It’s no secret that Stanley Kubrick wasn’t an easy man to work for and Shelley Duvall attests to that in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The 71-year-old actress has become one of Tinseltown’s most elusive stars in recent years, but in a rare moment, talked to the publication about her career and the grueling year-long shoot that was The Shining.
Kubrick was one of those directors infamous for putting his cast through hell to get the perfect shot. Hitchcock was another one. Because she was “great at crying,” Kubrick cast her as Wendy Torrence in the classic film. From then on, Duvall’s life was subject to filming six days a week for 16 hours a day for 56 weeks.
“I would just start crying”
In the interview, she recalls one particular scene with young co-star Danny Lloyd — who plays her psychically gifted 5-year-old son — that was both physically and emotionally exhausting.
“Thirty-five takes, running and crying and carrying a little boy, it gets hard. And full performance from the first rehearsal. That’s difficult.” She told The Hollywood Reporter.
She goes on to say getting emotionally worked up required the use of her Walkman where she would, “listen to sad songs. Or you just think about something very sad in your life or how much you miss your family or friends. But after a while, your body rebels. It says: ‘Stop doing this to me. I don’t want to cry every day.’ And sometimes just that thought alone would make me cry. To wake up on a Monday morning, so early, and realize that you had to cry all day because it was scheduled — I would just start crying. I’d be like, ‘Oh no, I can’t, I can’t.’ And yet I did it. I don’t know how I did it. Jack said that to me, too. He said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ ”
When asked if Kubrick was unusually cruel or demanding of her to get the perfect shot, Duvall comes to his defense. “He’s got that streak in him. He definitely has that. But I think mostly because people have been that way to him at some time in the past. His first two films were Killer’s Kiss and The Killing.”
Talking for hours with Kubrick
She explains it was mostly time that Kubrick used up during the shoot in which he would talk to both of his stars, “He just wanted to sit down and talk for hours while the crew waited. And the crew would say, ‘Stanley, we have about 60 people waiting.’ But it was very important work.”
But Angelica Huston, who was dating Jack Nicholson back then, remembers it differently, “I got the feeling, certainly through what Jack was saying at the time, that Shelley was having a hard time just dealing with the emotional content of the piece,” she recalls. “And they didn’t seem to be all that sympathetic. It seemed to be a little bit like the boys were ganging up. That might have been completely my misread on the situation, but I just felt it. And when I saw her during those days, she seemed a generally a bit tortured, shook up. I don’t think anyone was being particularly careful of her.”
Huston thinks that Duvall was incredibly brave and actually carries the movie, “Jack wavers between sort of comedic and terrifying, and Kubrick was Kubrick at his most mysterious, interesting and powerful. But it must have been something for her to be in the middle of that mix.”
Revisiting bash your brains in!
Finally, there is the “bash your brains in” scene on the staircase which Kubrick took his time to shoot; 127 times to be exact. Duvall tells her interviewer, Seth Abramovitch, “It was a difficult scene, but it turned out to be one of the best scenes in the film,” She says. “I’d like to watch the movie again. I haven’t seen it in a long time.”
Abramovitch gives her that chance by replaying that part on his cell phone and Duvall begins to cry. She explains her tears are the result of remembering it took three weeks to shoot. “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.”