To get inside the mind of Tom Cullen, Henke watched a lot of YouTube videos of someone he knew who had sustained a head injury “and was just never quite the same,” he shares. The details about Tom in the book became important visual layers and references Henke added to the character, from pieces of his wardrobe to the “certain toys” Tom might have. But he also used Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” to find the right voice for the character.
“I had learned that people with a head injury, a lot of times they learn to sing — that helps them learn to talk again. So when I was working on my voice, I would sing ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and then I would say, ‘Hi my name is Tom Cullen,” he says.
Tom has a memorized speech he gives when he meets new people that starts with introducing himself and explaining his situation. He often doesn’t remember if he has already explained himself to someone, so he will repeat himself. Because of this, the character went through life without people asking much of him “because they didn’t think [he] was capable of much,” Henke says, but that changes when he meets Nick.
Because Nick is Deaf and doesn’t speak and Tom can’t read, the two have to find a new way of communicating in order to find Mother Abagail and eventually get to Boulder. There, Tom becomes an integral part of the plan to understand what Randall Flagg is doing out in Vegas.
To be entrusted with such a thing, Henke says, gives Tom confidence: “The fact that they thought I was capable and are putting their trust in me was the greatest victory of my life. It felt so good to have their support.”