Andy McGee, the protagonist of Stephen King’s Firestarter, is a textured and well-built character. He’s not just a man with psychic powers courtesy of a drug trial he volunteered for while in college, but also the father to a daughter with extraordinary abilities whom he must protect while on the run from a shadowy government agency known as The Shop. It would be a meaty role for any star taking on the part in the upcoming remake, but it’s a part that has belonged to Zac Efron since last fall, and per director Keith Thomas it’s a performance for which he’s eagerly preparing.
I recently asked the filmmaker about his experience thus far working with Zac Efron in the development of Firestarter, and he enthusiastically spoke about the star’s commitment to his role. Highlighting the complexity of the part, Thomas remarked that the actor is digging deep into who Andy McGee is, saying,
Zac is really interested in getting at the heart of who Andy McGee is both in terms of his ability, in terms of the ‘push’ and kind of what he can do, but also being a dad – being a dad of a child who has this ability, being a husband, and navigating a world in which you're on the run. I think it's a very heavy role and it's a role that I think Zac is really eager to sink into and kind of become this character.
The primary goal of Andy McGee throughout Firestarter is ensuring the health and safety of his daughter, a six-year-old girl with pyrokinesis – but what comes in handy is the fact that he is able to perform a kind of mind control. Described by Stephen King as a “push,” Andy has the capacity (with proper focus) to alter a person’s perception of reality, such as making a taxi driver see a five-hundred dollar bill instead of a normal single. It’s a delicate thing for two reasons, however: the first is that it does extreme damage to the young father’s brain, and second in the long term it can have the effect of driving an individual insane.
The role of Andy McGee was previously played by David Keith in director Mark L. Lester’s adaptation of Firestarter from 1984, but audiences shouldn’t simply expect a reprisal of that performance in the new film. Instead, Keith Thomas says that his vision is finding Zac Efron specifically to bring out the character from Stephen King’s book, with an emphasis on his demonstrated exhaustion. Said the director,
We've seen him exploring some of this, but I think this is going to be new in terms of what he looks like, and really bringing to life that Andy McGee that certainly I see in the pages of the book, that guy who's been living on fumes for so long.
Firestarter is still coming together in pre-production, but the movie did expand the cast beyond just Zac Efron last month with the addition of Michael Greyeyes – who will be playing the central antagonist, John Rainbird. With filming expected to start up in the coming months, more news about the project is expected relatively soon.
And for those of you who are curious about Keith Thomas’ style as a director, do yourself a favor and check out his directorial debut, The Vigil, which is now out in limited theatrical release, and is available on PVOD.