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Despite a reputation Ior being lunny in public and depressed in private, it wasn't the title that attracted director Rob Reiner to Misery, the second StephenKing novel he has iilmed. Far more important was the personal aiilnity he ielt with its subject matter. In the book, best-selling'novelist Paul Sheldon is trapped in a snowbound house with his dangerously eccentric ‘number one lan’, Annie Wilkes. But Sheldon, the author oi several best-selling romance novels, aspires to write more personal, gritty and realistic books. So, even beiore he is imprisoned with Annie, he leels trapped by the expectations oi his readers.
As a young actor, Reiner suitered a similar experience, when he tried to escape irom his role as the son-in-Iaw, Meathead, in the most popular American television series oi its time, All In The Family. Eventually the series - a Stateside version ol Till Death Us Do Part-came to an end.
But Meathead’s ians'were reluctant to let him go. ‘That's exactly the reason why I was drawn to Misery,’ he says.
‘Because when I left the show,
FROM HEATHEAD T0 MISERY
everybody wanted me to continue doing this character, Mealhead, in a spin-oil TV series with the actress who played my wlte in the series. I didn’t wanna do it, so they threw a lot oi money at me, an enormous amount oi money. But I said, “No, I wanna make ﬁlms." ,
‘It took lour years irom when I tinished the show till the time I got to make my iirst iilm, Spinal Tap, and it was a very ditiicult time. So I know what it ieels like to want to grow and change, when your audience doesn't want you to.’
On the iace oi it, Reiner’s decision to make Misery appears to contradict a remark make by him when he and his partners lormed their independent production company Castle Rock: ‘We’ll make good iilms in all genres, though I categorically rule out horror.’ I Does that mean Reiner has changed his mind, or that he doesn’t consider , Misery to be a horror iilm? I
‘I don’t consider this a horror iilm,‘ he insists. ‘There are certainly elements at horror in it, but ol me a horror iilm is Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday The 13th, or the more traditional Stephen King iilms like Pet Sematary. Misery is more oi a psychological suspense thriller.’
This shiit oi emphasis is particularly evident in Kathy Bates’ subtly skewed portrayal oi Annie Wilkes. ln King’s book, Annie is simply a monster; in Reiner’s iilm, she has become a more complex, at times quirklly sympathetic, character. ‘That was a very conscious decision we all made — Kathy, the scriptwriter William Goldman and mysell—to make Annie a very real, very specilic sick person. As opposed to an all-purpose movie monster, like Freddy Krueger or Jason.
‘To me, Misery is a character piece, a
psychological chess matchbetween these two people, Paul and Annie. And in order ior it to work on that level you
need to create very real characters. Annie, because oi her sickness and her psychotic nature, could tend to become cartoonish. So we worked very hard to give her a pathology that was consistent with her kind oi behaviour.’ Reiner and Goldman researched a number oi real-lite cases, then used the iniormation gathered to held Bates create Annie’s peculiar madness. ‘We looked at tapes oi these people and the thing that l iound interesting about all at them was that they seemed, on the suriace at least, to be very normal. I could imagine having conversations with these people and going away thinking, she seemed like a nice, regular person, and then being horrilied to iind out later the sort oi 5 things that they had done. ; ‘So that was the way we handled Annie. She was kind oi sweet but also a « little odd: alter all, she does have a pet ! pig, and she does use these weird 1 words in place oi dirty words, and she . does love Liberace. So there’s an oil-ness to her, but ii she wasn’t given to these tits at rage, you might think, “Well, she’s iust a kind oi nice, sweet, eccentric lady." '
The List I7—30May 19919