How Stanley Kubrick inspired that huge Doctor Sleep surprise
Director Mike Flanagan explains why he brought one particular character back from the dead.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Doctor Sleep.
Before the release of The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep, we knew that several characters featured in Stanley Kubrick’s original movie would appear in the new film played by different actors. These included Wendy Torrance, who is played by Alex Essoe, and Dick Hallorann, who is portrayed by Carl Lumbly. But audiences who saw Mike Flanagan’s movie over the weekend were surprised by an appearance by Jack Torrance who, while manning the bar at the Overlook Hotel, attempts to get Ewan McGregor‘s on-the-wagon Danny Torrance drinking again. In Kubrick’s film, the older Torrance was, of course, played by Jack Nicholson. For Doctor Sleep, director Mike Flanagan cast Henry Thomas, a star of E.T. and Flanagan’s own The Haunting of Hill House.
“I thought it was really important for Dan,” says Flanagan of the scene. “I thought, for the character, he needed to confront his memory of his father and he needed to confront his own addiction, his own alcoholism. The idea that Dan and Jack Torrance would have a conversation together across a bar, especially across that bar, that was an irresistible thing for me, just as a fan. There were only two options: either we were going to have a digital Jack — even if Nicholson played the part, it would have to be mostly a digital avatar, based on how much time’s gone by; and if we had a digital Jack, we had to have a digital Dick Hallorann, and we had to have a digital Wendy, and a digital little Dan Lloyd. Then, it felt like we were making a video game. That technology, I know, it gets better all the time, but every time I see it, it rips me out of the movie, because I’m scrutinizing the technology. So, I didn’t want to do that. It felt disrespectful to do that. So, then the mission became, alright, we’ll treat it like we’re treating the hotel. We’re doing our best to get everything as close as we can, but too much time has gone by, and things are different, and it’s a recreation. So, in that sense, let’s find actors who remind me of those actors enough to push my memory in that direction, but then let them play the characters anew, let them play them their way. We’re casting Jack Torrance, not Jack Nicholson. Henry Thomas shaved his head. We had a hairpiece made that looked a lot like Jack’s hair. He grew out his stubble and I shot him from profile. And the rest is just Henry.”
In Doctor Sleep, Thomas’ ghostly character insists that he is not Danny’s father but rather Lloyd the bartender, a part played by Joe Turkel in The Shining. Flanagan explains that he was inspired by another character from Kubrick’s movie, the murderous Delbert Grady, who insists to Jack Torrance that he was never the caretaker of the Overlook and that he didn’t kill his wife and two daughters.
“Stanley Kubrick taught us how to do this in the way that he handled Delbert Grady in The Shining,” says Flanagan. “Delbert denies who he is. Jack says, ‘You killed your family,’ and he says, ‘No, sir, you’ve mistaken me for someone else.’ So, Henry and I talked about: ‘Well, okay, that’s what happens to these ghosts, Kubrick proved it.’ We’re not trying to play Jack Torrance, we’re trying to play Lloyd the bartender.”