How Stanley Kubrick protected child actor Danny Lloyd while creating ‘The Shining’
“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” – Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the horror genre has gone down in history as one of the defining films of all time. An unfaithful adaptation of the best-selling Stephen King novel, Kubrick’s The Shining is an unsettling exploration of isolation, psychosis and the human capacity for violence. It is hard to believe that this cult-classic wasn’t always classified as one. The film met with a moderate commercial and critical reception, earning Kubrick a nomination for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director (Shelley Duvall was also nominated for Worst Actress). Thankfully, there has been a gradual shift in acknowledgement of The Shining’s initially misunderstood brilliance.
The film follows the story of Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson), an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who takes the job of an off-season caretaker of the secluded ‘Overlook Hotel’ in Colorado. He moves there with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his five-year-old son (Danny Lloyd) but as the days progress, the snowstorm intensifies and the world outside as well as the microcosm of the hotel become increasingly hostile. The Shining is revered for its brilliant ending sequences, one of which features Jack hunting his son Danny in an elaborate maze with the intent to kill.
Although Lloyd left acting for good after the film’s creation, only making a cameo appearance in the 2019 Shining sequel Doctor Sleep which arrived as his first role in 38 years, and is now a biology professor, he reflected on the significance of the iconic film, “I don’t do many interviews. But when I do, I try to make it clear, The Shining was a good experience. I look back on it fondly,” he once said. “What happened to me was I didn’t really do much else after the film. So you kind of have to lay low and live a normal life.”
Despite its major success, Lloyd doesn’t usually tell his students that he was part of Kubrick’s project, “It was disruptive in class, so that’s when I began to really play it down.” When asked whether the kids were waggling their fingers hissing ‘Redrum’, Lloyd laughed and said, “Yes. Very occasionally, but enough for me to know I had to downplay it. As a teacher, you’re supposed to be in control.”
It is interesting to note that Lloyd, who was six years old at the time, had no idea that The Shining was a horror film. Of course, it is quite impossible to believe that since Kubrick’s film has some of the most iconic, psychologically terrifying shots in the history of cinema but the filmmaker ensured that the child actor was only shown severely edited footage that had no scary scenes in them.
During the shooting of the film, Lloyd was under the impression that the movie he was making was a drama, not a horror movie. How did he not realise that the scenes were scary when he was in them? That’s because Kubrick made sure to shelter the child from the terrifying parts of the project. For example, the scene where Wendy carries Danny away while shouting at Jack in the Colorado Lounge: a life-sized dummy of Danny was used in that scene so that the child actor would not have to be in it.
Although Kubrick was extraordinarily hard on Duvall, making her perform the exhausting baseball bat scene 127 times and also inducing so much stress that her hair fell out, the auteur wanted to preserve the innocence of young Danny and protect him from the disturbing truth for which he wasn’t ready yet. Lloyd only watched the uncut version of the film years later (when he was a teenager) and he immediately realised that the twins who he played with on the set were ghosts and that his father in the film was trying to murder him with an axe. This is how Danny Lloyd came to know that he had been a part of one of the most iconic horror films of all time.