Twenty-five years after playing prisoner Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, Oscar winner Tim Robbins, 61, is starring in another Stephen King-inspired project, Season 2 of Hulu's anthology horror/drama series Castle Rock. The series returns on Oct. 23 with a new storyline, based on King's 1987 novel "Misery," with Robbins playing Reginald “Pop” Merrill, head of a crime family, and Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) as Annie Wilkes, the terrorizing nurse from Misery (played by Kathy Bates in the 1990 film). The actor talked to AARP about his different roles, aging and how he finds contentment.
Is your character, Pop, a good guy? A bad guy?
I prefer to play characters who are complicated morally, have secrets and are dealing with the ghosts of their pasts. And Pop was loaded with that.
Why do you think The Shawshank Redemption endures as a beloved classic?
I don't think a lot of happy endings are particularly earned. They're obligatory add-ons, requirements for the genre, and you're like, “Oh, well, now I'm just being manipulated.” Shawshank gets there through such an honest path. The uplift at the end has to do with patience and belief — the idea that no matter what circumstance you're in, if you hold onto yourself and to hope and live your life in generosity towards others, there may well be a spot on the beach in Zihuatanejo for you. People want to believe no matter what jail we've created for ourselves or has been created for us, there's always the possibility of redemption.
Latest Role: Pop, a small-town patriarch with a shady past on Castle Rock (Season 2, Hulu, premieres Oct. 23)
Hometown: Born in West Covina, California; raised in New York City
Greatest hits: Bull Durham, The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River
Height: 6 foot 5 — the tallest actor to win an Oscar
Why do you make so many films about prisons? (He directed Dead Man Walking and the new documentary 45 Seconds of Laughter, about an acting class for inmates.)
Growing up [in New York City], there were streets I wouldn't walk down, where I had to run really fast and fight if I had to. Some people in my neighborhood got caught up in crime. When I saw people I knew go to jail, I wouldn't feel that far removed from them. I felt fortunate to be in the family I was in, but I didn't judge those people as the dregs of society. They were friends of mine. There but for the grace of God go I.
What was it like when you met Stephen King?
It was so brief that it might have just been imagined. That sounds like it's from a Stephen King book. Does he really exist?
You have a small role in the new film [a retro comedy called VHYes] directed by your son [Jack Henry Robbins, 30]. What's it like, and how does it feel to see your son in the director's chair?
He has this unique, wonderful, funny way of looking at things. It's a journey into the world of 1987 through a found videotape. When it begins, a 12-year-old boy has gotten a video camera for Christmas and the first tape he puts in it is his parents’ wedding video. It gets weird and surreal. Of course, I'm his dad, but the reviews it's getting are insanely beautiful. I could toot his horn all day long, but when a complete stranger is calling him a visionary, that makes me so proud.
How does it feel to be 60?
I'm 60? [laughs] I don't really dwell too much in the past. When I was young, I worked with an older actor, and he could not stop telling stories about the old days. They were incredible to hear, but in retrospect, I went, “I didn't really get to know who that person is in the present."
What does retirement mean to you?
When I was young, I remember the retirement age was 65. But if you were really successful, you could retire at 55 or 60. No one retires anymore. I fear that people find too much of their purpose in life through the work they do. That's not a bad thing if you're working in a field that gives you joy. But if you're still working because of the way society is set up and there's an inability to have any financial cushion, that's tragic.
And, finally: What's your secret to happiness?
The way to stay engaged is to disengage, whether it's from things that cause you tension, like the news, or disengaging in the form of a vacation. But the most important thing is not to let outside forces determine your interests. Regardless of income, how do you find freedom? It might be simpler than we imagine.