Stephen King Wanted John Candy To Star In One Of His 1990s Adaptations: ‘We'll Pay Him A Nice Chunk Of Money, And We'll Save His Life’


Back in early November, one of the sections in The King Beat was dedicated to the announcement of a brand new Stephen King Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Following wonderful work done for films including Carrie, Creepshow, The Dead Zone, and more, the boutique home video distributor announced that they would be developing a Collector’s Edition for director Tom Holland’s 1996 film Thinner. I placed a pre-order, and my copy arrived in the mail this week.

As I previously expressed in my Adapting Stephen King column about the movie, Thinner is not one of my favorite King films, and it hasn’t aged very well, but Scream Factory has put together a wonderful set that provides some interesting insight into the making of the film. As such, this week’s edition of The King Beat centers entirely on that work, starting with the fact that Stephen King had a specific idea of who should play protagonist Billy Halleck.

Robert John Burke as Billy Halleck in Thinner
Robert John Burke as Billy Halleck in Thinner

John Candy Was Stephen King’s Pick For The Lead In Thinner, But The Actor Turned Down The Part

Thinner was not an easy movie to get made. The book, which was published in 1984, had some cache upon release because of the revelation that the credited author, Richard Bachman, was Stephen King’s pseudonym, but the project was routinely rejected by studios and spent over five years in development hell. During that time, a lot of things about the movie changed, including the targets to play the lead character. The role eventually went to Robert John Burke, but at one point, King personally wanted the role of Billy Halleck to be played by the great John Candy.

One of the exclusive special features on the new Thinner Blu-ray is a commentary track featuring an interview with producer Mitchell Galin, and he shares the story of how the production targeted and reached out to John Candy with an offer to play the lead. Prior to the beloved Canadian star’s shocking death in March 1994, King wanted him to play the lead in Thinner and perhaps use it as professional means of losing weight. It was more than a joke, as Galin explained that a legitimate effort was made to cast him. It didn’t work out:

We did reach out to [John] Candy’s people. Steve’s comment was like, ‘We’ll pay him a nice chunk of money, and we’ll save his life.’ (laughs) And for whatever reason – Candy was either busy, or he didn’t spark to [the material]… I really have no idea. At some point, you put it out there, if it doesn’t get the response you want, at the end of the day, I really don’t care. Unless it’s something needful, a person that can help you in the process of moving forward.

In Thinner, Billy Halleck is an obese lawyer who negligently hits and kills a Romani woman with his car. When he uses his connections with the local police and the judge in the case to dismiss all charges, he is approached by the woman’s father and plagued with a curse: no matter how much he eats, he will continue to lose weight until he perishes.

The part would have required John Candy to go significantly outside of his wheelhouse, as while he did do some dramatic work during his career (Oliver Stone’s JFK comes to mind), Thinner would have been a horse of a different color. He evidently wasn’t game for it. Galin continues on the commentary track, saying,

The fact is he didn’t spark to the material or didn’t want to do it; whatever the reason, you respect it, and you go, ‘These people make decisions all the time, make those creative decisions.’ And you got to be respectful that they know what they can do and what they can’t do. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but that’s not for you to make that determination. So, we did reach out to him, we didn’t get positive feedback, and then we started the process of looking for the lead, and I was a big fan of Robert Burke.

In the making of Thinner, Robert John Burke wore a fat suit and had extensive makeup work done for the scenes early in the film when Billy Halleck is at his biggest, but the actor also ended up losing 20 pounds during production so that he could best play the scenes in the third act where Billy is practically skeletal. When one thinks about it, it would have been ambitious but also extremely unpractical for the film to try and base a production schedule on John Candy losing an extreme amount of weight. I will now forever wonder what would have happened if Candy said, “Yes.”

John Horton as Judge Cary Rossington in Thinner
John Horton as Judge Cary Rossington in Thinner

Thinner Director Tom Holland Reveals The Horrific Scene That He Regrets Cutting From The Stephen King Movie

About 30 minutes into Thinner, there is an emotional dialogue that plays out between Billy Halleck and Leda Rossington (Elizabeth Franz) – the wife of the local judge who acquitted Billy of vehicular manslaughter charges. Taken straight from the book, the scene has the protagonist showing up to the Rossington house and learning that he isn’t the only person who has been cursed, as the judge started developing lizard-like scales and had to be sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for tests. It’s a good and freaky beat in the film, but it’s also the cause of much regret for director Tom Holland because what’s featured replaced a much more ambitious and scarier idea that he had.

The new Thinner Collector’s Edition Blu-ray includes a new featurette called “Weight Of The World: An Interview With Director Tom Holland,” and it is in this 17-minute video that the filmmaker discusses what the aforementioned scene was supposed to be. According to Holland, there was a plan to deviate from the book and not only have the judge be at home when Billy arrives, but essentially transformed into a “Gill Man” who has to live in the bathtub. The filmmaker explains,

I made further adjustments while I was shooting because of all the pressure – to cut the effects sequences, the kills. And they did that because that stuff is expensive to do, and if actors are just talking, it’s a lot less. And I gave up the judge as the ‘gill man’ in the bathtub. I turned that into a dialogue scene with the judge’s wife. And I have regretted it ever since! Every time I see that movie, I say, ‘Where is the gill man judge in the bathtub?’ And I’m very, very sorry I did that. Better they would have fired me; I wish I had told them to do it at the time.

Tom Holland goes on to explain that during production, he was suffering the symptoms of Bell's palsy (a condition where half of a person’s face becomes paralyzed), and the condition in combination with the other special effects-heavy sequences in Thinner led him to make some compromises on set that he wishes he didn’t make.

There is a dream sequence later in the film featuring Judge Cary Rossington (John Horton) in some horrific makeup – as featured in the screenshot at the top of this section – but it’s unclear if it’s the same design that Holland had in mind for the bathtub.

Robert John Burke and Joe Mantegna in Thinner
Robert John Burke and Joe Mantegna in Thinner

Thinner’s New Blu-ray From Scream Factory Is An Outstanding Upgrade From The Previous Release

To be frank (and to reiterate sentiments from above), I don’t like Thinner, and I think it’s one of the worst Stephen King movies. The film unquestionably has impressive special effects and makeup, and I appreciate that its ending is even darker than what is featured in the Stephen King book, but both the adaptation and the source material play on outdated stereotypes that haven’t let the movie age well, and it’s hard to connect with the story when all of the principal characters are repugnant.

That being said, I am incredibly glad that this new Thinner Collector’s Edition Blu-ray exists, as it is a massive upgrade when compared to previous domestic home video releases. When Olive Films released a Blu-ray in 2012, it had zero special features and a limited Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio track. Scream Factory’s disc includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround and Stereo track that pairs with three commentaries (including the one mentioned earlier in this column with producer Mitchell Galin). As was announced back in December, the package also includes numerous featurettes in addition to the Tom Holland interview quoted earlier. There are conversations with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Vincent Guastini and actor Lucinda Jenney, and there is a vintage behind-the-scenes look at the movie called “The Magic Of Special Effects Make-Up.”

If you love Thinner, or you’re just like me and ever-hoping to build the Ultimate Stephen King collection, this new Blu-ray is terrific.

Elevation cover
Elevation cover

Recommendation Of The Week: Elevation

The easy Recommendation Of The Week to conclude this column would be suggesting that all of you Constant Readers pick up a copy of Thinner, but A) I try and avoid recommending novels in this space, and B) as mentioned, I’m not a big fan. Instead, I’m going to suggest a title that plays with similar supernatural ideas but is ultimately more positive and uplifting: the super short 2018 book Elevation.

One of Stephen King’s most recent Castle Rock stories, Elevation centers on a man named Scott Carey who has a very peculiar problem: though his body isn’t changing at all, he is losing weight at an exceptionally fast pace – and what makes the circumstance even more peculiar is that anything he carries with him on to a scale registers as weightless. It’s a growing source of concern that ends up coinciding with an on-going conflict with a lesbian couple who are trying to open a restaurant in town. While Thinner can be described as a mean-spirited work (like much of the Richard Bachman oeuvre), Elevation offers optimism, and my fingers remained crossed that the film adaptation eventually moves forward.

That does it for this week’s edition of The King Beat, but my next column will be live on CinemaBlend next Thursday, and you can spend the time between now and then checking out installments of my Adapting Stephen King series.