In a scene that director Mike Flanagan told HuffPost he knew would be the most “controversial” moment in the movie, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), trying to recover from his past, comes face to face with his dearly departed father, Jack Torrance. The pair didn’t part on great terms the last time they met, with the elder Torrance trying to chop the younger up with an axe and all. But the idea of them meeting again may have been the whole reason why the movie was made.
“Reconciling Dan’s impression of his father was really important to the character,” Flanagan told HuffPost. “I thought if we were going back to the [Overlook Hotel], the possibility of Dan Torrance and Jack Torrance having a conversation over a drink was irresistible, and that was one of the things I said to Stephen King, actually, that made him agree to let us proceed with this at all.”
But how would it happen?
“Because of the ages of the characters that we would be bringing back, you either have a digital component to this or you don’t,” Flanagan said. “And if you have a digital or de-aged Jack or a digital avatar, you have to do for Jack what you do for Wendy and even for little Danny.”
Early on, though, digital avatars were out.
“[At] what point am I just making a video game?” Flanagan said about the thought of seeing a digital version of characters on screen. Also, Scatman Crothers, who played Dick Hallorann in “The Shining,” died in the ’80s. For Flanagan, the thought of appropriating his voice and image seemed “deeply inappropriate.”
So instead of having digital or de-aged versions, all the returning roles — including Wendy (Shelley Duvall), Danny (Danny Lloyd), Dick Hallorann (Crothers) and Jack (Nicholson) — were recast.
However, Nicholson’s character proved to be an additional challenge.
“What you don’t want to do with Jack is cast someone who’s going to do a Jack impression because that would be fatal. It would become parody,” Flanagan said. “No one we would cast was going to be able to play Nicholson, no one.”
The answer came from “The Shining” director Stanley Kubrick, he said.
In “The Shining,” when Jack Torrance confronts the hotel’s previous caretaker and now ghost, Delbert Grady, about killing his family, Grady has no recollection of the murder and says he just works there. With this in mind, as well as the idea to have Danny perhaps share a drink with his father, Flanagan decided he needed an actor who would look like Nicholson but would just play the hotel bartender.
“Jack is just denying being Jack, and that saves us from ever having to tiptoe toward an impression or toward parody,” Flanagan said. “That way, much like Delbert Grady denies who he is and just is part of the staff as a polite waiter 95% of the time, and then just for the end for 5%, the mask slips a little bit and you see the real man.”
Flanagan went to actor Henry Thomas, a frequent collaborator of his, to bring back Nicholson’s character. He asked Thomas to play the majority of the part like Lloyd, the bartender from “The Shining,” and just let a bit of Jack out at the end.
For Flanagan, it worked because, ultimately, the scene isn’t about Jack.
“This scene is about Dan. This is a scene about Dan staring his own addiction in the face and coming to terms with a father he barely remembered. That had to be the heart of it. And this seemed to be the only way through,” Flanagan said.
“I knew people would have strong opinions about it. I expect they will,” he added. “But this seemed to be the most respectful way to move forward, and that scene’s the reason I wanted to make the film.”