The actor, director and activist talks about his return to the Stephen King universe and his frustrations with the state of the US
Theres an unmissable sense of the now in the second season of Castle Rock, Hulus anthology series recombining the best-known works of Stephen King. The Maine hamlet of Jerusalems Lot, first dreamed up by the master of the macabre as a feral vampire stronghold, contends with a more earthbound set of problems in its newest iteration. The opioid epidemic sweeping New England has seeped into town, driving area pharmacists to install locked glass cases for select products. More pressing still is the mounting tension in town between the Somalian immigrant community and the largely Caucasian local populace, each distrustful and fearful of the other. The impending turf war reflects a widening cultural divide in American life, as xenophobic sentiments gain traction with an increasingly vocal faction of reactionaries.
Tim Robbins, who portrays Reginald Pop Merrill, an ailing Jerusalems Lot crime boss, is glad to talk about returning to Kings dark world for the first time since the ubiquitous 1994 adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption. He politely praises the variety of the novelists writing, the smoothness with which stories set in our own reality drift into more batshit crazy dimensions. But the 60-year-old actor really gets animated when conversation turns to the more broadly political subtext of the show, about tribalism and the average suburb as a battleground in the culture wars.
Theres a metaphorical element to this town, as a stand-in for small towns all over America, Robbins tells the Guardian from a hotel suite overlooking Central Park South, and from there hes off. Hes fine with talking showbiz but hes got bigger things on his mind.
Crime and punishment their arbitrary definitions, the imperfect methods by which theyre put into practice have taken up more of Robbins waking thought as of late. He sees jumping-off points for larger debates everywhere in his work. Musing on the shows depiction of a widespread drug addiction, Robbins says: We live in a society that has purposefully criminalized drug use as a punishment. He recently directed a documentary to this effect, using the feature 45 Seconds of Laughter to chronicle his time spent teaching prison inmates commedia dellarte as unconventional therapy.