Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have been working together for quite a while. Over thirty years, in fact. In that time, they've figured out how to make some fairly monumental hits, and they've learned the importance of patiently developing concepts for the big screen. One of their upcoming films, The Dark Tower, was one that required plenty of discipline and dedication. In fact, it took several attempts, various producers, and multiple flirtations with different actors to finally get the Stephen King book series to big screen. Many tried and failed to get this thing going, and the process took over 15 years, but Howard and Grazer think they finally figured out how to make The Dark Tower work, not just as a movie, but as a film franchise.
In a chat with Deadline, the mega-producers reveal their way into The Dark Tower, and open up about the process of adapting King's sprawling novels into a focused and streamlined film narrative.
RON HOWARD: "Akiva Goldsman first pitched it to me while we were making A Beautiful Mind and the rights weren’t available. JJ Abrams was working on it at first and then Akiva told me JJ was involved in so many projects he let it go. We started talking about what it could be. I read all the novels and we broke them down. He presented this idea to Stephen King, and this is insider material you might not get, but it was about introducing the Horn of Eld into the very first story. He knew it would allow us to use elements of the novels in a new combination that would give us the latitude to be true to the essence of the novels, but also re-balance and refocus the narrative in a cinematic way. That was the jumping-off point that began this process. When MRC and Modi Wiczyk became involved, that discussion deepened and we focused more on the Jake Chambers-Roland relationship at the very center of the first movie as a way of launching the universe. We simplified the story line, made it less expensive as a result, but we still utilized a lot of those important structural adjustments that Akiva and I had devised going back years ago. One of the things we did was put together a team of Dark Tower researchers, devotees of the books. We wanted to restructure the novels to be most cinematic and Stephen King agreed completely and understood the journey we were on immediately and supported it. We used this group to inspire our thinking and stay in the universe of Dark Tower."
That last bit should be exciting for fans of The Dark Tower books. The idea of hiring a group of devotees, who help keep the film on the rails and within the world that King created, sounds like a pretty great idea. If the success of franchises like Harry Potter or the Marvel Studios shared universe films have taught us anything it's that adaptations often find their greatest success when they're made with fond regard towards the source material, and when they're made with the help of the folks who created the worlds they're exploring. With King signing off on their idea, and a group of Dark Tower fanatics keeping them in check, it sounds like a pretty winning formula.
But none of that matters if you don't have a great director to keep it all together. Howard and Grazer think they have that great director in Nikolaj Arcel- who just so happens to be a huge fan of the books. The filmmaker from Denmark has claimed that the reason he learned to english was so that he could read The Dark Tower books in the language they were written in. That's dedication right there.
Here's Grazer and Howard on Arcel and the rest of the team they've assembled:
HOWARD: "Just about the time Akiva, Modi, Brian and I we were going to give up, Tom Rothman at Sony came aboard and that was an important turning point and that led to Nik. He grew up on the books and always loved them. He really was a great choice to approach the story in the most humanistic and cool way, focusing a lot on the Jake-Roland relationship. He understood the importance of that and connected with both characters. He’s also a strong original filmmaker with great taste. He and his writing partner tackled a rewrite and Nic has done a terrific job staging it."
BRIAN GRAZER: "We’ve definitely been working on it at least 10 years, but we found the perfect way to make it. It’s economical, and forced us to focus on the scenes that were the heartbeat of the story. It’s still a big landscape, but the scenes are more bull’s-eye than maybe it was back then. And we have the hippest cast with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. We never had that cast."
HOWARD: "Akiva Goldsman and our Erica Huggins never gave up on it, and Stephen King was just so patient. We kept trying drafts, searching for collaborators. We finally got there with MRC’s Modi and Tom Rothman at Sony. Modi really got these books, and he characterizes himself as a Tower Head. Nik Arcel did a great job directing. We were very excited on that first day and we are very pleased with what we’re seeing. We’ve believed in this for so long."
The producers are quite pleased with their two The Dark Tower leads.
On Idris Elba as Roland Deschain:
Howard: "In this iteration, when we began thinking about candidates, Idris just felt like a really exciting and dynamic possibility. Idris brings this crucial combination of coiled danger, quiet charisma, undercurrents of complexity and nobility, and a kind of timeless cool. These are the elemental qualities of Roland, in my mind, and I think Idris carries it incredibly well."
On Matthew McConaughey as The Man In Black:
Howard: "I worked with him once and long have been a fan since he emerged on the scene. So is Akiva, who wrote the script for A Time To Kill. He and I always believed Matthew would be a great trip and it was a dream come true when he said yes. He brings that combination of diabolical amorality mixed with an intelligence and his own logic that he adheres to, relentlessly. And a kind of wry wit that kept readers and will keep the movie audience off balance in a very entertaining way. You never know what to expect next from the Walter character. Matthew mixes that with an undercurrent of impending violence and danger, in a very watchable way."
I'll admit, I've never read the books. And I've heard about this movie getting kicked around for years, and I never really cared. But I'm pretty intrigued by this project these days. Elba and McConaughey are cool cats, the subject material sounds cool, and there's just so much that's gone into making The Dark Tower a reality that I'm really interested to see how the whole thing turns out.
How about you?