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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Stand’s Owen Teague on trawling incel forums and hating Harold Lauder

Illustration for article titled The Stand’s Owen Teague on trawling incel forums and hating Harold Lauder
Photo: Robert Falconoer / CBS All Access

[Warning: Spoilers for The Stand’s seventh episode follow.]

CBS All Access’ 10-episode adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is, like the book on which it’s based, an unwieldy beast overflowing with characters, ideas, gore, and more. Not every episode’s been a home run, but each has been enlivened by Owen Teague’s harrowing turn as Harold Lauder, a bullied teen who, in the wake of an apocalyptic pandemic, can’t stop his resentments from boiling over into violence. As we’ve noted, Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell’s new adaptation plants Harold, a supporting character in the novel, front and center, allowing his torn soul to serve as the story’s primary representation of free will as it exists in this struggle between the forces of good and evil.

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But, as we saw in last week’s “The Walk,” Harold’s story ends with both a bang and a whimper, with the character shooting himself after realizing he’s been played for a patsy by Randall Flagg, who’s set up his demonic new regime in Las Vegas. Teague, who movingly conveys the myriad conflicting emotions Harold feels in his final moments, took some time to speak with us about that final scene, as well as the character insights he was able to glean from reading fascist literature and incel forums.


The A.V. Club: So, you’re dead. What was that day of shooting like? 

Owen Teague: Well, first of all, it was actually three days. That sequence took us three days to shoot and it was three very long and very hard days, very cold. The production design team was so talented and they built a tree for me to be impaled on and then built this harness where I could be stable at this weird, suspended angle. My legs are all twisted up in the thing, and I thought it was really important to [emphasize] his broken leg. Stu also breaks his leg [in the episode] and it’s an important comparison, how both characters deal with that.

But yes, they had me stuck in this tree for three days and and I remember talking to Vincenzo [Natali, director] about the image of Harold being almost crucified. The whole image of the crucifixion being something that Flagg uses, but also being a kind of inverse of what we normally think of with a crucifixion. In terms of Harold’s character, it [represents] his way to some kind of redemption. Loosely used, of course, that term, because I’m not sure that he’s redeemable. But he definitely finds peace within himself or something like peace within himself in his final moments.

It was a tough three days, but I had a lot of fun, sort of. You know, going through that whole arc that Harold has at the end there where it all hits him, what he’s done and what kind of person that makes him and [the realization] of how Flagg used him.

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AVC: There’s just such a range of emotions there, from the seething rage at Nadine to the sense of humiliation of knowing he’s been used to the utter loneliness.

OT: Right. Yeah, it’s the only moment where he realizes how he created all of this for himself. The rest of the time he blames everybody else. He blames Stu and Fran, in particular, the whole committee, the bullies at his school, and his parents. The responsibility of his own downfall never lies on him until the very end. And then he’s like, “It did not have to be this way. I chose to go this route.”

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AVC: One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the series is how it plays up the concept of choice and free will as it exists within King’s text. Were those discussions happening on set?

OT: Yeah, and it was a really big part of just my own work at home, like figuring out Harold’s thought process in terms of Flagg and his path to Vegas and where he sits there. In the show he has a big thing with destiny. He talks about all this being destined and how he was meant to be the main character of this post-pandemic world. This was never really explored within the show, but I thought a lot about what Harold thinks will happen to him when he gets to Vegas. Like what he thinks his place there will be and how he fits into Flagg’s government.

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I went very much in on the book’s image of Vegas, which is like this kind of very ordered, fascist kind of place. And I started reading all these books when we were shooting—Machiavelli and some Nietzsche and others about how to build a society, how to govern a society. And that led me to traditionalism, which sort of coincided with Hitler’s rise to power, and [I thought about how] Harold’s ideas about government were very much drawn from people like Julius Evola and Machiavelli. His idea of government and society is punishing people who hurt him, which was something that I found just dipping into the internet forums of like incels and stuff like that. But Harold takes it to a whole other intellectual level, as he does with most things.

AVC: How would you say your relationship to Harold changed over that that period?

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OT: When I got the role, he was my favorite character on The Stand and in many ways still is. In a strange sort of way. I read that book for the first time when I was 13 and it’s one of my favorite books, so I was really excited when I got that role, and I think I very much empathized with Harold at the beginning. He’s so smart and so resourceful and also kind of has like a weird sort of charm, you know, in a very strange way. And I think that if he had had more courage, he could have fit right in on the committee and have been a really good person to have around. But as we got deeper into shooting and as [Harold] kind of succumbs more to Flagg’s influence, it was really odd, but I really started to not like him at all. At the end, I was glad to be done playing him because, it was weird, but I felt sort of bad about that character. That probably sounds kind of melodramatic, but he became really unpleasant and he was pretty unpleasant to begin with. [Pause.] He’s just so weak.

AVC: You can see some of that evolution in your performance, too. There’s a moment in episode six where Harold and Nadine are talking and then he abruptly chokes her. That was such a striking moment because it doesn’t feel born of Flagg, but rather an inherent misogyny that Harold has carried with him. Would you say that your ickiness with the character was related to that realization?

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OT: Absolutely. There’s a parallel between between him and Flagg, where Flagg feels entitled to Nadine and Harold feels entitled to Frannie. This “ownership” thing just feels bad, I think, because it’s true, there are so many guys like that who think that way and act that way. It just felt really, really dirty to me. Everything about that kind of mindset is just gross. That was kind of the main thing that felt so icky about Harold.

AVC: You mentioned you were reading incel forums. What else did you take away from those?

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OT: Well, there’s a lot of a lot of parallels on those kinds of websites between the whole misogyny mindset and the alt-right movement, which I think is where where the traditionalism philosophy kind of came from in terms of me figuring out where Harold sees himself in Vegas. But there’s also this really sad, lonely rage that all those guys have. And it’s an interesting rage, too, because it’s so self directed. It comes out at the rest of the world, but it’s really about yourself. It’s very self-fulfilling. They’ll get in these chat rooms and kind of beat each other down. But that’s what they’re there for, to be sadistically treated by the other people in those forums. It’s bizarrely masochistic and and just really, really reinforces their own belief that they are less than everybody else.

AVC: Speaking of icky things, did you get to see your buzzard-eaten face on set? Because that is horrifying. 

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OT: [Laughs.] I got sent some pictures of it by some of the other cast members as they were shooting with it. They put me in a head and upper torso cast. Somewhere in Vancouver there’s just a just a life-sized replica of the upper-third of my body just sitting on a shelf.

AVC: When we spoke to showrunner Benjamin Cavell, he called Harold the sort of secret protagonist of the story. Would you agree with that? 

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OT: Yes, in a way. I mean, he certainly was for me, but my view of people that I play is often warped. [Laughs.] It’s a different thing when you’re looking at it from inside. But Harold kind of bridges the two worlds of Colorado and Vegas. I don’t know if he’s a protagonist. He’s definitely not a real “villain-villain,” but I think he’s the most real-world disturbing of the characters on the show, because I think there are a lot of Harolds out there. It’s good to understand where he’s coming from, but I don’t know if I’d want people to side with him.

AVC: You’ve been in several King adaptations now. Did you grow up a King fan?

OT: Oh, yeah. I started reading him when I was probably 10 or 11. I just remember being in fifth grade and reading The Eyes Of The Dragon, which I’ve heard from a lot of other people is their first King book, which is funny because it’s the least horrifying of all of them. But it includes Flagg, which is fun because here I am a decade or so later and Flagg is still something that is in my life.

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But I remember reading that book when I was 10 and then to The Dark Tower, which was quite the jump, going from one of his lightest books to, you know, his Lord Of The Rings equivalent. And then after I read that series, I read The Stand and then kind of just worked my way through his other novels. But he’s been one of my favorite authors for a long time.

AVC: Have you met him yet?

OT: No. I’ve met both of his sons. Owen [King] wrote on the show and then I worked with Joe Hill on another thing. But I haven’t met King himself. Maybe someday.

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Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.