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SYFY WIRE Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor studied The Shining for Doctor Sleep: ‘It was more interesting for me to look at Jack’

By Jacob Oller
Doctor Sleep

There is a literal legacy of The Shining, aside from the stable of horror creators that the book and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation influenced. One of those creatives, director Mike Flanagan, is bringing the Stephen King story’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, to the big screen and — after showing off a meticulous first trailer — it’s clear that Kubrick’s film is alive in the heart of its follow-up. Ewan McGregor stars as The Shining’s psychic Danny Torrance, all grown up and dulling his supernatural senses with alcohol. How does one embody a famous young character all grown up? Like Doctor Sleep itself, many of the answers lie in going back to the source.

Speaking to Nerdist, McGregor explained how he took Danny from kid to screwed-up adult. He was cast, with King’s blessing, after Flanagan became interested in the actor thanks to his debut role in 1994’s Shallow Grave (which puts McGregor through some violent and bloody paces). Flanagan invited him to the editing room of his Netflix show, The Haunting of Hill House, for a chat. One thing led to another, and pretty soon, the role was McGregor’s.

But Danny (now Dan) Torrance still needed crafting. Dan Lloyd’s performance of the character as a child is its most famous representation, but when McGregor rewatched The Shining to prepare, Lloyd wasn’t his focus — it was Jack Nicholson. Nicholson, who made his character of Jack Torrance into a horror icon, gave McGregor the grown-up Torrance headspace necessary to understand how a child in that family could grow up. “There’s not very much I can pick up from the kid in The Shining because I don’t know how similar we are to our five-year-old selves when we’re adults, but we are similar to our fathers in many ways,” McGregor said. “So it was more interesting for me to look at Jack in that respect.”

King’s novel and Torrance himself references the author’s own struggles with addiction, something that McGregor can relate to as someone celebrating 17 years of sobriety. But as many fans of King will agree, channeling one of his main characters is often akin to channeling the author himself. “Stephen King‘s experience with the subject matter is dripping out of the novel,” McGregor said.

With the novel and script collaborating to provide a sequel aimed to please both King and Kubrick loyalists, McGregor’s performance is just one aspect of a precarious genre balancing act — but one fans can’t help but get excited for.

Doctor Sleep brings back Danny Torrance on Nov. 8.