Today, fans are finally getting their first look at the highly anticipated upcoming adaptation of Doctor Sleep from director Mike Flanagan and his longtime producing partner, Trevor Macy. The duo recently talked about their latest collaborative experience at a press event where they shared the trailer with a select group of journalists for the very first time ever, and answered our questions about what audiences can expect from their filmic version once it’s released later this year.
For the upcoming Doctor Sleep movie, filmmaker Mike Flanagan was given a huge task: having to not only take on adapting a Stephen King property, which is already a daunting prospect in itself, but also having to contend with weaving in elements from both the preceding novel of The Shining as well as Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic version of the story, which differs greatly from what King had crafted on the page. When asked about how he handled the various materials heading into Doctor Sleep, he discussed the challenges, saying, “This is the most common question we’ve had since the project was announced, and it’s a question we couldn’t really answer until we had material to present, because the answer is really complicated.”
“The answer to all of those questions has always been, ‘Yes, it is an adaptation of the novel Doctor Sleep, which is Stephen King’s sequel to his novel The Shining, but this also exists in the same cinematic universe that [Stanley] Kubrick established in his adaptation of The Shining.' Reconciling those three, at times very different sources, has been the most challenging and thrilling part of the process.”
“First and foremost, the movie is its own thing,” explained producer Trevor Macy. “But this has been embraced by the Kubrick estate and by Stephen King. In a very real sense, for Doctor Sleep, we’re standing on the shoulders of literary and cinematic giants, so we knew we couldn’t screw this up.”
While Flanagan isn’t a stranger to taking on Stephen King stories (his recent Gerald’s Game adaptation, to this writer, was one of the best we’ve seen in some time), he talked about his experiences working on Doctor Sleep and the importance of honoring King’s story, and how this adaptation would not have moved forward if the prolific author hadn’t given them his blessing on their approach.
“I am a Stephen King fanatic, going all the way back in my childhood, so any opportunity to play in the Stephen King sandbox has been a joy and an honor for me. As a student of cinema, I idolized Stanley Kubrick. And I think that perfect storm of Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King on this, for me, has been the most exciting, delightful, intimidating, nightmarish, incredible, wonderful experience that I have had in my career so far. It’s been quite overwhelming, but in a wonderful way.”
“I went back to the book first and the big conversation that we had to have was whether or not we could still do a faithful adaptation of the novel as Stephen King laid out while still inhabiting the universe that Kubrick had created. That was a conversation that we had to have with Stephen King to kick the whole thing off. If that conversation wouldn’t have gone the way it went, we wouldn’t have made the film. As fans of King and as apostles of The Shining, we really had to try to bring those worlds back together again. Some of that amounts to very practical questions about certain characters who are still alive in the novel of The Shining who weren’t alive by the end of the film, and how to deal with that. Our pitches to Stephen went over surprisingly well, and we came out of the conversation with not only his blessing to do what we were going to do, but his encouragement.”
“This project has had the two most nerve-wracking moments ever in my career: sending the first draft of the script over to King, which was utterly terrifying, but thankfully he loved it, and the other was recently when we had to send the film over to both Stephen and the Kubrick estate to watch. Both went very well, and that was always the hope going in, that if there was some universe where Stephen King and the Kubrick estate could both like this movie, that was the dream. And this has also been the source of every single ulcer we’ve had over the last year.”
Also during their post-trailer reveal discussion, Flanagan discussed his utilization of key scenes from Kubrick’s The Shining, saying that they had to recreate many of the scenes themselves, but did confirm that the only shot from the original Shining in the trailer is the iconic waves of blood in front of the Overlook’s elevator.
Flanagan also weighed in on several cast members in Doctor Sleep, including Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, and newcomer Kyliegh Curran, who plays Abra Stone in the film. “As a movie fan, Ewan brings with him decades of goodwill. As a viewer, I instinctively like and trust Ewan, which is so important with the character of Dan. When you first meet him and he’s so low, that can be alienating for viewers—you really need an actor like Ewan, who wears his humanity on his sleeve. As a bonus, he also turned out to be one of the nicest and most humble human beings on the set. He’s incredibly down-to-earth and it doesn’t hurt that he’s also a huge fan of The Shining.”
“And with Kyliegh Curran, we looked at 900 girls to play Abra, and this is Kyliegh’s first movie. It’s that story you always hear in Hollywood, where you have all these experienced actors trying out for a part and it’s this kid who has never really done anything before, turns in a tape, and just rises all the way to the top of the pile. It was exciting for us because we got to see the birth of a movie star in her.”
“I thought when I read the book that Rose the Hat was probably the best antagonist that King had written in 20 years. I loved that character so much. A really great villain is tough, because you need to love, fear, and hate them all in the same breath, which is why I think it’s so rare to get a great villain. And Rebecca Ferguson IS Rose the Hat. She steals every minute of the film that she’s in and I think she’s going to become one of those iconic King villains. If you know the character from the book, Rebecca does her justice, and she does some horrible things.”
Flanagan and Macy also gave some non-spoilery insights on the existence of Easter eggs related to The Shining (both versions) and Doctor Sleep in his big screen adaptation. According to Flanagan, “When it comes to the other Easter eggs that you can expect, and the other influences inside and outside of the Kubrick film, what I can say is that one of the most robust arguments we had was over whether or not the number on the door should be 237 or 217.”
“We went back and forth about four times on it during prep,” admitted Macy.
“But what you’ll see is an honest attempt to pull all of those things together here,” Flanagan continued. “There are a lot of Easter Eggs in here that are specific to not only Kubrick, but to King as well, outside of The Shining and Doctor Sleep as well. I’m hoping this will be as exciting for people who are as nerdy as me about these things.”
One note for those fans of the Doctor Sleep book out there: Flanagan admitted that the disturbing “steam scene” (if you’ve read this story, you know what he’s referencing) will be included in his film version, and for him, it was just as horrific to shoot as it was for him to read on the page as a fan, which sounds very promising.
Look for Doctor Sleep in theaters on November 8th.