How Danny Lloyd’s improvised acting became a part of Stanley Kubrick film ‘The Shining’
“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent.” – Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the horror genre has gone down in history as one of the defining horror 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 starred Jack Nicholson as an unsuccessful writer and a terrible father who hunted down his son Danny (played by Danny Lloyd) with the intent to kill.
The film, which famously tells the tale of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who takes the job as an off-season caretaker of the secluded ‘Overlook Hotel’ in Colorado and guided led Kubrick to major Hollywood success through his film company Hawk Films. Battling the extreme winter conditions with his wife Wendy Torrance and young son Danny, Torrance witness his boy begin to possess “the shining” which is the terrifying abilities that allow him to see the hotel’s horrific past. It is these supernatural forces, combined with the winter storm leaving the family trapped in the hotel, that leads Jack’s sanity to deteriorate.
Although Lloyd left acting for good, 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.”
An interesting piece of information about the finger-waggle is that it wasn’t orchestrated by Kubrick. In the film, Danny talks to his imaginary friend Tony and moves his finger in a particular way whenever Tony speaks back. The iconic finger movement was actually improvised by Lloyd, making it seem like Tony is a parasitic worm living inside Danny. While Stanley Kubrick was famous for his dictatorial perfectionism when it came to filmmaking, Lloyd came up with this technique during his first audition and it must have impressed Kubrick because he decided to keep this peculiar mannerism in his final vision for the film.