THE DARK TOWER
About The Production
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." With
these words, Stephen King sparked an entire universe that makes its long-awaited
screen debut with The Dark Tower, the motion picture from Columbia Pictures,
MRC, and Imagine Entertainment, starring Idris Elba as the gunslinger Roland
Deschain, sworn to protect the universe, and his perpetual nemesis, Walter O'Dim,
the man in black, played by Matthew McConaughey.
In a career spanning 50 years and over 80 books, King has amassed a towering
reputation as one of our greatest storytellers. The author of innumerable
bestsellers, he has been honored by the President of the United States with the
National Medal for the Arts, by the National Book Foundation with the Medal for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and countless awards and prizes.
His name is recognized everywhere as a master of blending our everyday world
with the supernatural.
And there is one work that is at the center of his entire canon: The Dark Tower,
the eight-novel epic telling of an eternal battle between good and evil, with
the fate of multiple worlds at stake. "I started The Dark Tower when I was 22
years old, when I had just graduated from college, so it's spanned my entire
career," says King. Over time, he says, as the books and stories piled up, "I
started to realize that I had all these characters that were referring back to
this other world, Mid-World, the world of The Dark Tower. It had become the
centerpiece of my fictional universe -characters who showed up in other books
would show up in The Dark Tower and vice versa." Even King himself would become
a character in later novels. The Dark Tower series of books would become the
nexus for most of the King universe and crosses over into many of King's other
King was influenced to create his magnum opus by blending together several
unlikely sources. "I was very much under the influence of Lord of the Rings -
even though I'm not crazy about elves and orcs and walking trees, I loved what
Tolkien did. And around that same time, I saw the movie The Good, the Bad, and
the Ugly, and Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name was also an influence. And
there's a poem by Robert Browning called 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,'
and I used that to start an epic fantasy. I wrote the line 'The man in black
fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,' and I didn't know anything
about where he lived, what Mid-World was or how it connected to our world or
It's an epic that has inspired millions of readers - not least of which was a
young boy in Denmark whose imagination was sparked by the events in Mid-World.
Now grown, director Nikolaj Arcel was determined to be the one to bring The Dark
Tower to the screen. Growing up with the Dark Tower books, Arcel became so
immersed in the stories that the Danish native taught himself English. He
recounts, "When I was about 13, there were almost no Stephen King stories
translated into Danish. I became infatuated with the few books that I'd read in
Danish, even at that age. And so I had to start picking up his English-version
novels and I had to teach myself to read adult novel-style English at a very
early age. Stephen King taught me English."
Arcel recalls that when he read The Gunslinger at 17, he was so into the novel
that he creating a song, "The Gunslinger," with his band. (And he still has it
on cassette tape.)
For Arcel, the way King weaves together the personal and the larger-than-life
elements of the story is why it's connected to so many readers. "It's as small
as a 14 year-old boy, who has visions, who thinks he's crazy, and it's as big as
a hero fighting a great villain and trying to save the entire universe. It
expands from the very intimate to the very epic."
And at the center of the story is the Dark Tower. "The Tower is a thing of
beauty, it's a thing of awe, with a powerful presence - it holds the whole world
together. I think it's beyond our comprehension," says Arcel, "I think every
single fan of the books will have their own idea of what the Dark Tower is."
So who better to ask what it is than the man who created it? "You have to
imagine an axle or a spindle, with all of these worlds connected to it," says
King. "You know what happens to a car if you cut the axle - it doesn't run
anymore. The Tower is the stabilizing force, and the Gunslingers are this
ancient group of knights dedicated to the idea of protecting the Tower. But they
have been wiped out - there's only one left, Roland. And standing opposite him
is an agent of chaos who wants to bring the Tower down."
"Roland is not a cowboy; he's a Gunslinger, and a very skilled shooter," says
Elba. "When we meet him, he's the last in a long line of the protectors of the
"The Tower is a magnetic vortex holding the universes together, and if that
Tower falls, the universe goes into anarchic chaos, blackness and demons come
out and they take it all over," says McConaughey. "If that Tower maintains
itself, it's still holding a semblance of balance in the universe. So, what
Walter's going to do is bring down that Tower."
Because this particular series of novels helped to shape Arcel's entire artistic
sensibilities, he became a perfect choice to direct. "I love films that take us
to new worlds, have new ideas and mythologies, and world building," he says.
"Getting this chance to direct a movie of stories that I had dreamt about was
incredible - especially coming directly off the boat from Denmark!"
Producer Erica Huggins recalls, "Nikolaj just wanted this project, he knew it
well, and the moment we met him we knew he was the right guy. He brought
innocence to the project, and he also found his own way into how he would tell
That way in - Arcel's vision - was to try to stay true to King's "mix of modern
day and the fantastic. This is what Stephen King does best." In The Dark Tower,
the fantastical elements would take care of themselves; to make those feel like
a Stephen King story, Arcel sought to keep it grounded. "We had to keep it real;
this world is so immense and so complex, and in the novels, at times, even
abstract. I really wanted Mid-World, the characters and everything to feel as
real as every day. I didn't want to have some kind of lofty genre and have
everyone speaking in odd ways. I wanted it to feel like anybody could take this
journey to Mid-World, and understand it, and be there, and feel that these are
Arcel also wanted the emotional quality of King's story to permeate the film.
"It didn't feel cynical, or cold; it felt like it was very much about family,
friendship, and heart, and the bond of people coming together to fight for the
When it came to the screenplay adaptation, because King's approach is, in his
words, so "instinctive" ("I'm not somebody who plans things out in advance," he
says), the filmmakers faced an unusual challenge in bringing The Dark Tower to
the screen. With so much material, where to begin? "How do you present this to
the moviegoing audience so they'll understand it and feel like they're
immediately in the story, whether or not they've read the books?" King asks. The
answer for the screenwriters came in looking at The Dark Tower as a whole,
drawing elements from several of the books in the series. "It's a classical
thing - they call it in medias res, which means 'begin in the middle of the
story.' You begin in the middle and then fill everybody in, and it just moves
ahead like a freight train from that point," King continues.
Not only did King himself bless the screenplay adaptation, which is by Akiva
Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel; the author was
intimately involved in every step of the creative process of the film and an
invaluable creative partner throughout the entire process.
Key to the film, obviously, would be in the casting of King's iconic characters:
Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, and Walter, the man in black, the
personification of an evil force.
Roland Deschain, AKA the Gunslinger, is the last of the long Line of Eld - a
legacy of Gunslingers who are peacekeepers and protectors of the Tower, which
protects the universe. After the slaughter of the rest of the gunslingers,
Roland is now on a quest to save what is left of his world by reaching the
"When Stephen King created Roland, he created a character that was based on the
biggest badass of the day," says producer Ron Howard. "Over time, the character
of Roland evolved beyond any one specific look or inspiration; the character
just became Roland. We took that initial approach in casting Roland for the film
- asking ourselves, 'Who is the biggest badass of today? Who personifies
Roland?' That conversation started with Idris Elba. He is the embodiment of
Roland, and he is also a phenomenal actor and has the chops to be able to bring
the complex character of Roland to life."
Arcel says for him it was a natural to cast Idris Elba as The Gunslinger. "I've
been a fan of his since 'The Wire,' he's a magnetic performer. The only question
was whether we would have similar visions for the character, his journey and
psychology, so it turned out that he did. It just clicked, and he was
"As the last in the line of protectors, Roland is very respected, but by the
time we meet him his heart has been broken and blackened," says Elba. "He's
basically a ghost looking for something he can't find: The Man in Black, who has
goaded and taunted him for years, and who destroyed Roland's world and in it
everyone he loved. On this journey, Roland is propelled by fury to take revenge
against his old nemesis."
Elba says he was excited to take on the role of the Gunslinger as he knew
Stephen King to be a creator of deep, complex, and big-universe characters. "He
is a very clever, master character builder," says Elba. "Roland has had a
massive journey throughout the books."
Walter is Roland's mystical foe and a modern day psychotic who destroyed the
Mid-World. He is now on a mission to bring all worlds into chaos, which bringing
down the Tower will do.
"The essence of the character is a casual and playful but ruthless and
terrifying villain, all while seemingly in total control," Howard continues.
"Matthew McConaughey is the perfect embodiment for the role of the Man in Black
- he's incredibly charming, laid back, and mischievous with deep intensity."
"Walter has traveled many worlds, throughout many ages - he knows contemporary
New York and where he can buy a burger, and at the same time, with his sphere of
magic, he can also go to the court of some king," says Arcel. "His plan for the
universe is to bring about the age of the Crimson King - the devil."
"Walter's not just a guy with one dimensional evil; he has an interesting way of
seeing the world, with a certain delight - even if on the wrong side of the
light and dark spectrum," Arcel continues. "We had a lot of fun with the
character and Matthew and I added a lot of layers that were very true to the
book - how Walter speaks and moves."
McConaughey was excited by the opportunity to bring such a dynamic character to
life. "It's an original - it was great that I could come in at the ground level
and create a character, and hopefully be part of an original story where I am
the author of the Man in Black."
At the heart of the interplay between Walter and Roland is a dynamic that is
both simple and complex. Ultimately, McConaughey says, "Walter is the
quintessential bad guy in the mythic battle of good versus evil. If the Tower
comes down, Walter takes the seat next to the Crimson King."
But King has created a multilayered villain in Walter. "Walter walks a fine line
with Roland; it's an interesting little affection that Walter has for Roland,"
says McConaughey. "He certainly doesn't fully believe in Roland's code of honor
and valor and values. But Walter enjoys the game, and he doesn't want it to end
too soon, even if he wins. Roland is the most talented one out there, and when
he's down and losing it, through paranoia or pain, Walter resurrects him, lifts
him up, so he stays in the game."
Still, though Roland and Walter have been locked in this battle for an eternity,
from McConaughey's point of view, it's been a one-sided battle. "Walter can't be
touched," he says. "If someone comes at him, he may be a mirage - he might not
even be what you think. He doesn't even break a sweat."
Between these battling forces comes a young boy from our world who could tip the
balance either way. 14-year-old JAKE lives an ordinary life in New York City
with his mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) and stepfather Lon (Nicholas Pauling).
Plagued by outlandish dreams that he doesn't understand, he draws detailed
sketches of otherworldly images which he sees: the Gunslinger, the Man in Black,
and the unearthly world in which they live - Mid-World, in which he gets sight
of the Tower.
"In many ways, the story is seen through Jake's eyes, and we're seeing it in a
compelling way because we believe, as he believes, that he might be crazy," says
Huggins. "It's a terrifying journey that we take with him in the first part of
the movie until he realizes that he's not crazy, he really is seeing this other
world, and he's part of something bigger than himself. To portray that, Nik was
looking for a real kid who you knew would be inspired by these fantastical
events. Tom Taylor is an amazing actor, but the element that set him apart was
that he came to it with a certain amount of purity."
Jake follows the clues in his dreams and finds a way to travel to Mid-World,
where he searches for Roland Deschain. After meeting the Gunslinger, the boy
becomes embroiled in the fight to protect the universe, spanning across the
dimensions from Mid-World to New York City.
At first Roland is suspicious of Jake. "Roland doesn't really want to have
anything to do with this kid; he's never had to deal with a kid before. But when
Jake reveals his visions and that he saw a man in black, Roland is suddenly very
interested. Jake has seen information that Roland needs to find Walter."
Connecting with Jake reawakens Roland's connection to the world around him and
his role in the coming battle. "Roland doesn't realize he still has feelings and
this young boy helps him discover that he's not a dead soul," Elba says. "It's a
great, gradual process as they get to know each other. It's an interesting and
sweet journey in the film."
Arcel says that Taylor was able to hold his own, even opposite a force like
Elba. "He was an acting machine," Arcel says. "In between scenes he'd be playing
soccer, but when he got in front of the camera he would be totally focused. He
has a great energy and amazing instincts for a 14-year-old kid."
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