Trevor Macy is the producer behind some of the most terrifying horror movies of the past few years including Oculus, The Haunting Of Hill House, Eli. And Ouija: Origin Of Evil. This month he’s helping bring Stephen King’s DOCTOR SLEEP to the big screen. DOCTOR SLEEP continues the story of Danny Torrance, 40 years after his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and newcomer Kyliegh Curran star in the supernatural thriller, directed by Mike Flanagan, from his own screenplay based upon the novel by Stephen King.
Were you always a fan of Stephen King? Yeah, I came to Stephen King around high school. I think the first king thing I read was the stand and then I read it and I went backwards and forwards from there. So yes I’ve been a fan for some time.
Do you remember which was your first experience with ‘The Shining’? Was it reading it or seeing the film? I saw the movie first. I was too young to see it. it was a couple of years after it came out and I remember watching it and it stayed with me and I don’t think I was able to process why at the time. It’s a horrifying story but the level of film making Stanley Kubrick employed was just so far ahead of its time and the reason I couldn’t articulate at the time that I can now is that the artfulness of the composition and the design of it, the sound design the music, forgetting about the performances. It’s really interesting because if you are channel surfing and wander by The Shining and it doesn’t matter how quickly you’re going, You’ll stop because every frame of that movie is remarkable and I don’t say that lightly because I think the eye Kubrick had was extraordinary.
It’s funny you say that it stuck with you because anyone who looks you up will see that the macabre and horror is your wheelhouse. After all your work includes the Haunting of Hill House, did you realise it had influenced your work in that way? There were actually a few films that influenced me, there was The Shining, there were earlier films as well, The Thing, The Changeling, the George C. Scott version. It’s one that isn’t talked about today. If you think of horror as a lens to look at drama the changeling is a pretty remarkable movie. I recommend it I also recommend getting through the first few minutes because it’s the only part that doesn’t hold up but The Shining for sure was its own thing. Those films really shaped me, oh also Alien as well. They shaped the expectations I had about scary movies. I some times don’t say horror because it sets expectations that some times can’t be met so horror, thriller whatever you care to call it. I’ve been aspiring to that my whole career with my partner Mike (Flanagan) is very much about a genre as a lens to look at the human condition.
You spoke on the iconography of The Shining and so I wonder how daunting was it to bring back those iconic characters and scenes? Fucking terrifying haha
You had to recast characters and in the case of Wendy Torrance, Danny’s mom, Alex Essoe is remarkable. she sounds and looks like Shelly Duvall. Yeah, Alex really threw herself into the role. well the legacy characters were one thing because what we were trying for was a sense of familiarity with the Kubrick. It’s funny because we had to tell King’s story with Kubrick’s language so we had to honour the mythology of the hotel and the timeline of the Kubrick and thankfully the timeline of King and Kubrick are one of the elements that match up really well. There is a lot about the adaptation that doesn’t match up as King will tell you. Those were things we took as canon when we were talking about the movie. So with the legacy characters, it’s very much we want to remind you of the choices that are burned into your brain but stop short of impressions or caricatures in a way that keeps the story grounded. The actors certainly embraced that, Carl Lumbley was fabulous can’t say enough good things about him and he’s the spirit guide, literally although he was alive in the King version so that was a balancing act.
It was the same thing with the sets. the story calls for, and this diverges from the book but embraces the cinematic legacy of Kubrick, it calls for the hotel to be abandoned and lying fallow for decades so what does that look like. We spent a lot of time with an iPad running around the sets asking was that couch green.
So we have to talk about the cast. The new characters and the returning. How difficult was it to find adult Dan Torrance? It was evident from the first time we met Ewan. the process was we took a few meetings and it was interesting because Ewan stood out because he was as interested as we were with how the childhood trauma rippled in to adulthood and his particular lens matches the themes in both the novel The Shining and the novel Doctor Sleep in that The Shining is about addiction and Doctor Sleep is about recovery. It was great because Ewan wanted to explore that part of the character and turned almost immediately to it in the meeting and his enthusiasm and the depth he had brought to thinking about it even was so palpable and infectious honestly it became clear he was the guy.
And what was it about Rebecca Ferguson that got her the role because Rose The Hat is incredibly charming and you feel for the True Knot and their journey of survival even though they are clearly despicable monsters? That’s a great way to phrase that because that is how Rebecca approached that character as she was very much the hero of her own story. she’s the protector and provider of her family and these interlopers Dan and Abra come into their lives.
Speaking on Abra what was like getting Kyleigh for the role because she is amazing, the moment she is on screen she is like dynamite? She’s like that in person by the way she’s magnetic and the camera captures it. Our casting director Ann McCarthy who we’ve worked with quite a bit went through about 900 girls so a sliver of that got to us and we looked at quite a few and we brought back a handful to test with Ewan because storywise abra has to propel the narrative. She also has to be fervent and engaged but also a little naive and charming enough and relatable enough to drag dan into this journey that might not have wanted to go into alone. Her chemistry in that read told us that was the right thing it’s a great story. He had read with a couple of others and then it got to her and the door had barely closed on her when he pointed his finger and said it’s her right? We completely agreed.
So what was it like developing the shine in this film because the powers on show here are a clear evolution of the one in The Shining? The blueprint of all the visuals was given to us by King in the Doctor Sleep novel and each of those powers had to be figured out visually. None of them were invented they flowed from what Stephen King wrote and you have to conceptualise and visualise them. One of the big scenes which I won’t spoil here was the last thing we shot in the film and it was difficult because scenes like that had not been done before, we didn’t have a template for it. The True Knot has a certain set of abilities and Abra is only discovering what she is capable of and Dan has suppressed his and so all of them come to the shine from a different direction so there are different shades of it. With the True Knot, they absorb the powers of others so that changes things in them and what happens to them when they die and again king gave us the blueprint we just had to find a way to visualise that in a compelling and fresh way.
Am I right in saying this is the first time Doctor Sleep has been put to screen? Yes, it’s only been out since 2013. Mike is a constant reader in the absolute sense of the word had read it the minute it came out, we were making a different film at the time and he brought to me and he was so excited and said it’s a sequel to The Shining and I said oh, why? He then said wouldn’t it be cool if someone made this as a movie? We found out Warner Bros. had the rights and it took us a minute to get on their radar but once we did they’ve been amazing partners and super supportive.
What do you hope audiences take away from Doctor Sleep? There are a couple of things. I hope they see it as its own story, we were trying to make sure it’s not the shining 2 and we were very grateful to King and we used his novel as a north star. We also hope it scares you and you have a lot of fun with it. I also think the thing I’m most proud bout is it’s not like anything else, yes it’s a cocktail of an original film with the shining but it’s still different and there is a lot of the same kind of films out there and I don’t think this is. Yes it’s a popcorn film but it’s a little different and I hope people see it that way.