HBO premiered The Outsider on January 12 and it serves another helping of Stephen King fare translated to TV. In it, Cynthia Erivo plays private investigator Holly Gibney who uses her uncanny abilities to help police detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn, who was unable to attend TCA as he was sick with pneumonia ) investigate a gruesome murder of a local boy that has a mysterious force surrounding the case. During HBO session at TCA, Erivo joined the drama’s executive producer/director/star Jason Bateman and executive producer/writer Richard Price via satellite from Tokyo to talk about the role, but she also addressed King’s latest comments about diversity in Hollywood.
Erivo was the only woman of color nominated for an Oscar in the acting categories. After the Oscar nominations were announced on Monday, King took to Twitter to comment on the lack of diversity in the categories.
“As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue–as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway–did not come up,” said King. “That said, I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”
He added, “The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.”
King’s comments garnered backlash and when asked about it, Erivo said that she can’t really can’t solve that balance of diversity and quality of work because she is part of that diversity. She said that the awards season was filled with a flurry of talented films featuring and created by people of color and women. She adds that it’s about those making decisions to “open their eyes and open doors” to people telling diverse stories.
“It’s up to people used to doing things a certain way to shake things up and do things to make sure the room reflects the world we live in,” said Erivo. “If I can help, I will.”
Her role in The Outsider is very diverse and intersectional as she says its a role for a woman of color that we seldom see. Holly is described as “neuro-diverse” and is closer to Asperger’s and Erivo wanted to make sure that she was not a caricature. “I wanted her to connect as much as she could,” she said. “With every connection, she is learning to communicate and allows people to figure out who she is and what she is experiencing.”
She adds, “Not all of us are good at communicating. With every connection, she’s learning to communicate & thread ideas”
Bateman and Price praise Erivo’s portrayal of Holly and talked about the challenges of adapting King’s novel — a task that has been done numerous times on film and TV.
“[King] gives you a good story and good characters but the book is not a teleplay so you have to convert all that to visuals — he had it all laid out [in the book],” said Price. “It started out as a police procedural and then it started to glide into supernatural and I always wanted to write something scary.”
“I’m not a huge horror fan,” admits Bateman. “I really love dread, thriller and tension. I was really excited that this story lived in Stephen King’s Shining world instead of his scare-and-shock world.”
“He’s not an author, he’s an army,” add Price. “It’s a brand name like Jell-O. He transcends authors — he’s an institution.”
The Outsider cast also includes series regulars Bill Camp, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Julianne Nicholson, Yul Vázquez, Jeremy Bobb, Marc Menchaca, along with Hettienne Park, Michael Esper, Derek Cecil and Max Beesley who are recurring.
Price executive produces with Bateman and Michael Costigan via Aggregate Films, Marty Bowen for Temple Hill Entertainment, Bender, Bernstein, who also directs multiple episodes and Dennis Lehane, who is a writer. MRC is the studio on the project, which is being produced by Bateman’s Aggregate Films and Temple Hill Entertainment in association with Civic Center Media. Mendelsohn also is a producer.