WILMINGTON, N.C. - Stephen King has scared a lot of people with his many horror novels and their subsequent film and TV adaptations. When he met with reporters in this coastal town Thursday, the prolific author was asked what scares him.
"You guys," he deadpanned.
King was in town to promote "Under The Dome," a summer drama which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and Global. The series is about a small town which suddenly and inexplicably is cut off from the rest of the world by a large, invisible and impenetrable dome. Birds and planes fall out of the sky. Supplies cannot be brought in or out. The locals panic as resources begin to dwindle.
King says he first had the idea to write about a town trapped under a dome back in the early '70s, before he published his first novel, "Carrie."
The fact there was a similar dome over Springfield in 2007's "The Simpsons Movie" only makes King go "D'oh!" He's just glad he had the idea first.
"Under The Dome" was originally developed for the U.S. cable network Showtime, but despite tighter content restrictions King says he's happy it eventually moved to parent broadcaster CBS. He prefers the bigger room, "an arena rather than a club show."
While the idea of a community being cut off from the rest of the world, including cellphones and the Internet, lends itself to some allegorical interpretations, King cautions viewers not to look for deeper meanings. Whether he's writing a novel or executive producing a miniseries, King says, "the first time out, I'm just trying to scare the s--- out of you."
The series stars Montreal-born Rachelle Lefevre (two "Twilight" movies), Mike Vogel, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson and Dean Norris ("Breaking Bad") and counts Steven Spielberg and former "Lost" writers Brian K. Vaughan and Jack Bender among its executive producers.
It's set in the New England town of Chester's Mill, but shot in Wilmington, where tax credits, plus experienced crews ("Dawson's Creek," "One Tree Hill" and "Revolution" are all North Carolina productions) fuel a thriving TV industry.
At a red-carpet screening at the town's historic Thalian Hall Thursday night, the 65-year-old author hid his face in mock horror at the mention of another one of his adaptations — "Maximum Overdrive." That 1986 movie, also shot in Wilmington, drew two dreaded Golden Raspberry nominations. King has much higher hopes for "Under The Dome," calling this cast the best he's ever worked with.
Lefevre plays the editor of the town's newspaper. When she was first cast, the 33-year-old started reading King's novel, which clocks in at hefty 1,000 pages plus. Executive producers Neal Baer ("ER") and Vaughan told Lefevre and the others to hold off on the book, given that so many changes have been made for the series.
Entire characters are either added or missing. King saw the ambitious town sheriff character "Big Jim" (played by Norris) as a "Dick Cheney type." The producers say he is the town Machiavelli.
King gave the producers carte blanche to make any changes they see fit, quoting Elvis to them by saying, "It's your baby. You rock 'n' roll it now."
Lefevre said she was scared to meet King after reading some of his novels but says he is "sweet and funny" on the set, "walking around like a proud shepherd."
Her mother, she says, is his biggest fan. "She keeps threatening to fly down and ask for his autograph."
Being sequestered in Wilmington for the 13-episode shoot keeps the actors close and cosy, says Lefevre. Now a Los Angeles resident, she has long accepted this gypsy life she chose and compares working on TV shows to being at an extended summer camp.
This applies to friendships and relationships formed along the way, many of which end as soon as a cast scatters and moves on to another projects.
Or, as Lefevre puts it, "It's like your camp boyfriend always dumps you when school starts."
The busy redhead also has two big-budget feature films coming out: "White House Down" with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx and "Homefront" with James Franco and Jason Statham, from a screenplay co-written by Sylvester Stallone.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Wilmington, N.C., he was a guest of the Global television network.