The latest news circulating about the Josh Boone directed movie adaptation of [The Stand](movie:671266) is reason to get excited. Hugely excited. Warner Bros. is looking to cast the hottest actor working right now: Matthew McConaughey. And he's being courted for the role of none other than Randall Flagg, the most enduring and malevolent character in King's entire universe.
If this is true, consider me 110% on board. McConaughey would be deliciously evil as King's ultimate villain, with the mix of charming and sinister that has helped make the character iconic. And it is so important to cast Randall Flagg correctly, more important than the casting of any other character in The Stand.
Why? Because if King's idea of the Dark Tower is the axis upon which the author's entire mythos has revolved (literally and figuratively), then Randall Flagg is the chaotic evil at the heart of it, working tirelessly throughout the years to completely f**k shit up. Randall Flagg is the shadow slipping through time, the creepy tingle at the back of your neck, the primal scream locked in your throat the moment you wake from a nightmare. If you don't already, learn to fear him. Fear him well.
He's had many names and many faces
No one knows exactly how old Randall Flagg is, or even his real name. Stephen King's Dark Tower series finally revealed to us that Flagg was born Walter Padick in Delain of Mid-World, but even that may be a lie. The Man in Black, Marten Broadcloak, Walter O'Dim, the Walkin' Dude, the Covenant Man, the Dark Man, the Ageless Stranger, He Who Walks Behind the Rows, Maerlyn, the Man With No Face, these are all names the quasi-immortal Flagg has been called over the centuries. And he's adopted a dozen more himself when it's suited his purpose. His names almost always have to do with being dark or dim, that convey a certain slipperiness - the thing in the corner of your eye you make yourself forget because it's just too horrible to remember.
He can change his face at will, learning glamour as he taught himself sorcery, necromancy, prophecy, and the ability to control the minds of human and animal alike. While most villains are killed within the pages of a single story, or a series, The Walkin' Dude is a true antagonist, popping up again and again throughout King's body of work, always with a different name, a different face. Still, every time, you know it's him - no one can work evil like evil personified. If there is a monster at the heart of a Stephen King novel, it's almost certain that Flagg is the man behind the monster pulling the strings...and laughing about it.
He terrifies even Stephen King
If Randall Flagg is the nightmare at the center of your mind, then he's haunted no one's mind like he has Stephen King himself. He has been mentioned in Salem's Lot, and appeared in no less than 10 novels including The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Hearts in Atlantis. He's the most visible antagonist in all 7 books of the Dark Tower series, King's life-long obsession and magnum opus, and companion story The Wind Through the Keyhole. He's appeared in the comic book adaptations of both The Stand and The Gunslinger, as well as getting his own spin-off series arc, Sorcery. Lastly, he's been a character in the Haven TV series based on King's The Colorado Kid.
That is a hell of a lot of time for a writer to focus on one fictional character. King has admitted that Randall Flagg has been a presence at the back of his mind ever since he started writing, the companion of decades. And he was created as King's idea of ultimate embodiment of evil:
I think the Devil is probably a pretty funny guy. Flagg is like the archetype of everything that I know about real evil, going back all the way to Charles Starkweather in the '50s — he is somebody who is empty and who has to be filled with other people's hates, fears, resentments, laughs. Flagg, Koresh, Jim Jones, Hitler — they're all basically the same guy.
And the scariest thing of all is his message, the unique driving motivation that he always brings with him, regardless of name or face or time:
I know all the things that you want and I can give them to you, and all you have to do is give me your soul...which really isn't worth that much, anyway.
It's the reason why King started his Dark Tower series, his life's work, with one of modern literature's most recognizable opening lines: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed...
He is a complete wild card
I used the phrase "chaotic evil" before for a reason. Flagg is the most human, believable kind of evil: He's not two-dimensional. He has feelings. Sometimes, he is helpful on a whim - or at least for far-reaching reasons as yet unknown. The most terrifying thing about him isn't that he is evil, but that he is unpredictable in that evil. It might be that he's batshit, bugf*ck crazy (and very probably is). It could be him changing his mind thanks to an inkling of precognition. It could simply be boredom. It could be all, or none, or more. There are simply no absolutes or rules with Flagg, and that is why he is so erratic and timeless. How do you catch someone if you never know where he is heading, if he doesn't even know? The only constant is that whenever there have been moments in history with deep pools of pain, chaos, death, Flagg has been at the center of them and laughing.
The scariest thing is that he truly doesn't care. Not about life, and certainly not about death. As he said to the Gunslinger in The Dark Tower:
As for the end of the universe…I say let it come as it will, in ice, fire, or darkness. What did the universe ever do for me that I should mind its welfare?
It's not his anger that is terrifying; it's his indifference. His only goal is to bring down civilizations, just because he can.
He is capable of some truly horrific things
Make no mistake. Simply because Flagg is capable of being helpful from time to time doesn't mean he is doing it for any other reason than to toy with his adversaries or set them up for an even greater torment later. Flagg is an agent of chaos, a servant of the Outer Dark. And he is capable of some truly terrifying things.
He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall dead off telephone lines...the grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He's always outside. He came out of time...He has the name of a thousand demons. Jesus knocked him into a herd of pigs once. His name is Legion. He's afraid of us...He knows magic. He can call the wolves and live in the crows...He's the king of nowhere. - Tom Cullen, The Stand
When he was 13, he supposedly burned down his family's home out of boredom. He's studied so much black magic that there is more demon within him than human remaining. He remembers playing a role in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. He's been a bloodthirsty Marine, a member of the KKK, and one of the Viet Cong. He's been known to use crucifixion and torture against those of his followers who break from the flock. He once turned a man into a howling dog simply for annoying him. He can cause a person to get cancer just from a touch, and is a master manipulator, preying upon not simply the evil but the weak and lost and lonely. He's been involved in infanticide, matricide, regicide, and genocide. Arson and plague and wars. He's manipulated followers to the point of insanity and then cast them away when they were no longer useful to him.
Putting all that together, is it no wonder that Warner Bros. is hoping to land an actor of McConaughey's caliber to play the Walkin' Dude? Just read how he is described in The Stand:
There was a dark hilarity in his face, and perhaps in his heart, too, you would think—and you would be right. It was the face of a hatefully happy man, a face that radiated a horrible handsome warmth, a face to make water glasses shatter in the hands of tired truck-stop waitresses, to make small children crash their trikes into board fences and then run wailing to their mommies with stake-shaped splinters sticking out of their knees. It was a face guaranteed to make barroom arguments over batting averages turn bloody.
If anyone can charm the pants off an audience with an easy smile and laid-back drawl in one moment and then turn to chilling malevolence the next, it's McConaughey. McConaughey is at his best when he brings the weird, and there is no role weirder than that of Randall Flagg.
Basically what I'm saying is...sign me up.