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SYFY WIRE Lisey's Story

The cast of Lisey's Story have their own thrilling stories from Stephen King's dark world

By Matthew Jackson

As the name suggests, the new Apple TV+ series Lisey's Story, adapted by Stephen King from his novel of the same name, is largely one specific person's tale. Lisey Landon, played by Oscar winner Julianne Moore, spends the eight-episode series on a deeply personal journey of discovery, closure, and magic. That meant Moore had to serve as the emotional center of the series, as well as the natural leader of an ensemble cast that includes Clive Owen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joan Allen, Ron Cephas Jones, and Dane DeHaan.

According to her castmates, Moore's presence not just in the fictional world of the series, but on the show's set, was an immediate gift.

"She's the best of the best. Everybody knows her work is always top shelf, man. She's such a beautiful person," Jones, a two-time Emmy winner best known right now for his work on the hit drama This Is Us, told SYFY WIRE. "She has this way and ability to make you really feel comfortable when you're working with her. She's not obtrusive or anything. She's just very warm and brings you in, and then you just feel comfortable. Then you can just focus on doing the work.

"That's how I like to work as well. It was like artists against artists, craftsmen against craftsmen. You know what I mean? You get in there and certain things are unspoken, and you relate right away. So, you hit that comfort zone, right? And then you just go."

"One of the things that's most incredible about her, having worked with her, is just the person she is and how comfortable she made me feel and how kind she is and nurturing she is, and the environment she creates on set," DeHaan added. "There's so much kindness and lightness that I think garners trust. And from that trust, we were able to go to these dark intense places while the camera was rolling, because we knew and trusted each other offset and in a wonderful and healthy way that allowed us to go to dark places on camera, which was refreshing and nice, and in a way, profound."

As a novel, Lisey's Story is very much what it says on the cover, in that King narrates almost entirely from Lisey's perspective as she attempts to unravel a mystery that her novelist husband Scott (Owen) left for her upon his death two years earlier. In the process, Lisey dives through the past, the present, and a strange sort of pocket universe known as Boo'ya Moon which may or may not be a place entirely of her husband's invention. For the series, Lisey's exploration of these worlds and times remains intact, keeping Moore in the center of the show, but King also saw fit to widen the scope of narrative as he served as screenwriter for all eight episodes. This time, the Lisey narrative broadens to offer us closer looks inside the often dark worlds of its supporting cast, giving the entire ensemble spotlight moments that heighten and enhance the entire story.

This is especially key when the series digs into the darker elements of the real world. As the story begins, Lisey is finally pushing herself to finish the unenviable task of cleaning out her late husband's vast study, a converted barn out behind their Maine home. For Lisey, it's a journey through memories both fulfilling and terrifying, but for other figures in the world of award-winning novelist Scott Landon, it carries the promise of buried treasure of a different sort. This is where Jones and DeHaan enter the narrative, the former as an ambitious college professor eager to get his hands on any lost Landon works for preservation and study, and the latter as an obsessed fan who sees Lisey as little more than a parasite attached to the corpse of a literary genius he knew better than anyone.

"He has this power thing that he's going on, where he's trying to grab power," Jones said of his character. "And in doing so, as many times in life, people that move in that direction find that they get into a very dangerous place and start making decisions that are beyond what they would normally do. That's the place that I was able to find with Dane, as you see him going into one direction, and then I start to go into another direction, and how that's going to explode, remains to be seen as the story goes on."

A key part of King's expansion of the Lisey's Story narrative for television is the wider view the show takes of these two antagonists. We see Jones' character, Dashmiel, attempting to push Lisey to turn over her husband's papers without necessarily going over the edge, and then we see DeHaan's character, Jim Dooley, walking right up to that edge and looking over it, into the abyss beyond. For the series, King dove deeper into Dooley's obsessive world, which allowed DeHaan and director Pablo Larrain to develop that world's details, from the way the character dresses to the way he builds a strange little den for himself littered with Landon memorabilia.

"It was a true collaboration and we really, between the director, Pablo Larraín and Stephen King and myself, all worked hard to create something that we felt would be interesting and terrifying and off-putting in the context of modern society," DeHaan said. "I think the Dooley that you see in this series is different than the character in the novel and even different than it was in the screenplay. It was a real exploration of this character ... what he wore and how he spoke and how he moved, it was all something that was incredibly thought out from really an outside-in way of working."

But academics and obsessed fans hoping to prey on her and her husband's legacy aren't the only things Lisey must deal with over the course of the story. Even as her journey through the past of her marriage brings her back into contact with her husband's madness, she finds her sister Amanda (Allen) is diving deeper into a madness of her own, one that's resurfaced with particular fervor this time. That means Lisey's Story also spends a great deal of time with Lisey, Amanda, and their sister Darla (Leigh), mapping the ins and outs of their sisterhood even as Amanda descends into crisis.

"It was a lot of fun because they are such different types, the characters, as written, and yet they're sisters and they have a shorthand and they have a history and there's so much love, and there's so much giving each other grief for things because they've just known each other [forever]. It's just like any family," Allen said of building the fictional sisterhood with Moore and Leigh. "And so it was really great to work on that. We had a wonderful rapport, the three of us, and we had enjoyed each other off-screen and on, and it was a real pleasure."

Amanda's descent also meant that Allen spent a great deal of time in the landscape of Boo'ya Moon, a world revealed in the show's trailers as a kind of dark fairytale pocket, complete with a massive pool that, according to Allen, was just as massive on the show's set as it looks in the series proper.

"I'm not good at judging size, but when I first saw the set for the pool, I was like, 'Is that the size of a football field or half of a football field?' It was so huge, and the pool was a million gallons of water," Allen said. "And then they had been constructing for months because they put it towards the end of the shoot, and carving out all these rocks making this rocky amphitheater that had a waterfall. I was blown away. It really helps as an actor once you get in an environment like that to transport yourself and it helps your job when you're surrounded by that kind of environment that just completely supports the kind of work, the job, that you're supposed to do."

Lisey's Story is, as the show's promotional tour has frequently emphasized, a very personal story for Stephen King himself, but Allen was also quick to note the contributions of director Pablo Larrain, who brought his gift for charting emotional landscapes through films like Jackie to the series, and enhanced King's dark world.

"It's wonderful to work with a director who... you feel like every aspect of it he gets, loves, understands, has an idea about, and is excited by, and loves actors and is very kind and gentle towards them. And it just makes for a wonderful set," she said. "And hopefully you're feeling like you're working on something that hopefully is going to be really good and people are going to enjoy, and you'll end up with something that particularly Stephen King is happy with."

Lisey's Story premieres today on Apple TV+.