One of my most enduring television memories is sitting down as a teenager and watching The Stand, a 1994 mini-series adaptation of the epic novel by Stephen King about the battle between good and evil in the wake of a man-made flu epidemic that wipes out 99 per cent of the human population.
The mini-series served as my introduction to many genres I've continued to love in the years since - the post-apocalyptic thriller, the disaster epic and the supernatural drama, to name three. In many ways, I think The Stand also shaped my viewing habits: I'm still a sucker for supernatural shows with a sci-fi edge (Fringe, The X Files, Lost), and post-apocalyptic serial dramas (Jericho, The Walking Dead).
In short, The Stand is my favourite television mini-series, and one of my favourite shows ever.
One of my favourite characters in The Stand - both the novel and the series - is named the Trashcan Man. In the series, Trashcan Man was played by Matt Frewer, who you may remember I interviewed a couple of months back. Naturally, I managed to squeeze in a few questions about his time on the series ...
Chris Philpott: For me, probably my favourite role that you've played was the Trashcan Man on The Stand.
Matt Frewer: Oh, thanks!
Trashcan Man is probably the quirkiest character in the book and in the mini-series. How did you get the role - were you invited to audition for that?
I was invited to audition - and at that point, funnily enough, I'd only ever read one Stephen King novel and it was The Stand, and I'd loved the Trashcan Man. So when they said to audition for him, I was really excited and thrilled to get the role, even though he really only says "my life for you" - and that was one of the challenges, find 40 different ways to say "my life for you".
You got to say it on top of a petrol tank, and driving an ATV through the desert with a nuke on the back -
[Laughing] That's right! Very location-dependent! But it was good fun - and one of the great things about it was that the director [Mick Garris] and I became great buddies, and still are, and I've worked with him six times since then.
Did you have to do much research to prepare to play Trashcan Man? Or was it the kind of role where you could just walk in, get a little direction and go for it?
With something like that, it's just a matter of reading and rereading the book - and there were lots of scenes in the book that I wish they'd included, but of course they couldn't because of time and so on. On the first day on set, Stephen King was there and I'm doing my actor thing, talking about my character, and he let me waffle on for about 5 or 10 minutes and then finally he goes "yeah, yeah, yeah - but what bands do you like?" He was great, he let me get all that stuff off my chest, but then he really just wanted to talk about what my favourite music was! But as far as preparation for it goes, no, it was really just based on the novel and my own imagination.
I mean, that's the cliché about acting, 'what's my motivation' - but was that something that you did consider in playing the role? Trashcan Man seems like a small role, but he is very integral to the plot of the book and the series. He's just this loyal guy looking for purpose, isn't he?
Yeah, he's looking for love - if you're going to be all actory about it - he's damaged goods, and as you say he's looking for purpose and somewhat looking for a father figure in Flagg.
The Stand is quite a faithful recreation of the book. More recently you've starred in Alice, which is quite a severe departure from the source material. How do you feel about these shows, films, mini-series that are based on an earlier source - is there a right way to do an adaptation, or is there value in both faithful and reimagined adaptations?
You know, I think these things can be such a crap shoot whether they work or not. I mean, the character that I was playing [the White Knight] in the so-called updated version of Alice remained the classic Lewis Carroll archetype, so he didn't really change that much. It's a wonderful role, the White Knight, because he's kind of a cross between Baron Von Munchausen, Don Quixote, and the Cowardly Lion, and it's a wonderful role because he's funny and sad, and all the colours that you want as an actor. But yeah, I liked the way it was updated because it had that 60s Avengers vibe about it - you kept expecting Patrick McGoohan to step on set and be some weird updated Lewis Carroll character. But again, it was great fun, and Nick Willing was terrific, the director who also wrote it, so it was a very happy experience, that one.
Can you remember watching The Stand back in the mid-90s? Do you think faithful adaptations of source material are best? Or do you agree with Frewer that both faithful and reimagined adaptations can work in the right hands?
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