RISE & SHINE
Ewan McGregor drew deeply on his troubled past for his role in the sequel to horror classic The Shining. Geoff Shearer reports
McGregor first started contemplating taking the lead role in Doctor Sleep, he saw some fascinating parallels with his own life.
The sequel to Steven King’s horror classic The Shining (adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick) follows the 1980 film’s young, psychically gifted protagonist Danny, now grown up and struggling with alcohol addiction and anger issues.
Scottish actor McGregor, who famously played a heroin addict in his breakout role in Trainspotting, has been candid about his hard-partying days and turning up to work drunk before seeing the error of his ways.
“The interesting thing, that is real for me, is that when Stephen King wrote The Shining it was very much a book about addiction and alcoholism; and then this book, Doctor Sleep, is very much about recovery,” says McGregor.
“Where you find my character Danny in the movie, he’s at rock bottom. He’s living the life of an alcoholic to hide his shining, his psychic ability, because it is terrifying for him. So he’s drinking himself to death really, and then through a series of events, finds sobriety and gets clean.
“And that is something I’ve experienced and lived through myself for a very long time.”
Doctor Sleep marks the first time the 48-year-old McGregor has drawn on his personal experiences for a role since finding sobriety in 2001. But he says it didn’t bring up bad memories.
“It was nice for me to play some of that stuff that explores some of that in my work for the first time really,” he says. “It was just interesting and exciting to be able to sort of explore it.
“It wasn’t weird. There were some scenes where Danny is very drunk — which is something I haven’t been for many years — but it was quite interesting.
“I’ve got a very strong memory of it (being drunk) somewhere in my body; although my actual memory of it is probably very shaky.” He laughs, then adds: “But it was easy to portray.”
McGregor’s drinking became magazine fodder. He once did a drunken unflattering impersonation of Iggy Pop in front of Iggy Pop; he mouthed off about other actors’ acting abilities; and then there were the lost hours and the hangovers and the drinking between takes on set that ultimately wrecked his own acting. He was quoted as saying, “when you work drunk, you find one way to play a scene and that’s it”; while in an interview with Playboy in 2005 he detailed how his drinking was destructive, saying he felt lucky that he somehow knew “that if
I didn’t stop, everything would go tits up — my career, my family, my everything”.
Since sobriety, McGregor’s career has continued to develop and deepen — films as varied as Tim Burton’s Big Fish to Salmon Fishing In The Yemen; from Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream to Jim Carrey’s object of affection in I Love You Phillip Morris. He’s also won a Golden Globe and a Critics
Choice Television Award for his work on the series Fargo. He’s set to play the main villain, Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask), opposite Margot Robbie in Birds Of Prey, which is to be released in February, and will also be on cinema screens next year playing a priest in the mob drama The Birthday Cake.
And then there are the two topshelf TV opportunities he’s signed on for: reprising his role of Obi-Wan Kenobi as the central character in a yet-to-be titled Disney+ Star Wars series; and playing Roy Halston Frowick in a new Ryan Murphyhelmed series about the late American fashion designer.
His versatility and continued passion for the characters he portrays made him a standout to play Danny in Doctor Sleep, says the film’s director, Mike Flanagan.
“I met with a number of actors to talk about this project,” says Flanagan, “but what I thought was really striking, was that Ewan came into the meeting and we talked about The Shining for a couple of minutes, but then for the next hour we talked about Dan Torrance. We talked about him in the context of Doctor Sleep. The focus has to be on the impacts on the character, and Ewan knew that intuitively.
“The Shining was worth discussing for him but his focus was always on Dan. I really appreciated that and that’s what made me believe he was the right person for this.”
McGregor says he’ll never forget that initial meeting with Flanagan.
“It suddenly became a very open, deep discussion about Danny and his life and experiences, and things about our own lives that we shared. Mike and me, I mean,” says McGregor.
“And then when I was cast, I just enjoyed very much talking to Mike, especially about Kubrick. He’s very knowledgeable about his movies; he knows every single twist and turn. The Shining, he knows every shot of it.”
Like most students of film, McGregor and Flanagan can recall when they first saw it. Flanagan was only about 10.
“I was too young,” Flanagan says. “It traumatised me. But it also sort of started a lifelong fascination with that movie. It was one of the movies that I was able to revisit as I got older and realised that every time I watched it I would see something new. ”
McGregor was nine when the film came out, but didn’t see it until his 20s.
“I never watched The Shining until I was in drama school. I loved Jack Nicholson, as most actors do, and I’d watched a lot of his work and then I thought ‘I gotta watch The Shining; I’ve got to see him in action in that’. I remember watching it alone at night and I loved it. It is very, very scary, of course, but more than that I just thought it was wonderful.”
While King has very publicly hated on the Kubrick film, Flanagan says the horror author has seen Doctor Sleep and given it his tick of approval.
McGregor hasn’t had the chance yet to meet King. “I was hoping he might show up on our set. I’m a fan of his anti-Trump rhetoric on
Twitter, I liked that about him.”
The mention of US President Donald Trump Trum ignites McGregor McGrego on the topic of media coverage: from accurate accu journalism, to lazy l reporting, to fabricated fa stories. All A three of which Trump T prefers to call “fake news”, “fake news”, “fake “news”.
McGregor bemoans be the “horrible” “ho coverage of his hi recent marriage marria breakdown. He and wife w of 22 years, production designer d Eve Mavrakis, Mavrakis separated separate in mid-2017, with McGregor filing for divorce in January last year. He is in a relationship with Fargo co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 32.
“Look, the past few years there’s been stuff that’s been written all the time, it’s just made up, you know,” McGregor says.
“It’s so scummy. Why ruin your life worrying about it all? Better just to not read it, not listen to it. I don’t stress about it because I try to keep myself to myself.” DR SLEEP IS IN CINEMAS NOW; VICKY ROACH’S REVIEW, PAGE 119
Ewan McGregor was a standout to play the troubled Danny (inset) in Dr Sleep. Main picture: Lorenzo Agius