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Shelley Duvall’s Traumatic Experience Making ‘The Shining’ Scarred her for Life

Larissa Harris
Getty Images
Getty Images

The horror genre in the film industry has produced a wide range of films for any taste. Some of these films make it until the next scary movie shows up, while others have been outstandingly well performed and mastered to perfection, entering the realm of cinema classics.

One such film is the unforgettable The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel with the same title starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in the main roles.

No need for in-depth descriptions when it comes to this film since its popularity and horror-effect were so powerful, that even people who have never seen the actual film could still recognize its peculiar characters and scenes, feeling their hair stand on end. (Ping! The twins in the hallway scene.)

Actors Danny Lloyd and Shelley Duvall in a scene from the Warner Bros movie ‘The Shining’ in 1980 at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Actors Danny Lloyd and Shelley Duvall in a scene from the Warner Bros movie ‘The Shining’ in 1980 at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

However, the film’s success resulted from the sacrifices given by the actors on set and their inexhaustible work, prompted by the severe methods of Kubrick who was said to behave tyrannically toward Shelly Duvall in order to get her into her character. Back in the 1980s, Duvall was a movie star in the rise, with a prosperous future ahead of her.

Shelley Duvall in 1990. Photo by Alan Light CC BY 2.0

Shelley Duvall in 1990. Photo by Alan Light CC BY 2.0

However, after her role in The Shining, she almost considered leaving acting for good. The reason? The young actress went through trauma during the filming of Kubrick’s film, facing tremendously difficult requests by the director, such as the legendary 127-takes of the baseball bat scene, ending up dehydrated with raw, wounded hands and a hoarse throat from crying. The director’s “special” requirements went so far that Duvall started losing her hair.

According to Horror Media, Duvall’s role was mostly criticized by Stephen King who declared that he hated The Shining very much mainly because of the misogynistic portrait of Wendy Torrance who, in King’s words “was basically there just to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman I wrote about”.

Stephen King in 2011. Photo by Stephanie Lawton CC BY 2.0

Stephen King in 2011. Photo by Stephanie Lawton CC BY 2.0

King’s repulsiveness to Kubrick’s adaptation of his story was so intense that he produced his own mini-series of the film in 1997. Wendy Torrance was originally imagined as a cheerleader blonde who couldn’t predict the horror that was about to happen.

In the book, she was a tough character which fortified the descent into fear in the film. King’s initial idea of an actress to play Torrance was Jessica Lange but Kubrick was adamant to cast Duvall.

The Shining Photo by Getty Images

The Shining Photo by Getty Images

There is no doubt that Duvall excelled in her role but this was never recognized on set by Kubrick, who constantly criticized her. In the documentary shot by his daughter, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Jack Nicholson praises Kubrick and their collaboration but points out that he turned into a “different director” when he was working with Duvall.

He kept her isolated, cut many of her lines unexpectedly and crowned his behavior with the “torture” while shooting the baseball bat scene which entered in The Guinness Book of Records as the most takes ever for a dialogue-scene, shot with genuine crying.

Stanley Kubrick, during filming of his movie ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’. Photo by Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Stanley Kubrick, during filming of his movie ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’. Photo by Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Duvall described her experience in The Shining in David Hughes’ book The Complete Kubrick where she said: “From May until October I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play”.

Moreover, Kubrick’s daughter Vivian Kubrick revealed that her father’s demands extended to the point when he ordered the entire film crew to show no sympathy for Duvall. He even said, “Don’t sympathize with Shelley”. He advised the crew to ignore her constantly and himself refused to compliment her work. This was truly role preparation like no one had ever seen.

Photo of Shelley Duvall in a television presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’.

Photo of Shelley Duvall in a television presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’.

The iconic “door scene” with Duvall was shot for three days and almost 60 doors were used during the shoots. Even Jack Nicholson has stated that she had the toughest job that he had ever seen.

When Duvall was asked to describe her personal views and experience of the shooting of The Shining, she said: “It was like some sort of primal scream therapy. Almost unbearable…But from other points of view, really very nice, I suppose…After the day was over and I’d cried for my 12 hours, I went home very contented. It had a very calming effect.”

Read another story from us: Sequel Filmed to ‘The Shining’ – Follows Danny as a Troubled Adult

Looper, on the other hand, reports that Shelley Duvall retreated from the public eye after her last screen performance in the comedy Manna from Heaven in 2002. She has kept to herself in her rural Texas home and occasionally gives interviews, talking openly about her traumatic experiences and resulting mental wear and tear.