Stanley Kubrick was notoriously coarse with Shelley Duvall while filming The Shining, his 1980 horror classic. They clashed, and Duvall’s spoken a little about his treatment toward her. Jack Nicholson and Duvall’s performances received praise from fans, but it was nothing short of arduous to complete the project.
Kubrick spent over a year shooting the movie, and it took a toll on Duvall. But the director once discussed what happened with her and the infamous baseball bat scene.
Stanley Kubrick deviated from ‘The Shining’ book to cast Shelley Duvall
Adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the book version of The Shining described Wendy Torrance as a head-turning blonde who’s critical of her husband Jack. Kubrick famously went in a different direction with his vision of Wendy, which always remained a sore point with King.
However, he knew early on he wanted to cast Shelley Duvall. In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick discussed why he chose Duvall. Ciment included the interview in his book, Kubrick: The Definitive Edition.
“I had seen all of her films and greatly admired her work. I think she brought an instantly believable characterization to her part. The novel pictures her as a much more self-reliant and attractive woman, but these qualities make you wonder why she has put up with Jack for so long,” he said.
“Shelley seemed to be exactly the kind of woman that would marry Jack and be stuck with him. The wonderful thing about Shelley is her eccentric quality — the way she talks, the way she moves, the way her nervous system is put together. I think that most interesting actors have physical eccentricities about them which make their performances more interesting and, if they don’t, they work hard to find them,” Kubrick shared.
Kubrick said Duvall had difficulty tapping into Wendy’s emotions
It was a grueling process for Duvall to display the level of alarm and upset that Wendy felt during that confrontation with Jack on the staircase. Armed with a baseball bat, she had to channel fear, anxiety, and what Kubrick called “hysteria.”
When Ciment asked the director whether Duvall and Nicholson required extensive rehearsals, he affirmed they went over it multiple times.
“Yes, it did. It was only with the greatest difficulty that Shelley was able to create and sustain for the length of the scene an authentic sense of hysteria. It took her a long time to achieve this and when she did we didn’t shoot the scene too many times. I think there were five takes favouring Shelley, and only the last two were really good.”
The Guinness Book of World Records reported that the staircase scene had 127 retakes, a fact not mentioned by Kubrick. But he told Ciment that he had reasons for doing numerous shots.
“When I have to shoot a very large number of takes it’s invariably because the actors don’t know their lines, or don’t know them well enough. An actor can only do one thing at a time, and when he has learned his lines only well enough to say them while he’s thinking about them, he will always have trouble as soon as he has to work on the emotions of the scene or find camera marks,” Kubrick said.
“In a strong emotional scene, it is always best to be able to shoot in complete takes to allow the actor a continuity of emotion, and it is rare for most actors to reach their peak more than once or twice. There are, occasionally, scenes which benefit from extra takes, but even then, I’m not sure that the early takes aren’t just glorified rehearsals with the added adrenaline of film running through the camera,” he added.
Shelley Duvall called the sequence ‘difficult’ and ‘the best’
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Duvall remembered working with Nicholson and Kubrick on several trying scenes, including the staircase sequence. She didn’t utter any harsh words about Kubrick but shared that she’d often listen to sad music before shooting to emotionally prepare. She was frequently in tears.
But Duvall praised what was captured on screen. “It was a difficult scene, but it turned out to be one of the best scenes in the film,” she said. After viewing it with THR during their chat, she cried. Asked why it brought it to tears, Duvall gave a candid answer.
“Because we filmed that for about three weeks,” she replies. “Every day. It was very hard. Jack was so good — so damn scary. I can only imagine how many women go through this kind of thing.”
Fans can stream The Shining on HBO Max.
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