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‘The Outsider’: Exploring the Horror of Dread in HBO’s Stephen King Adaptation

Jason Bateman and Cynthia Erivo reveal how the HBO series' seemingly simple crime narrative gradually unravels into a supernatural horror show.

"The Outsider"

Jason Bateman and Richard Price.

David Buchan/Variety/Shutterstock

The Outsider” is as much a true crime story as it is the kind of chilling horror tale that Stephen King has mastered. The HBO series, adapted from the author’s 2018 novel, might not fully lean into the horror that defined recent King adaptions, such as “It,” — but that was part of the appeal for series star and executive producer Jason Bateman, who also directed its first two episodes.

“I’m not a huge horror fan or into scare jumps, gore, or slashers (but) I really love dread, thrillers, tension and all that stuff,” Bateman said during a “The Outsider” panel at the Television Critics Association 2020 Winter Press Tour. “I was really excited that this story lived in more of a Stephen King ‘The Shining’ world, as opposed to some of his other great stories that are more in the frightening, scare, shock world.”

Bateman discussed “The Outsider” alongside series showrunner Richard Price and star Cynthia Erivo. The show follows a murder mystery where popular Little League coach Terry Maitland (Bateman) is charged with murdering and raping a child, though the seemingly open-and-shut case is soon complicated by a variety of contradictory evidence. As is to be expected from a King adaption — even one that isn’t strictly horror-focused — a malevolent supernatural force eventually reveals itself, with terrifying consequences.

The series’ first two episodes aired January 12 and new episodes will premiere on HBO every Sunday. As the mystery unravels in upcoming episodes, detectives will bring in private investigator Holly Gibney (Erivo) to help solve the case. Erivo, who answered audience questions via satellite from Tokyo, said she did not read the original novel when preparing to play the character due to her confidence in Price’s script and desire to make the character her own. She noted that the character was fleshed out and subverted stereotypes often associated with nonwhite and female characters.

“I knew that there was an oddity about her and I was intrigued by the fact, as a woman of color, I never really get to see these kind of women on screen,” Erivo said. “I wanted to make sure she was fully human, very much in-charge and that you actually got to know her in each episode. I was given a gift in the character.”

HBO’s “The Outsider” panel came a day after King drew criticism for tweeting that he “would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” Erivo addressed the tweet during the TCA panel and said there has been a recent flurry of quality work from diverse talents, and stressed that it was important to support quality television shows created by or starring such individuals.

As for Bateman, he only stars in the series’ first two episodes and said he took a smaller role in the series due to scheduling conflicts with “Ozark,” the award-winning Netflix crime drama he also stars in and executive produces. “The Outsider” is the latest television series that Bateman has worked on behind-the-scenes: He also served as executive producer on Showtime’s “Kidding” and Hulu’s upcoming “A Teacher.”

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