Twisted Firestarter

May 6, 2022
The Stephen King novel is adapted again in this Blumhouse production starring Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong.

Zac Efron sang and danced his way through High School Musicals, Hairspray and The Greatest Showman. He made us laugh in 17 Again and Bad Neighbours, and fall in love in New Year’s Eve and The Lucky One. He made young girls swoon in, well, just about everything, and even scared the hell out of us as serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

And just when you thought the former teen idol had done everything, he surprises us again with his first horror role, starring in a new adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter, first brought to the big screen in 1984, starring Drew Barrymore and Heather Locklear.

Directed by Keith Thomas (The Vigil), this reboot pairs Efron with Sydney Lemmon (Fear the Walking Dead, Succession) as parents Andy and Vicky, trying to protect their young daughter Charloe who possesses extraordinary pyrokinetic powers.

Andy and Vicky are good parents, whose lives were turned upside down after they were exposed to an experimental drug called Lot Six during their college years. After their daughter inherits their powers – to a much higher degree – they will do anything to protect her.

“As a huge fan of the horror genre, I was so excited about this opportunity when it came about,” says Efron, 34. “I remember seeing Firestarter as a kid and absolutely loved it! It was so much fun working with the cast and crew to bring this Stephen King classic to a younger generation.”

Veteran horror producer Jason Blum was impressed, “Zac was a terrific partner to us,” he says.

“He’s a consummate professional and was dedicated to the role and has great creative instincts. We got some great notes from him after the first cut of the film, and I think they made his character stronger and made the movie a lot better.”

Not only did Efron’s passion for the role bring his character to life, but it kept his cast members engaged too. “Zac was dedicated to exploring the fatherhood aspect of the role,” says director Keith Thomas.

If Drew Barrymore was just nine years old when she appeared in the first film adaptation of Firestarter, two years after her break-out performance in E.T., then filmmakers knew they needed to find the perfect young actress to follow in her footsteps, looking no further than Ryan Kiera Armstrong (Black Widow, It Chapter Two, The Tomorrow War), who blew them away in her audition.

“Zac spent a lot of time with Ryan before and during shooting to really form that relationship with her. You need that kind of passion and dedication in the people that lead a film,” says Thomas.

“They developed a great bond both understanding each other as actors and being able to navigate scenes. And when you’re thinking on the actorly level of ‘I need to say this dialogue and you’ve got this and we’re reacting this way’, they were great at that.

“But then underneath that was a real chemistry where Zac took a very fatherly role in terms of how he interacted with Ryan. They had a lot of time when we were offset, when I was setting up another scene, when the two of them were hanging out. And I would hear all sorts of giggling and there were pranks being pulled on each other and it was clear they got along really well and that translated exactly to what I was hoping would happen,” he adds.

The role was different from anything 11-year-old Armstrong had ever done before. “I had more time to discover the character than I had for any other role. I had months to prep and learn about Charlie and how she functions with this ability to move things and create fire with her mind,” says the young actress.

But Armstrong doesn’t see her character as a beast or a monster. “Some might see Charlie as a villain because of what she’s capable of, but I think she’s a hero,” Armstrong says. “She doesn’t want to be a monster or to hurt people, and her actions are never intended to be mean. She only uses her powers to protect herself and her family, and I think I would do the same thing for my family, if I was in her position.”

Armstrong discovered she had a lot in common with her character. “I actually drew some of the drawings that are on the wall in her bedroom in the film, so it was fun to share that with Charlie,” she says. “Andy and Charlie’s relationship also reminds me of my relationship with my own dad. My dad is so supportive of me, so I looked to my relationship with him as an example of what Charlie would be like with her dad. I put a lot of myself into my portrayal of the character.”

If Armstrong is too young to have had a crush on Efron during his High School Musical days, then she grew to appreciate him like a father figure. “We ended up having a little lunch at my house where he actually kicked my butt in ping pong, and I lost dramatically. It was a great first impression.

“He was a sweetheart and really funny. Throughout the whole film, we got that ability to discover the storyline together, which was really important because I know not only is this movie about fire in the abilities, but it’s also a movie about family and it’s great that we could have that family dynamic and our relationship just clicked and it was great,” she says.

Thomas [left] hopes that he’s delivered a version of Firestarter that is true to the original novel and highlights the depth and breadth of King’s storytelling skills, which transcend genre. “Firestarter is not what a lot of people might think of when they think of Stephen King,” muses Thomas. “They might think of It or The Shining. But in this, we don’t have ghosts or monsters, so it was important to utilise these interesting characters that King developed and make them feel grounded and realistic, yet impactful and scary, too.”

At its core, Firestarter is about a family simply trying to survive, and that’s a collective experience all people can connect with, says Blum. “I think Firestarter is something that men and women, especially parents, will be able to relate to, even if they don’t like traditional horror films. Because ultimately, it’s about parents who go to extreme lengths to protect their child, and I think a lot of people will identify with that,” he adds.

Firestarter is in cinemas May 12, 2022


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