (Owen Teague) that is to be Flagg’s weapon to take out Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and her committee.
Showrunner Benjamin Cavell takes us inside the third episode of the limited series.
What draws Nadine to Flagg and him to her?
Benjamin Cavell: The discussions I had with Alex and Amber from early on was that essentially Flagg has been grooming her. It’s no accident that, as in the book, he selects her when she is just on the cusp of young adulthood. She’s living in a group home in our story and seems to be pretty alone and friendless. He recognizes she is somebody who he can introduce himself to and she is all of the things she is — which is intelligent and interesting and she’s going to grow into a formidable person — but he also sees in her somebody he can really sink his claws into, especially at this moment in her development, and essentially anoint her for his later use to bring his child into the world. It’s a very upsetting relationship that the two of them have early on.
But we talked a lot about that with Alexander and Amber, the Harvey Keitel-Jodie Foster relationship in Taxi Driver and that predatory older man grooming a young woman who is going to grow into somebody who would presumably, left to her own devices, not necessarily be vulnerable to an overture from this kind of person. But at the age she is when he first approaches her, she is unfortunately susceptible.
What does Flagg see in Harold? A combination of the darkness in him and potential for loyalty?
Yes, and that he starts out with an animus against Stu that really doesn’t need to be stoked by Flagg. Whether Flagg intervenes or not, Harold clearly regards Stu as the person who is standing in the way of his destiny, which is to spend the rest of his life with Fran. Harold’s animosity towards Stu is something this opportunist, Flagg, can really seize upon. It doesn’t take much to turn that animosity against Stu into animosity towards the entire committee or even the entire settlement of Boulder.
Flagg’s also responding to the resourcefulness Frannie comes to recognize in Harold and that is so clear in Harold in some ways. He feels like this is a guy who is really motivated and seems to have the wherewithal to get done the mission Flagg needs done. As an ultimate opportunist, Flagg is wonderful at recognizing those opportunities and single-minded about seizing upon them.
Flagg approaches Nick (Henry Zaga) to be his righthand man, so how important is it that Nick chose Abagail?
It seems to be hugely important to both of them. It is never quite explained in the book, but as in the book, they both seem really fixated on this young man to be their earthly representative, or if they’re the earthly representative for something else, as you say their righthand man or as Mother Abagail calls him, her voice.
What does Nick have? For one thing, Nick is the character in the book who shows the most grace of anyone. His caring for one of the guys who really beat him up and damaged his eye enough he loses it is a real act of grace and generosity I find very moving. I don’t know why that would explain why Flagg would gravitate toward that person but I have always thought, from the portrayal of Nick in the book, it must have something to do with that, his seeming so pure of heart and so able to transcend his own anger at things that have been done to him or ways people have tried to take advantage of him. Somebody like Flagg might just take pleasure in turning somebody like that.
What does Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear) represent compared to the other characters?
Glen is able to vocalize a lot of ideas and questions the characters are wrestling with about the nature of human society and government and what a society should be built upon, where authority comes from. Greg and I talked a lot about wanting Glen to feel like an intellectual, not like the way intellectuals are often portrayed on TV or in movies, where they give little indications of how smart they are by being able to quote certain passages or know what page something is on in some book.
I grew up with a father who’s an academic and grew up around academics and Greg and I had a lot of conversations about wanting to really ground Glen and make him feel like the way a real intellectual, a real university professor feels when you talk to them. He can express and articulate some of the ideas that are really at the core of what the show’s about. And that’s how King uses him in the book frankly.
But it’s really fun to write for Glen and Greg’s performance is just wonderful. Greg has made a career out of playing guys who are maybe too impressed by their own intellectual capacities and are a little smarmy about it, but Greg himself is actually really fiercely intelligent and it’s lovely to see him play a character for whom it’s not just bluster. Glen can be a little insufferable at times and a little full of himself but you also see, there’s something behind it. This guy can really back it up.
That reminds me of You’ve Got Mail when his character shushes Meg Ryan’s when he’s watching the recording.
[Laughs] Exactly. Look, he’s so brilliant at that and it’s so charming and so wonderful, but yeah, that character, ultimately, in You’ve Got Mail, is sort of a buffoon. He wants to do something relevant like the Luddite movement. So yes, it’s so nice to let Greg actually show his real intelligence and not have to play a guy who’s just posing.
What went into deciding how much of Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg you’d be showing?
Our mantra about Flagg was that he is the shark in Jaws, especially early on. The less you see of him, the more you tease of him and build to him, the better. And because we really feel those two characters are two sides of the same coin, we really wanted to approach Mother Abagail the same way. We see slightly more of her early on and, without spoiling, perhaps less of her going forward when we see more of Flagg. But we wanted to have our use of those two characters balance out because it feels like those two are the poles between which the book exists and they should match each other.
The Stand, Thursdays, CBS All Access