“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…”
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.”
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.
“I visualized [Clint] Eastwood as Roland,” King says. “I loved the Spaghetti Westerns and all those widescreen close-ups of his face, especially the ones where he’d been left out in the desert and was all covered with blisters and sunburn. I thought, ‘That’s my Roland.’”
Ol’ Clint was more of an inspiration point, however. “As the years went by, [the character] became a more particular individual in my own mind,” King says. “He wasn’t Eastwood anymore. He was just … Roland.”
The author, who raves about Elba’s recent work in the child-soldier drama Beasts of No Nation, says he hopes fans of the books have no problem accepting a man of color as Roland. “For me the character is still the character. It’s almost a Sergio Leone character, like ‘the man with no name,’” King says. “He can be white or black, it makes no difference to me. I think it opens all kind of exciting possibilities for the backstory.”
Arcel acknowledges that skin color actually was an important factor in the relationship between Roland and Susannah, the black amputee he drew into his world from her life in 1964. In the books, she is not thrilled to find herself yanked into another dimension by a grizzled white guy. “Some fans are asking, understandably, ‘What about the racial tension?’” Arcel says. “But as the story progresses that will be made clear, how we’ll deal with all those things…”