Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, one of four short stories from Stephen King’s novella collection, If it Bleeds, has been adapted into a feature film for Netflix. The movie is now available to stream and puts a paranormal twist on the friendship between a fifteen-year-old boy and an eighty-year-old billionaire.
The film’s cast includes Donald Sutherland, Jaeden Martell, Joe Tippett, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Cyrus Arnold, Colin O’Brien, Thomas Francis Murphy, and Peggy J. Scott.
Screen Rant chats with writer-director John Lee Hancock about collaborating with Stephen King and expanding his novella into a feature film.
Directors Shares His Vision For Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
Screen Rant: You were approached to write and direct this film. What was it about Stephen King’s novella that made you want to get involved with this project?
John Lee Hancock: There were several things. There are a lot of themes, I think, in the novella, which was eighty-something pages. And the fact that I thought it was a difficult adaptation and would be a challenge, and also the fact that Stephen King wrote it would be a challenge, because I knew that I would have to activate certain things and build up things to make it a full length movie.
But it was more than anything, the challenge of trying to adapt it, I think. I was drawn to the themes, immediately. The kind of paranormal coming of age, the relationship between an eighty-year-old and a fifteen-year-old and how they’re best friends, the shadow of technology and everything that’s good and bad about that as it influences our lives, even in small towns in Maine.
Screen Rant: Since this was a short story, but a full-length movie, how much did you have to expand on it?
John Lee Hancock: There are a couple of scenes that aren’t in the novella that I just made up and wrote, but I think they’re completely in keeping with what Stephen was saying and trying to say and all that. Hopefully, they feel completely a part of what was in his head. The biggest thing you have to do is you have to activate, because it’s told from the standpoint of a narrator looking back at his life over a while, and he might describe something that happened and just say, “This happened to this person and I heard about it.”
And so you might want to look at that and go, “Is there a way to activate this? To have Craig actually get on his bike and go to the trailer park to try to find Dusty Bilodeau?” So you’re expanding it and activating it in a way. It works beautifully on the page, you know, in the novella, but just a way to activate it for a movie. So it’s leaning into those opportunities to take what he’s written and activate it.
Screen Rant: Did you get a chance to work with Stephen at all? Was he involved in the process of the film?
John Lee Hancock: Very involved. He wanted to stay out of the way and let me do my thing, but he let me know that he was there for me, and so I started taking advantage of that. When I finished the script, we sent it off to Stephen, and it’s like, “Oh, I hope he likes it,” because he can just give us a thumbs down, and we’re done. But he loved the script. And so from that point on, we had an email and phone relationship that was really, really helpful and great.
We would be looking at locations and I could send him something and go, “Which one of these two looks like Howie’s Market? Because you made up the name, Howie’s Market, and you had something in your mind’s eye when you wrote it. Which one of these?” And he would say, “I think the one on the left with the red. I think that feels more like what I was thinking.” Okay, great. We got Stephen’s approval on this location.
Screen Rant: There’s also a supernatural element to this film, but it’s subtle. Was that something you wanted to leave up to interpretation and not reveal what is really going on?
John Lee Hancock: I didn’t want to be too heavy-handed. You didn’t want to be like the old guy, “Get off my lawn, all you kids looking at your phones.” And I thought it was really interesting because that’s a standard thing. You’d look and go, “Oh, those kids today. They’re all looking at their phones and nobody’s interacting with the world.” I love the fact that it also can happen to an eighty-year-old billionaire who lives by himself. That he can become so addicted to this so quickly tells you about the power of technology and everything that’s good and bad about it. As he says, “We don’t own things. Things own us,” and that’s absolutely true.
About Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
Craig, a young boy, befriends the elderly billionaire John Harrigan. Craig then gives him a mobile phone. However, when the man dies, Craig discovers that he can communicate with his friend from the grave.
Check out our other interview with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone star Jaeden Martell as well.
NEXT: Can Mr. Harrigan’s Phone Save Stephen King Movie Adaptations?
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is available to stream on Netflix starting Wednesday, October 5.