Whoopi Goldberg, James Marsden, Odessa Young and more break down their characters in this apocalyptic saga about good versus evil.
Now unfolding on CBS All Access, the latest TV adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling 1978 novel, The Stand, tells the epic saga of good versus evil among survivors after a viral plague decimates the world’s population. At either end of what executive producer Ben Cavell calls “the forces of light and dark” are 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and the sinister Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), who have drawn a sprawling, eclectic group of followers played by the likes of James Marsden, Jovan Adepo and Odessa Young.
While speaking with ET, the ensemble helps break down their many characters who outlived the pandemic known as Captain Trips only to find themselves forced to take the ultimate stand between good versus evil amid a world gone mad.
Often appearing in a cornfield in people’s dreams, Abagail actually resides in Boulder, where many of her followers have gathered and established a new, mostly functioning colony of survivors. “She is a remarkable character in that it takes a minute to realize that she is kind of flawed and does not really see it until it is out of her control and things are happening,” Goldberg says of Abagail’s inability to see what dangers face them while still trying to bring in the remaining survivors.
Goldberg adds, “And so she has done what she was supposed to do, not necessarily the way she is supposed to do it. And she has to come to terms with that and make sure that she has gotten everyone where they need to be, not because she needs them to be there, but that is because that is what God has asked her to do.”
Among the key people who end up in Colorado is one of the earliest survivors of Captain Trips and veteran, Stu Redman (Marsden). “He’s a guy with a really strong moral code and really wants to be defined as somebody who’s virtuous and a good man,” Marsden says, adding that Redman is a reluctant hero, who “views himself as somebody who’s just doing the right thing.”
As he makes his way across the country, he encounters Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear), a professor and stoner who is at peace with what’s happened to society. “He’s a guy who at the beginning of the show is kind of checked out on society,” Kinnear says, adding that he doesn’t believe in “otherworldly things,” like creatures and forces that exist in fairy tales. However, as things “start to shift around him and for all these characters,” the actor explains, “he has to come to grips with suspicions of anything otherworldly and the reality of what he’s dealing with, which is a pretty dynamic change in a very short period of time.”
The pair also eventually crosses paths with two young survivors from Massachusetts, teenage outcast Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) and the pregnant Frannie Goldsmith (Young). Young, who appeared in Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation, describes her character as someone who “has a lot of weight on her shoulders, in terms of the responsibilities that she has in this new world. She is one of the people that Mother Abagail has specifically named to be on this committee to hold everything together.”
Despite that new responsibility, Young makes it clear that Frannie is still a 22-year-old pregnant young woman, “dealing with these growing pains of essentially trying to figure out what to do with her life.”
Another pair that ends up in Boulder is struggling musician Larry Underwood (Adepo) and private school teacher Nadine Cross (Amber Heard), who harbors some dark secrets she can’t quite understand. “It's Interesting because our characters, they don’t start out in a bond of trust, they don’t start out being the humans that they present to the world or that they would like to be to themselves,” Heard says of these troubled survivors, who eventually came across each other on their own journeys.
But as their true feelings and intentions emerge, the actress says, “it forces our path to diverge in a pretty real way and I think watching them earn that place of getting to that point where the road forks is really something.”
The other major pairing of survivors to make their way to Abagail is the deaf-mute drifter Nick Andros (Henry Zaga) and intellectually disabled Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke). “Tom Cullen maximizes Nick’s potential after he’s suffered through his whole life,” Zaga says of the duo who become key figures in Boulder, with Henke adding, “It was kind of these two lost souls finding each other and seeing each other.”
Other notable members of the Boulder colony include Abagail’s protector Ray Brentner (Irene Bedard), Teddy Weizak (Eion Bailey), the silent Joe (Gordon Cormier) who arrives with Underwood and Cross, Dayna Jurgens (Natalie Martinez) and the Judge (Gabrielle Rose).
Las Vegas, Nevada
Also known as the Dark Man, Flagg is on the opposite end of Abagail, also appearing in survivors’ dreams as a wolf. Those who take to his calling end up in Las Vegas, where vices run rampant.
Among his key followers is Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff), who was a petty criminal on a killing spree before the pandemic stranded him inside a jail cell. “Lloyd was my favorite character because of his desperation and lack of morals and being completely unethical,” says Wolff, who had a “blast” playing the character, adding, “he has a really nice arc.”
Another wildly eccentric survivor to end up in Vegas is Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara), who encounters Andros and Cullen on the road. “She’s definitely a character unlike any I have played,” says McNamara, who describes her as “the perfect intersection between Erin Brockovich, Harley Quinn, Elle Woods and Villanelle. In a way, she is this manic Tinker Bell of the apocalypse.”
McNamara, who is largely known for playing Mia Smoak in The CW’s Arrowverse, adds, “A lot of my time was spent with Nat Wolff and Alex Skarsgård and Fiona Dourif -- all of these people who just bring so much to every character. And it really was amazing just to get to jump in and play a character like this, having played superheroes for the last several years.”
In addition to Henreid and Lawry, other notable Vegas cohorts include a schizophrenic known as the “Trashcan Man” (Ezra Miller), “Rat Woman” (Dourif) and Bobby Terry (Clifton Collins Jr.).
Rounding out the cast are Hamish Linklater as Dr. Ellis, Daniel Sunjata as Cobb, J.K. Simmons as General Starkey and Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor, who are all pivotal to many of the main characters’ survival early in the pandemic.
New episodes of The Stand are available to stream every Thursday on CBS All Access.
--Additional reporting by Rachel Smith