Brad William Henke as Tom Cullen in The Stand

When Brad William Henke’s Tom Cullen arrives on the scene in the third episode of The Stand on CBS All Access, he’s introduced making an awesome fashion statement. Showing up in front of Henry Zaga’s Nick Andros after the quiet hero wakes from a Mother Abigail dream, the gentle giant is shown wearing an eye-catching Dolly Parton T-shirt – a sartorial touch that instantly makes you like Tom, beyond his kind spirit, and notably not something taken from Stephen King’s book.

Curious about it, I asked Henke about it during last month’s virtual press day for the miniseries, and what I learned provided a fun bit of trivia about the show and the character.

More than simply being a smart choice made by The Stand costume designer Angelina Kekich, it turns out that the Dolly Parton T-shirt is in itself a reference to Brad William Henke’s approach to his performance. The actor explained,

When I was learning my voice for the character, I tried all these different things. And I learned that people with head injuries learn to talk again by singing. And so I started singing this song ‘The Coat Of Many Colors,’ (sings a verse in a higher pitch) cause this is where I tried to talk. (In his Tom Cullen voice) 'My laws!' Like I tried to talk up here. So I think I was telling someone I was trying to do that, and then the next wardrobe fitting there was a Dolly Parton shirt. So that's how that happened.

To help aid you in your auditory understanding of the story (and because any time is a good time to listen to Dolly Parton), you can listen to the country artist sing “The Coat Of Many Colors” via the video below:

Brad William Henke had to take a unique approach to playing Tom Cullen in The Stand because the character, as he appears in Stephen King’s original novel, is developmentally disabled. He has a number of verbal tics (with the most prominent being his repeated spelling of everything as M-O-O-N), and he needs to take a minute to process new information when it’s delivered – but he is also not to be underestimated. Tom is ultimately one of the most important figures in the story, and his greatness is only hinted at via his Dolly Parton T-shirt.

Fans haven’t seen much of Tom Cullen in The Stand just yet, but now that he’s been introduced you can expect that he’ll be featured much more prominently. This very much includes episode four, titled “The House Of The Dead,” which will be available to stream on CBS All Access starting at midnight PST this Thursday, January 7. We’ll have plenty more from the show coming your way in the coming weeks – but for now be sure to check out our weekly column covering the changes made in the miniseries from Stephen King’s book!

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