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Exclusive Interview: Tim Robbins' favourite Stephen King stories

Castle Rock star's top tales from the King crypt

Exclusive Interview: Tim Robbins' favourite Stephen King stories
15 February 2020

Tim Robbins is no stranger to the Stephen King universe, after an unforgettable role in The Shawshank Redemption. He returns to it in the new season of Castle Rock.

The StarzPlay series is set in Stephen King story staple Maine, and this second season welcomes back the classic horror character of Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) from Misery.

Robbins famously played Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption (the prison was used as a setting for season one) as well as Jacob in the 1990 adaptation of Jacob’s Ladder and now he’s introducing the new character of Reginald ‘Pop’ Merrill to the Castle Rock Universe.

“I liked the idea of playing a morally complicated character who has to deal with the demons of his past,” Robbins tells Shortlist. “That's always challenging as an actor. I would never try to recreate anything from the past and this character is one I hadn't really played before: a gangster mob boss.”

Pop is the ruthless father of four adult children: two nephews and two adopted Somalian siblings who butt heads throughout the season, which incorporates drug abuse, racism and the distrust of immigration into the story arc. All these issues, Robbins says, are prevalent across America today.

“Racism has been emboldened in small communities across the United States,” Robbins explains. “People that might not have said anything before now feel empowered to wear their racism on their sleeves.

“They don't call it racism, they don't think it's racism, they think it's some kind of pride or nativism but the people that suffer the most in that kind of big ignorant environment are people that are new to the community.”

To celebrate the premiere of Castle Rock season 2, the veteran actor discusses his most iconic Stephen King role and shares a few of his favourite works from the author.

Shawshank Redemption

Tim Robbins' favourite Stephen King stories

"Before Shawshank I did Jacob's Ladder, which didn't get a lot of attention when it came out. But it doesn't take anything away from it, it's still a great film. So I had a perspective, going into Shawshank, and when it did not perform well I didn't feel depressed about it. I knew it was a good film and the great thing about cable, home DVDs and video cassettes at the time, is that movies have a life beyond their initial release, and it really is an indication of quality of the movie, how it's viewed 10, 20, 25 years afterwards.

"With Shawshank it's particularly satisfying because when people talk to me about it they talk about how the movie affected them, emotionally, and how it shifted their perspective on life. The other day some guy told me that when he first saw the film, when he heard the line, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” he broke down in tears. It shifted something in here [points to chest] . If you know when a film has the power to do that that's very humbling. And I feel blessed that I'm part of that.

"I don’t rewatch my movies, though. I try not to live in the past. Nostalgia is dangerous. I did see Shawshank recently, a few years ago, at Karlovy Vary Film Festival. They had a screening in an outdoor amphitheatre with like 2000, 3000 people. That was a cool experience because it was a particular incidence where I wanted to see it because I hadn't seen it since it had come out and I wanted to see the reaction."

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Tim Robbins' favourite Stephen King stories

"I love the movie and I think Kathy Bates is brilliant in it. Lizzy had such a big challenge in trying to do the prequel to it, but I thought she did an amazing job and I think she's a brilliant actor. It's a testament to Stephen King's talent that he's able to write these incredibly scary stories that keep you up at night but he's also able to write [Shawshank Redemption], a deeply humanistic story about a friendship between two men."

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The Shining

Tim Robbins' favourite Stephen King stories

"I still haven’t recovered from reading The Shining, that was the first thing I had ever read of Stephen King’s. It was a terrifying experience but also deeply inspiring, because when you read a book that you eat up deliciously it really personally motivated me to write and motivated me to want to tell stories. I loved Kubrick’s The Shining too, I think it’s a masterful film. I would like to see Doctor Sleep [the sequel to The Shining] but I've just been pretty busy."

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Different Seasons

Tim Robbins' favourite Stephen King stories

"I love Different Seasons, the short story collection that Shawshank was included in, which also included Stand By Me. I first read that around ‘93 when I was about 35. It’s a beautiful film and story. I think it all reminds us of the challenges of childhood and the transition from being a child to being a young adult who has to take responsibility for their actions."

Buy the Different Seasons book from Amazon

Castle Rock S2 is available on STARZ PLAY, a channel on Amazon Prime, now.