‘The Shining’: Shelley Duvall Said She Was in ‘Ill Health’ While Filming Due To the Stress of the Role

Shelley Duvall wouldn’t exactly refer to her experience in The Shining as easy-breezy. In fact, the 70s starlet would go so far as to call her time spent playing Stephen King’s character as “almost unbearable.”

Duvall labels her experience as “excruciating,” and she doesn’t shy away from admitting that the role left her in “ill health” for several months. This was due to the tremendous amount of stress that director Stanley Kubrick thrust upon her in the filming process. 

Shelley Duvall
Shelley Duvall | Reg Innell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Stanley Kubrick purposefully isolated Shelley Duvall on set

To enhance her role, Kubrick intentionally isolated Duvall for the year-long filming process. While he treated Jack Nicholson with high praise and honored his work, the director never once complimented Duvall’s scenes.

Shelley Duvall
Shelley Duvall signing autographs circa 1970 | Art Zelin/Getty Images

Instead, he went out of his way to make her experience on the film “hellish.” Why? So he could get the best performance out of the starlet. Even Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, admits that her father would deliberately bully Duvall.

In The Making of The Shining, Kubrick tells the other cast mates not to sympathize with Duvall when she is visibly distraught. 

Even Stephen King, the author of The Shining, disliked how Duvall was portrayed throughout the movie. “So misogynistic,” he says of Kubrick’s film. “I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag.”

Shelley Duvall admitted she was in ‘ill health’ while shooting ‘The Shining’ because of all the stress

Stressed to the point of genuine hysteria, the Texas-born starlet admits how “hellish” her experience in The Shining was. “From May until October, I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great,” she says in the book, The Complete Kubrick. “Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.”

Shelley Duvall in Vogue 1971
Shelley Duvall in Vogue 1971 | Bert Stern/Condé Nast/Getty Images

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Still, regardless of how challenging the role was for Duvall, she knows why Kubrick pushed her so hard. From an artistic standpoint, she can understand why he nearly tortured her. 

“If it hadn’t been for that volley of ideas,” she says in a Rolling Stone video, “and sometimes butting of heads together, it wouldn’t have come out as good as it did. And it also helps get the emotion up and the concentration up because you get more out of yourself. He knew that. And he knew that he was getting more out of me by doing that. So it was sort of like a game.”    

Clumps of her hair had fallen out due to the stress of the role

According to Nicholson, his co-star was under so much stress that clumps of her hair had fallen out. In the Documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, the actor says that Kubrick was a different person when it came to how he treated him versus how he treated Duvall. 

“Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable,” Duvall admitted to Rolling Stone in 1980. “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.”