Production is underway on “Castle Rock” Season 2. Hulu’s Stephen King anthology series shifts its focus to Annie Wilkes’ origin story, and it’s bringing in a director from Season 1 who knows a thing or two about telling creative origin stories about complex characters: Greg Yaitanes is directing the Season 2 premiere.
“I’m directing the first episode [and] an episode later in the season, too,” Yaitanes told IndieWire. “[Co-creator] Dusty [Thomason] pitched me a departure episode later in the season that was too enticing to say no to, [but] I was happy to come in to launch the season. […] It was great to get that call.”
Yaitanes directed the award-winning eighth episode of “Castle Rock” Season 1, titled “The Queen,” and he said the team learned a lot from how well that entry connected with viewers.
“We wanted to evolve the look on a visual level, and move [more] and be with characters more,” he said. “One of the things that worked well with ‘The Queen’ was point of view. That episode had a strong point of view of character, so [we’re] bringing that into Annie’s story and giving the show […] more urgency this year, more tension. We’re taking the things that worked well in Season 1 and taking them up a level.”
Yaitanes said directing “The Queen” was a “career high” since winning the Emmy for “House” in 2008. A self-described “Stephen King nerd,” the director said he used to read King’s books during downtimes working at the movie theater, and he read all of “Misery” on the way to freshman orientation at film school.
“To come back this year to launch a new season, a new story, a new cast — it was epic,” he said. “Just to be able to geek out and be responsible for Annie Wilkes’ origin story, that’s my Stephen King nerd dream come true.”
Originally brought to the screen by Kathy Bates in the Oscar-winning 1990 adaptation of “Misery,” the new season stars Lizzy Caplan as Wilkes, who gets waylaid in Castle Rock as a fight between two warring clans overwhelms the town. Tim Robbins, who starred in the Oscar-nominated “Shawshank Redemption,” will play Reginald “Pop” Merrill, the patriarch of King’s iconic crime family. Dying of cancer and at a reckoning with his family, Pop butts heads with John “Ace” Merrill (played by Paul Sparks), who’s not only trying to take over, but is also threatening a fragile peace with nearby Jerusalem’s Lot.
Yaitanes, who finished shooting the premiere episode this week, said Season 2 takes place “on the heels” of Season 1 — meaning pre-existing characters are fair game, even if no one is confirming any cast member’s return.
“We’re seeing more of Castle Rock than we did last year. It’s set back in the town,” Yaitanes said. “We’re going back to familiar places, and [also] new places the story didn’t touch on.”
The director said he had longer to shoot the premiere than any single episode on any series he’s done in the past, promising “a lot of story” to dig through for fans — including more King-centric Easter Eggs.
“There was some imagery that was important as someone who sat in that movie theatre between showings reading Stephen King that I wanted to make sure we tagged,” Yaitanes said. “Whether it was a map on a wall or somebody referencing something or ways to kind of tell the story and use the camera to really tell it. I wanted to focus on camera and character, and ‘The Queen’ is a good example of what I’m trying to bring to Season 2 of ‘Castle Rock.'”
“Castle Rock” is currently eligible in the limited series categories at this year’s Emmys, including Yaitanes’ direction of “The Queen.” Yaitanes rigged up a special arrangement on set so he could edit the episode as he was shooting it, in order for star Sissy Spacek to be able to provide precise reactions to the transition scenes. Framed through her character’s fracturing mind, Ruth (Spacek) pulled the audience through her memories, using chess pieces to keep track of what was happening in the present as Alzheimer’s Disease sent her spiraling through time.
“Sometimes the scenes would be like a week apart, and if she turned around too fast or too slow, it breaks the spell very quickly,” Yaitanes said of the shoot. “This episode pulls out all the tricks of my career. There was stuff in this that I started doing in film school and learned the lessons then of how to make it work. With Sissy, I made sure that she could see in real time that the performance was great, everything was perfect, but we just had to slow it down a little bit — then she could see exactly how to measure it.”
“Castle Rock” Season 2 has not yet announced a premiere date. Season 1 is available to stream on Hulu.