Exclusive interview: The Stand’s Whoopi Goldberg says ‘what I love more than almost anything is a good scare’

Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail in The Stand
Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail. Pic credit: Robert Falconer/CBS

Do we want to watch a miniseries about a pandemic in the middle of a pandemic? Maybe not, but Stephen King’s The Stand, premiering on CBS All Access on Dec. 17, is so much more than that.

Yes, it’s true that, in the beginning, a plague wipes out 99 percent of humanity, but then those that survive come together to deal with an elemental struggle between good and evil, and it becomes quintessentially a Stephen King horror story.

The fate of mankind rests on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and a handful of survivors as they take a stand against Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), the Dark Man, who has a lethal smile and unspeakable powers.

“Mother Abagail is the representation of what is supposed to be the light and, of course, when you are human, you are flawed, and so she is probably not as Magic Negro as she was maybe 30-40 years ago,” Goldberg said at a press junket for The Stand. “She’s more of a person who is trying to get a whole bunch of people to do some things that maybe they don’t believe in, they’re not sure.”

Then she jokes, referring to her day job, “Basically, I’m doing The View.”

Goldberg didn’t have to be asked twice to join The Stand. For years, she has wanted to star in a horror project because she is a fan of the genre, but the closest she came was as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost.

“I’ve been begging for 40 years, maybe 30 years, but who’s going to think I’m a bad guy?” Goldberg said. “Who’s going to think that I’m the monster under the bed? Nobody. That’s why you’ve got to have me. I hope the run up to this is that you have something really scary for me to do.”

Not only was Goldberg happy to sign on to this because it is a horror story, but because it is a role she has wanted to play ever since she saw Ruby Dee play Mother Abigail in the 1994 miniseries version of The Stand. But, of course, Goldberg was too young at that time.

“I moved into people’s homes to scare them so that I could get this part,” she joked, but then continued, “I found out that Ruby Dee was my age now when she did Mother Abagail, so it’s worked out great. Because if it had come any sooner, I would have probably just really messed it up. But I’ve been looking for a horror movie to do my whole career. What I love more than almost anything is a good scare.”

Monsters & Critics: Mother Abagail is 108 years old. What is the secret to her longevity?

Whoopi Goldberg: Listen, it’s all in the lineage, I myself am 108 — and my skin looks amazing because I have the genes. That’s the key. Also, she’s got a little God dust on her, too. You know you can’t look that good without a little God dust, and the same for Alexander. He looks great because he’s got some devil dust on. That’s how I’m looking at it, so it balances out.

Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail in The Stand
Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail in The Stand. Pic credit: James Minchin/CBS

M&C: Why do you think we are so fascinated with horror stories like this?

Whoopi Goldberg: As a lover of horror, I think, it’s about how far can I go? How far to the edge can I go, how much can I take before I have to close my eyes and tippy-toe out of the room? It’s a thrill, also, because when horror is on television or when it is in in between the pages of a book, you are in control of it. You are in control of it because you can always close the book or turn off the TV.

The thing that is harder for me is I can’t handle slasher movies because they’re real; people actually do stuff like that. Some of the things you read in Stephen’s books, I just think, “Okay, what would I do?”

And that’s the greatest thing about Las Vegas in this story [where Randall Flagg’s group lives], because we don’t say those people are bad, it becomes, “What would you do if you had to make this choice? What would you do? Do you know you? Want to think about it? Come on, and watch. See what happens.”

With horror for me, it’s all about where am I in the grand scheme of things. It’s, where do I fit in there? And can I handle it? And then when I can’t, I turn the lights on and I leave.

M&C: As a watcher of The View, it’s clear that you had your Mother Abagail look on The View throughout the filming of this project. Did you find people giving you interesting looks in terms of your Mother Abagail look once they recognized that it was you?  Any funny anecdotes that way?

Whoopi Goldberg: People were just trying to figure out what I was doing. They were like, “What’s happening?” And I explained what I was doing. Then people were very excited. And then I would have to say, “You know, she’s 108, and then they were like, “Well, that’s not far away,” and I understood that people would be looking forward to seeing the show. That’s the funniest thing that happened.

The Stand begins streaming on CBS All Access today with new episodes dropping each Thursday.

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