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The Outsider: Why Richard Price did not read Mr. Mercedes before penning Stephen King HBO series

By Tara Bennett & Josh Weiss
The Outsider

While The Outsider on HBO features a major character from Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes trilogy, writer Richard Price did not read any of those novels before creating this new show.

"I had to create this character and didn’t want to be beholden to anything outside," Price said at the HBO panel for the series at the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour. "With King’s blessing, I made the character [of Holly Gibney, played by Cynthia Erivo] mine. I wanted to do my thing. Mr. Mercedes [the book or series] did not exist in the world of The Outsider. It’s just, 'Forget everything you knew about Holly.' I asked King to change her name to make more of a separation. The only directive he gave me was 'Just keep the name.'"

The Outsider begins when beloved member of the community, Terry Maitland (portrayed by Jason Bateman, who is also writing and directing on the project), is arrested for the brutal rape and murder of a young boy in town. As Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn, also a producer) digs further into the case, he finds glaring inconsistencies that seem to point to Terry's innocence. Holly, a private investigator who feels that something otherworldly is at play here, is brought in to help make sense of the head-scratching paradoxes.

"Stephen King gives you a good story and good characters, but a book isn’t a teleplay, so you have to convert all of that internal monologue to visual teleplay. But he had it all laid out. It started as a procedural and then glided into the supernatural. I’ve always wanted to write something scary," continued Price about adapting the prolific horror author. "King is not an author, he’s an army. He transcends authors and he’s like an institution. He gives you a great setup. In my case, I preferred to avoid the CGI pyrotechnics that can sometimes come with it."

For Bateman (Ozark), it wasn't the supernatural elements of the story that drew him to the series. Rather, it was the grounded look at these everyday people dealing with something beyond their comprehension.

"I’m not a huge horror fan, or scare jump/slasher audience member," he explained. "I really love dread, and thriller, and tension. I was excited that this story lived more in King’s The Shining world than in the shock world ... I wasn’t trying to frame things up like, 'Scare you here, or lay pipe here.' It was all about [creating] a bit of a mood."

The Outsider HBO

To get Holly's anti-social and savant-like personality just right, Erivo (currently nominated for an Oscar thanks to her performance in Harriet) made sure to be respectful of those with psychological disorders.

"I did a little research. I felt like she was closer to Asperger's than anything else. I tried to do as much so she wasn’t a caricature," she said. "I wanted to connect with her. I wanted to make the touchstone for her that with every connection she is learning to communicate and figure out how to make people understand what she is also experiencing. That is research I was doing. Again, there was so much in the script, I didn’t need to do much seeking."

Justine Lupe plays a version of Holly in AT&T Audience Network's of the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.

The Outsider, which premiered its first two episodes (“Fish in a Barrel” and "Roanoke") last weekend, will air its third episode ("Dark Uncle") on HBO this coming Sunday, Jan. 19, at 9 p.m. EST.