‘The Shining’: Shelley Duvall Once Said Filming the Horror Movie Was ‘Almost Unbearable’

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the most iconic horror films of all time.

A combination of factors made the movie successful, especially the acting skills of stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. However, behind the scenes of The Shining was just as much a nightmare for Duvall as the plot of the film.

Subsequent interviews reveal that Kubrick treated the actor terribly on set, all in the name of artistic vision. The director believed that Duvall should become the character of Wendy Torrance even if it meant she suffered. 

Duvall recently spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her experience working on The Shining, still saying it was a difficult experience all around.

Shelley Duvall on the set of 'The Shining'
Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance in ‘The Shining’ | Warner Bros./Archive Photos/Getty Images

It’s been 40 years since Jack Nicholson smashed his way through the door with his ax and chilling delivery of, “Here’s Johnny!” But film buffs are still obsessed with The Shining (1980), with many calling it the greatest horror movie of all time. 

The movie is based on the Stephen King novel by the same name. However, the author famously hates the film, especially Duvall’s depiction of Wendy Torrance. King said the actor resembled “a screaming dishrag” in the movie.

This may not have entirely been her fault. According to several interviews, Duvall faced a lot of pressure during filming that resonated with her for a long time afterward. 

Shelley Duvall had a tough time on the set of ‘The Shining’

Duvall didn’t grant too many interviews after The Shining made her an international celebrity. However, she did tell film critic Roger Ebert a bit about what she experienced on the movie set while working for Kubrick.

“Going through day after day of excruciating work. Almost unbearable,” she told Ebert during the 1980 interview.

“Jack Nicholson’s character had to be crazy and angry all the time. And in my character I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week. I was there a year and a month, and 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.”

And then she didn’t get the credit for her hard work. “After I made The Shining, all that work, hardly anyone even criticized my performance in it, even to mention it, it seemed like,” she continued. “The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn’t there.”

But while talking to THR, she clarified her comments a bit. When asked if Kubrick was cruel to her on set, she replied, “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.” 

Nicholson’s girlfriend questioned Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall


‘The Shining’: Shelley Duvall Said She and Stanley Kubrick Would ‘Explode’ at Each Other While Filming

It wasn’t just Duvall saying she was mistreated. In a more recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nicholson’s girlfriend Angelica Huston at the time admitted she didn’t approve of how Kubrick was behaving toward the actor.

“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,” Huston said during the interview with THR. 

“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 generally a bit tortured, shook up. I don’t think anyone was being particularly careful of her.”

Despite the physical and emotional demands, Duvall’s role in The Shining remains one of the most memorable performances of her career.