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Whoopi Goldberg on the Role She's Always Wanted in 'The Stand'

The star of the new version of the thriller shares her secret dream

Actress Whoopi Goldberg

Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

En español | When you're one of only 16 people in history to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony — what else is left to do? “I've been looking for a horror movie my whole career,” says Whoopi Goldberg, 65. “Listen, I've been begging for maybe 30 years. It's what I love more than almost anything — a good scare."

Goldberg finally found what she's been looking for with the new adaptation of Stephen King's epic novel The Stand (CBS All Access, Dec. 17). She plays 108-year-old Mother Abagail, who's immune to a weaponized flu that kills almost the entire world population, and who leads some of the few survivors to establish a new social system. “I've been trying to get to do this since the original miniseries came out in 1994,” she says. That's the 1994 version with Ruby Dee (Do the Right Thing, American Gangster). “But I found out that Ruby Dee was my age when she did Mother Abagail. So it's worked out great. Because if it had come any sooner, I would have probably just really messed it up.” To play a wise elder, it helps to be one.

A pandemic horror debut during … a pandemic

Nobody expected Goldberg's pandemic horror debut to occur at the peak of an actual pandemic. But King's book only uses the disease to set the stage for a moral battle, like J.R.R. Tolkien's tale of good Hobbits vs. evil Sauron. Says showrunner Benjamin Cavell, “King has been very upfront about the idea that this book was his attempt to do Lord of the Rings — in America. I've never regarded The Stand as really a book about a pandemic. The pandemic in the book exists as a kind of mechanism to empty out the world, so that there can be this really elemental struggle between good and evil — the forces united behind Mother Abagail and the forces behind the Dark Man (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood, Big Little Lies)."

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'How far to the edge can I go?'

For Goldberg, who calls herself “a lover of horror, but I can't handle slasher movies,” it was a chance to see “how far to the edge can I go?” she says. “How much can I take before I have to close my eyes and tippy-toe out of the room?”

If you've seen The Stand before, don't think you will know what to expect. King penned a new coda that will, in the ninth episode, take the story beyond where his 800-plus-page tome left things. “It's going to be completely new to the entire audience,” Cavell says.

Still, Goldberg says that under her centenarian makeup, her Mother Abagail character — who leads a quarrelsome group while humanity grapples with a deadly virus — isn't quite as far a stretch from her weekday role as moderator on the ABC daytime talk show The View as you'd imagine. “She's a person who is trying to get a whole bunch of people to do some things that maybe they don't believe in, they're not sure — you know, it's basically what I'm doing on The View."

Watch The Stand

Whoopi Goldberg in a scene from The Stand

Robert Falconer/CBS

Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail

Who: Whoopi Goldberg, James Marsden, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo, Amber Heard, Heather Graham and Stephen King in a cameo.

What: The Stand, an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition, which includes a new ending not found in the 1978 original, which King has been mulling for 30 years.

Where: CBS All Access

Why: Even with our own pandemic raging, it’s still an absorbing distraction and a prescient allegory for good versus evil. We may even learn a little something.

When: Dec. 17, with a new episode streaming every Thursday for nine weeks.

How: Only one King wrote the novel, but the miniseries has two: The author’s son Owen King was in the writers’ room and contributed to a number of the scripts.