When Danish writer/producer Christian Torpe took on Stephen King's The Mist, he wanted to explore a theory that “we are only nine meals away from anarchy,” as he tells SYFY WIRE in this exclusive interview. It's a theory that seems well suited for material like The Mist, which airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on Spike TV.
Based on the Stephen King novella The Mist, the Spike TV series of the same name follows what happens to the residents of Bridgeville, Maine, when a mist rolls in and leaves them cut off from each other and the rest of the world. The foreboding mist seems to contain myriad inexplicable and bizarre threats, leaving the town's residents to battle the mist while also fighting to maintain morality and sanity as the rules of society break down. The series stars Morgan Spector, Alyssa Sutherland, Gus Birney, Danica Curcic, Okezie Morro, Luke Cosgrove, Darren Pettie, Russell Posner, Dan Butler, Isiah Washington Jr. and Frances Conroy.
In the Q&A below, Torpe (Rita) chats with SYFY WIRE about taking on Stephen King, the notion that we are not that far away from anarchy, and why he killed the dog.
Beware! Spoilers ahead!
It's such a compelling concept.
It's been a lot of fun. Dark fun.
But you did make me mad. You killed the dog.
Yes, we killed the dog.
Really, you should apologize, because you should never kill the dog.
I know. I'm such a dog person myself. I hated doing it. But we wanted to engage that aura of fear, and we wanted to put Brian, our soldier, in the worst possible circumstances. He had in that moment one friend in the world, and that's his dog, and we wanted to take that away from him. Make him terrified and isolated as we possible could. That's the reason behind it.
I know. Just messing with you. You know how it goes. You can kill a thousand people on a show, but don't kill the dog. [Laughs]
It really upset some people. Oh well. [Laughs]
Why did you want to take on this material?
I had a meeting with The Weinstein Company ... and they presented me with The Mist, and it struck me as an incredibly timely metaphor for what is going on. It's a story about how people react when they're blinded by fear and how they seek answers not necessarily in the rational world. Whoever yells the loudest is able to speak to your fear in the most primal way. And that struck me as incredibly timely.
What do we have to look forward to with The Mist?
As we go forth, what are going to be the driving themes that we have to look forward to? It's a story about radicalization. One of the things I loved in the book and the movie ... people seek answers in religion. There's the famous Mrs. Carmody character and her religious beliefs, even how she brings people on board. I wanted to expand on that notion and have it be about radicalization in every way, not just religion, but also political and personal radicalization. So I wanted to establish several little pressure cookers. In the book and the movie, it's a supermarket. We expanded on that to be a mall. We have some people trapped in a church. We have some people trapped in a police station. They will come up with various answers and explanations for what goes on, and some of these groups will meet, and worldviews will collide. And that, to me, is what radicalization is, and that's really what I wanted to tell a story about.
You have a lot of heavy subjects before the mist arrives ... the teacher who's gotten suspended, the girl who's been raped, the woman who killed someone, a soldier who doesn't know who he is. What is it about this combination of characters that appealed to you?
I wanted to create a world where as soon as that thin layer of civilization was gone, and it will be relatively soon in the show, people will start tapping into the prejudices and hatred that they had toward those who are different. And that hatred lies just beneath the surface. You can see it already in the pilot in the way some people want Eve fired for her liberal view on sex education. So I wanted to create a world that is barely held together by civilization and then remove civilization from it and watch it explode.
And explode it does. It doesn't take long.
Just wait and see. We will certainly push the envelope. I remember reading some notion that we are only nine meals away from anarchy. If you take away nine meals from people, that's when they start doing bad things. That's when they start grabbing a baseball bat and beating up the neighbor and robbing their fridge. And part of at least Season 1 for me here was about those nine meals, to watch society slowly devolve. So I wanted to be in that process, just watch step by step as it devolves into something much more primal.
You stepped away from the book and the movie. How far are you going to go away from the source material?
Yeah, the book is one of my favorite Stephen King novellas, but it's only a good 150 pages ... So we knew we had to expand to create an ongoing series. At the same time we were incredibly conscious of staying true to the DNA and heart of the novella ... and overall placing it in a Stephen King universe. That's something we spent a lot of time on.
It does have a Stephen King feel to it.
Well, that's what we were aiming for. What makes King's books so incredible is even if you took out the horror element or the supernatural element there would still be a great human drama just amongst the characters. And we certainly tried to do that as well by creating some characters and storylines and some conflict in the area that would have created hopefully an interesting drama even if the mist hadn't arrived. That was at least the way we tried to approach it.
You have 10 episodes. Is this going to be a complete story at 10 episodes? How do you continue this into an ongoing series with multiple seasons?
(Laughs) Well, I can't reveal too much. It's developed as an ongoing series. There's certainly a sense of an ending at the end of the 10 episodes, but also an opening for developing further into the mythology and the development of the characters.
Tell me about some of your characters and your viewpoint on them. How do they develop through this story?
We have Kevin Copeland, who's sort of a modern-day liberal guy who has all the right values of kindness and forgiveness. Those are values he shares with me, but I'm interested in how we have those values. Because they're kind of easy to claim if they have never been tested. So I wanted to build a storyline that's all about testing his conviction and seeing if he can earn those values or if he will, at the end of the day, break under pressure. That's what I thought was interesting with him.
We have Eve, his wife, who was a very sexually liberated teenager, and that's a tricky thing to be in a small town without gaining a reputation. She didn't give a thought about that reputation. She always planned to just move to the big city when she wanted to. And then she meets Kevin and she ends up staying in this small town. And now she's a teacher and she's teaching sex ed and the other parents in the town can't quite forget about her past and won't really let go of it, and they hold it against her. And that was an incredibly interesting thematic for me to dive into.
What about the actors?
We tried to cast actors who we thought would bring in a grounded element. People who you would believe could live in small town. We didn't necessarily want big names. We wanted good actors. We approached Alexa Foggle, who's one of the best casting directors around. She cast The Wire and [Oz]. She brought in a lot of people, actors from New York, but also London and Denmark, Australia. So it's a very diverse group of people. What binds them together is they all bring something grounded and something real to the table.
What's been your biggest challenge in bringing this to the screen?
I'm used to running TV shows in Denmark, which is just a different territory. It's just a big machine here. Much longer days. Much longer meetings in this town. That was something I had to get used to. I get restless very easily. I want to go out and do stuff. I want to sit down and write. I don't want to sit and talk about it for hours. That is something I learned I had to control.
Why should people tune in to The Mist?
They should tune in to see a very, very contemporary character drama with some horror elements that has something to say about the world that we live in today. It's definitely going to take on a life of its own. And I doubt that people will see it coming or where it's heading.