Inside Shelley Duvall's 'Difficult' Time Making “The Shining”: 'I Would Just Start Crying'

“I don’t know how I did it,” Shelley Duvall once said of filming ‘The Shining’ with director Stanley Kubrick

<p>Alamy</p> Shelley Duvall in


Shelley Duvall in 'The Shining'

Shelley Duvall left behind a lasting legacy when she died on July 11 at age 75, but she's probably best remembered for 1980’s The Shining, a movie beloved by horror fans that Duvall found “difficult” to film.

When Stanley Kubrick’s hit adaptation of Stephen King’s classic haunted-house novel first began shooting in England in 1978, Duvall remembered the late filmmaker as “warm and friendly to me” in a 2021 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Kubrick “just wanted to sit down and talk for hours” with her and costar Jack Nicholson, she said.

But to play the increasingly terrified wife and mother Wendy Torrance, Duvall endured Kubrick’s exacting process, admitting he had a cruel or abusive “streak in him.” The director “doesn’t print anything until at least the 35th take,” she recalled. “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.”

Related: Inside Jack Nicholson's Life Away from the Spotlight as He Turns 87 — and Whether He'll Ever Return to Acting

Warner Brothers/Getty Shelley Duvall In 'The Shining'
Warner Brothers/Getty Shelley Duvall In 'The Shining'

The Shining holds a Guinness World Record for most retakes for one scene with dialogue at 148. While that moment featured actors Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd, the scene in which Duvall’s character retreats upstairs while swinging a baseball bat at her advancing husband Jack (played by Nicholson) was reshot a grueling 127 times. Kubrick reportedly withheld from Duvall what Nicholson planned to do, resulting in an authentically terrified reaction from the actress. 

“We filmed that for about three weeks,” Duvall told THR. “Every day. It was very hard… 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.”

She added, “I don’t know how I did it. Jack said that to me, too. He said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ ”

Anjelica Huston, 73, who was dating Nicholson, 87, at the time, “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 told the outlet. “And they didn’t seem to be all that sympathetic. It seemed to be a little bit like the boys were ganging up.”

<p>Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock </p> (From left:) Jack Nicholson, Scatman Crothers and Shelley Duvall filming 'The Shining'

Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock

(From left:) Jack Nicholson, Scatman Crothers and Shelley Duvall filming 'The Shining'

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In a 1980 interview with critic Roger Ebert, Duvall described The Shining as “day after day of excruciating work. Almost unbearable.”

Duvall added at the time, however, that “there must be something to Primal Scream therapy, because after the day was over and I'd cried for my 12 hours, I went home very contented. It had a very calming effect. During the day I would have been absolutely miserable."

<p>Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock </p> Shelley Duvall in 'The Shining'

Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock

Shelley Duvall in 'The Shining'

In conversation with The New York Times in April, the Nashville star spoke more positively about the shoot, but recalled that Kubrick had cast her after seeing her in Robert Altman’s 1977 film 3 Women.  Kubrick reportedly told her, “I like the way you cry.”

Related: Remembering Shelley Duvall's Life and Career in Photos

While unrelated to the making of The Shining, another detail proves just how much Duvall struggled during that time: on New Years’ Day 1979, at the airport where she would fly to England to shoot, then-boyfriend Paul Simon broke up with her. Per THR, the actress cried throughout the entire flight — an inauspicious start to what would become one of the most notorious shoots in cinema history. 

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