“Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.”
Working on the law-abiding side of Shawshank’s bars is Noel Fisher’s Dennis Zalewski, a wholesome, young family man who finds himself mixed up in an unwholesome scandal. Fisher plays Dennis as the perfect King everyman, all blue-collar and lily-white heart, but Shawshank’s got secrets that could darken the brightest of intentions.
Until now, our most famous depiction of a Shawshank prison guard has been Clancy Brown’s Capt. Hadley in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, a character whose arc looks markedly different from Zalewski’s fight to maintain his integrity in the institution's shadowy corridors. Fisher explains that he needed to do quite a bit of research into the emotionally taxing work of a corrections officer. “I picked up a book called Sing Sing,” he says of Denis Brian’s 2005 history on the notorious prison.
“This book is a really incredible read about a journalist who illegally went undercover and went through prison guard training school," the actor continues. "What the book helped me understand is that, first off, I would never want to be a prison guard in real life. [Laughs.] It’s just an incredibly difficult, tense job that seems really, really, really incredibly unpleasant. The book describes that every prison guard has to be trained, in terms of what happens if you’re taken hostage, and the author describes the relationship between the prisoners and the prison guards. It’s a scary, eye-opening read."
“Grounded” is exactly the word I’d use to describe Fisher’s work on the show that is set in the titular fictional town. Indeed, Castle Rock—featuring an impressive ensemble cast that also includes André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy and Sissy Spacek—introduces viewers to a psychic, a Phantom of the Opera-type mystery, multiple murders, a harrowing court of children in unearthly masks. Dennis Zalewski is, in some ways, the straightforward moral center of the series, honest and plain, hoping for more for himself and his family. We’re rooting for him because his wants are so pure, in contrast to the twisty machinations of everyone around him.
What does it mean, and who do you become, when you allow yourself to give your own inner darkness the wheel?
“What I got from the theme [of the show] is, 'Who do you become if you allow yourself to let the darkest parts of you run wild?’" he adds. "However that comes up, and whatever that means to you, can differ. The specifics of that are going to vary wildly. But I think that’s a good, general kind of theme: What does it mean, and who do you become, when you allow yourself to give your own inner darkness the wheel?”