The tower has begun to peek above the horizon.
After many years, and many attempts, a film version of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is finally getting underway with Idris Elba confirmed as the gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as the mystical foe known as the man in black.
Both the author and the movie’s director and co-writer, Nikolaj Arcel, spoke exclusively with EW about the plan to begin adapting the six-shooter-and-sorcery tale — which spans eight novels, assorted comic books and short stories, and is frequently referenced throughout King’s body of work.
“The thing is, it’s been a looong trip from the books to the film,” King says, putting it right in context: “When you think about it, I started these stories as a senior in college, sitting in a little sh-tty cabin beside the river in Maine, and finally this thing is actually in pre-production now.” He laughs. “I’m delighted, and I’m a little bit surprised.”
Arcel, who is best known for the 2012 Danish film A Royal Affair and for co-writing the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, says he will start shooting The Dark Tower in South Africa in seven weeks, and Sony Pictures plans to have it in theaters on Jan. 13, 2017.
Arcel will share screenwriting credit with Anders Thomas Jensen, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinkner. The producers will be Goldman and his Weed Road company; Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Erica Huggins of Imagine Entertainment; and Pinkner as executive producer.
“What Stephen King does best is mixing the everyday, or what you might call the mundane, with the fantastical,” says Arcel. “In my view, [The Dark Tower] novels are a mix between sci-fi and fantasy and modern times. That exact mix is so Stephen King.”
King says the movie will open with the first line from the first book. “It should start that way,” he says. “I’ve been pretty insistent about that.” He even tweeted it out today:
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 1, 2016
It’s easy to imagine that phrase being The Dark Tower’s version of “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …,” serving to introduce almost any part of the saga. But this first film will not adapt the plot of the first book, The Gunslinger, published in 1982.
“[The movie] starts in media res, in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning, which may upset some of the fans a little bit, but they’ll get behind it, because it is the story,” King says.
Arcel declined to specify which books his movie focus on, but he did offer this clue: “A lot of it takes place in our day, in the modern world.”
THE PATH OF THE BEAM
For those who haven’t turned the pages of The Dark Tower books, they tell the story of the fallen land of Mid-World through the eyes of Roland Deschain, a sort of frontiersman knight whose primary weapon is not a sword but a pair of revolvers. He’s on a quest to save his decaying world by reaching the tower that stands at the nexus point in time and space.
The man in black – a devil who goes by many names, but mostly Walter Padick or Walter O’Dim – is an ageless deceiver and sorcerer who also seeks to reach the tower and rule over its seemingly infinite kingdoms.
To complete his journey, Roland must call on help from our world, drawing a junkie named Eddie, an amputee named Susannah, and a young boy named Jake into his realm to be part of his ka-tet – the term for a group brought together by destiny. Their yellow brick road is one of the six invisible beams that hold Roland’s world together – and lead directly to the tower itself.
Although Arcel and King aren’t ready to reveal which books the movie may cover, we can use their clues to do a little soothsaying: Since the fourth novel in the eight-book series, 1997’s Wizard and Glass, is almost entirely a flashback about Roland’s youth and lost love, it’s a good guess that the movies may start with 1993’s The Waste Lands, the third book in the series, which is where much of King’s broader tower mythology began to coalesce. Its story involves the ka-tet’s efforts to connect with Jake, who lives in a far-off “where” (New York City) and a different “when” (1977 in the novel – although that could easily be changed to now.) But that’s just speculation.
As for additional casting, Mad Max: Fury Road actress Abbey Lee is reportedly in talks for the role of Tirana, but it’s not clear yet who will play the other main characters. More announcements are expected in the weeks ahead.
For now, Arcel is starting by introducing his hero and villain. Although it may be a surprise to some, who are used to picturing Roland as the blue-eyed white man depicted in the book’s illustrations, he says it was “a no-brainer” to cast Elba as the gunslinger. King agrees.
“For me, it just clicked. He’s such a formidable man,” says Arcel, who says he’s been a fan of Elba’s since The Wire. “I had to go to Idris and tell him my vision for the entire journey with Roland and the ka-tet. We discussed, who is this character? What’s he about? What’s his quest? What’s his psychology? We tried to figure out if we saw the same guy. And we absolutely had all the same ideas and thoughts. He had a unique vision for who Roland would be.”
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) March 1, 2016
King is a fan of the choice, and says he’s looking forward to seeing Elba bring Roland to life. “I love it. I think he’s a terrific actor, one of the best working in the business now,” the author says. But he admits he had a different actor in mind when he started writing the books 46 years ago – almost three years before Elba was even born.