‘The Stand’ delivers chills for star Heather Graham

One of the most unsettling moments in “The Stand” depends on an eerie stillness. A limited-event series from CBS All Access that premieres Thursday, “The Stand” fills its first few episodes with a chaotic tour of the apocalypse. It’s no spoiler to say the series — based on Stephen King’s novel about a world decimated by plague — features plenty of blood, backstabbing, doom and death.
But we meet Heather Graham’s character, Rita Blakemoor, looking all too serene in a laid-to-waste New York City. Her quiet and calm evoke a deep fear in the viewer. Graham and series creator Josh Boone (“The Fault in Our Stars,” “The New Mutants”) built a window in an apocalypse with a single character.
To prepare for “The Stand,” Graham worked with acting coach Warner Loughlin to flesh out a full pre-apocalypse backstory for her character.
“I created basically an entire life story, memories of my childhood at the age of five, at the age of six, where I was born,” Graham told the Herald. “It really pays off. I almost wrote a novel about this woman’s life.”
While Graham helped construct her character, she didn’t have to do much work on the world Blakemoor is dropped into. She says CBS and Boone poured a ton of money, energy and detail into “The Stand.”
“They spent as much money on this as a huge movie,” Graham said. Then she reflects on a scene that recreates a scary, desolate New York City. “The set was just awesome. I think everyone got the chills. There were all these capsized cars and buses and all these dead bodies everywhere. The art department and production design were really incredible.”
Graham is part of a huge ensemble cast that includes Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, James Marsden, Jovan Adepo, Amber Heard and Greg Kinnear. But, in a fun and totally-unnerving twist, the show kills off characters at an alarming rate. You never know if it’s the A-list actor or the unknown who makes it to the next episode.
“It’s kind of like Drew Barrymore in ‘Scream’ where you are expecting the person to be the lead and then they suddenly die,” Graham said. “They did that in ‘Contagion’ too.”
If you haven’t seen “Contagion,” you might be part of the group avoiding plague movies like the, well, plague — Graham herself has been watching more comedies these days. “The Stand” started production long before Covid, but it’s creepy to have the series out now (thankfully, it arrives at the same time as a vaccine). For those in the group that can’t get enough of pandemic fiction, “The Stand” will be a wonderfully-intense indulgence alongside “Contagion,” “The Andromeda Strain” and every zombie movie ever made.
“If something is really good, it’s worth watching even if you aren’t sure about the genre or the moment,” she said. “And I just think Stephen King is brilliant and the story is pretty epic. I actually haven’t seen it all yet, and I can’t wait to watch it.”
“The Stand” is available via CBS All Access.

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