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James Marsden: There was a ‘strange feeling’ on the set of ‘The Stand’
James Marsden stars in the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Stand” as Stu, an everyman who’s caught in an apocalyptic pandemic.
Premiering Thursday, Dec. 17 on CBS All Access and based on King’s novel first published in 1978, “The Stand” follows a large cast of characters whose lives intersect after a deadly strain of flu wipes out most of the world’s population — leaving the survivors to fight and establish new social systems. It was previously adapted for a 1994 ABC miniseries starring Gary Sinise as Stu.
“I love that it isn’t just about survival,” Marsden, 47, tells The Post. “It becomes this existential and spiritual journey. What happens when we hit the reset button? Who do we become and what choices do we make? I like exploring all those themes.
“And to do it in this company and in one of Stephen King’s greatest works — count me in.”
In addition to the kindhearted Texan Stu, “The Stand” includes sininister villain Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard); mysterious prophet Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg), who’s 108-years-old; and troubled Nadine Cross (Amber Heard).
“I read the book when I was 19 or 20,” says Marsden. “It was not an easy read; it was dense but rich with character and philosophies. I think it’s one of [King’s] absolute best. I re-read it coming into this just to re-familiarize myself.
“Stu is kind of written as this cowboy who makes everyone feel calm and provides a sense of stability to everything,” he says. “He’s very levelheaded [and] sort of a natural leader even if he doesn’t want the spotlight or the microphone, per se.”
Marsden is no stranger to playing a good-guy types. He’s known for a wide variety of roles across genres, from sci-fi epics (“Westworld”) to big-screen musicals (“Enchanted,” “Hairspray”) to superhero fare (the “X-Men” franchise). But many of his characters are grounded in morality — and that’s where his interests lie, he says.
“[Stu] reminded me of some of these classic golden age Hollywood heroes. Your Gary Coopers and your Gregory Pecks,” he says. “These men that, even in the face of adversity and with the world crashing down around them – when it’s really difficult to do the right thing, they still do. And sometimes that can be boring and not very flashy or fun, but I like to celebrate those kinds of characters. Good guys sometimes don’t get their due.”
“The Stand” is an uncanny example of life imitating art, as a fictional pandemic show coming out amidst the COVID pandemic. Shooting on the series wrapped in mid-March shortly before the first round of industry-wide shutdowns.
“At the time, even before COVID hit, we never thought we were making a show about a pandemic. We understood that to be the catalyst; the striking of the match that lights the fuse for the bigger story to be told,” Marsden says. “The story is about what happens when there’s a reset. How do we rebuild society and the emerging battle between good and evil and the choices that we make in our lives moving forward?
“That said, it’s impossible to ignore parallels,” he says. “In February and March, we started seeing masks popping up on set and everybody was looking at each other like, ‘How worried should we be — and how strange is it that we’re doing a show that begins with something like this?’
“It was a strange feeling for sure.”