Movies

Ewan McGregor takes a shine to Stephen King's Doctor Sleep

The new psychological horror film, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, is based on the author’s 2013 sequel to his seminal 1977 book The Shining.

Opening here on Nov 7, it centres on a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), an alcoholic man with psychic powers known as “the shining”.

He is being haunted by his late father’s (originally played by Jack Nicholson) violence at the Overlook Hotel depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of The Shining, where the character of Danny first appeared as a child.

Here, Scottish actor McGregor, 48, talks about why he was attracted to Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, what King novels he’s read before and collaborating with US writer-director Mike Flanagan.

What drew you to Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep?

I think even more than the source material - King’s novel and Kubrick’s movie — for me, it was Danny’s story and the idea that he’s hit rock bottom. It was an opportunity to explore someone who is an alcoholic in recovery, and I hadn’t done that before. It really interested me.

Were you a fan of King’s work prior to this role?

I’d read some of his novels. The one I remember the most was reading (1983’s) Christine when I was at drama school. But I’m not really a horror or scary genre person, so I hadn’t seen a lot of his adaptations or read many of his books. I like the novel Doctor Sleep very much, which I read after the script. Then I went back and read The Shining, which I really enjoyed as well. It is just amazing for an actor to have all of this backstory.

What happens to Danny between surviving the Overlook Hotel and becoming the damaged adult we meet in Doctor Sleep?

We get to see Danny as a troubled child, being haunted by the characters from the Overlook. Then he learns how to trap them, to lock them away inside. It’s similar to his alcoholism, in that he’s locking everything away inside without actually dealing with it. But it comes back to bite him in the end.
In the novel, he talks about his mum’s passing in terms of where he’s been in between then and now. Witnessing her death probably tipped him over the edge. He doesn’t have a dad. He’s an orphan, on his own. That’s when he starts slipping, sliding.
He becomes a drifter from town to town. He takes jobs as orderlies in hospitals. He does whatever he can to be able to just drink his feelings away.
Addicts eventually hit rock bottom — for Danny, his is the night he spends with Deenie, a woman he meets in a bar. He wakes up and has no idea who this woman is. She’s passed out. He gets dressed and goes to his wallet and his money’s all gone. There’s (cocaine) on the table, and he flashes on buying it, using all of his own cash. So he goes to her wallet and is taking her money - when a baby crawls into the room.
That’s when his only friend from the Overlook, Dick Hallorann, appears. He asks, “Doc, is this what you’re going to do? Is this where your life has brought you?”
He takes the money anyway. He leaves without knowing if she and her child will be okay. And it haunts him, even into his recovery. It takes him years to admit it.

What was it like working with Flanagan?

I liked working with Mike a lot. When I first met him, he was editing his (Netflix supernatural horror) series, The Haunting Of Hill House. I think he wrote Doctor Sleep while shooting the series. He just doesn’t stop - or sleep much, obviously. He’s an editor first, so he thinks in shots. He’s a good storyteller, knows exactly what shots he needs. It was exciting watching him and his (director of photography) drawing from the cinematic language that Kubrick used. It was not only how they used the camera, but that they rebuilt the Overlook Hotel. We got to work on those amazing sets. It was really cool.

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