How The Stand TV Series Modernizes The Story

The Stand star Odessa Young reveals how King’s epic novel has been updated for the 2020s.

The Stand
Photo: CBS

Rising Australian actress Odessa Young can be seen this Friday (June 5) in Shirley, as the pregnant wife of a young professor (Logan Lerman) whose lives cross paths with those of esteemed The Haunting of Hill House novelist Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) and her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg). While the film is fictional and Young’s character did not exist in real life, there is an interesting connection between Young’s role in Shirley and the ambitious production we’ll see her in later this year.

Young is also set to appear in The Stand, director Josh Boone’s nine-episode adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel for CBS All Access. The actress will play Fran Goldsmith, a pregnant 21-year-old woman who suddenly finds herself as one of the leaders of a new society that rises from the ashes of America following an apocalyptic worldwide pandemic.

Aside from both characters carrying a child that becomes important to the plots of both stories, King has frequently acknowledged Jackson’s influence on his work and its portrayal of everyday, small-town people with often hidden desires and neuroses.

“I haven’t put it together quite as literally as you just did then, which is really funny to think about,” says Young during a Zoom press day for Shirley. “But of course, (Jackson) is obviously such a huge influence on King.”

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She adds, “I think that in both of these texts, pregnancy is not just there as a plot point. It is there as a very deliberate symbol and it has been really interesting to play in both cases what that symbol means to the greater good of the piece itself. It’s not just about playing pregnant. It is about what does new life signify for both of these stories and what kind of a world are both of these children coming into?”

The Stand was previously filmed as a four-part, six-hour (minus commercials) miniseries for ABC in 1994, with Molly Ringwald playing Fran. That and other casting choices in that version are debated to this day, but most agree that the Mick Garris-directed project was largely faithful to King’s novel (the author himself wrote the teleplay). While it’s already been confirmed that Boone’s version has made at least one significant change to the structure of King’s story, Young insists that it too is faithful to the source.

“I read all 1000 and whatever pages (of the book). Yes, it is faithful,” says Young. “I think that we were pretty clear about the fact that it was going to be set in the present day, which meant obviously that certain things had to change (King’s novel was originally set in 1980; an expanded reissue moved it forward a decade). Instead of being a Springsteen-esque rock star, for example, Larry Underwood is more someone that you might find at Coachella or something like that. That’s one example of the certain modernization.”

But Young insists that even with the story being updated, Boone and his creative partners were intent on staying true to the book: “It’s important when doing book adaptations to remember that the medium of books and movies are so vastly different than what works in a book might not work on the screen,” she explains. “The job of an adapter is to quite literally adapt certain things to tell the same story on the screen, as they would tell in the book, because a direct translation would obfuscate some of the things that are so clear in the books.

“I think that the writers that we worked with on The Stand, they had their work cut out for them, obviously, because it is such a huge epic story, but they were all such huge fans of The Stand,” Young says. “Some of the writers were childhood fans of Stephen King and had been waiting for this moment their whole life. So the material feels extremely safe in their hands.”

As for Fran herself, Young hints that the character’s arc in the novel remains intact on the screen: “Absolutely, yeah,” she says. “The Committee (the ad hoc governing body that presides over the Boulder, Colorado community known as the Free Zone) is still very central to our story.”

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Of course, one also cannot ignore the current real-life parallels to The Stand, although King’s malignant, lab-created biological weapon is much more catastrophic to human life than COVID-19. Young says that shooting was completed on the project before the worldwide lockdown began (she estimates they may have lost perhaps four days), but during the last few days of production, the mood began to perceptibly change: “There were a lot of jokes on set that started to turn into more observations and fear, as opposed to jokes, as the situation started to worsen.”

The Stand is tentatively scheduled to premiere later this year on CBS All Access; Shirley opens this Friday (June 5) via Hulu, VOD and in select drive-in theaters.