She was once hailed as one of the most talented and versatile actresses in Hollywood, who dazzled audiences with her quirky charm and expressive eyes. But Shelley Duvall has been living a nightmare for decades, plagued by mental illness, delusions and paranoia.
In a rare and candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 73-year-old star of The Shining opens up about her condition, which she says was triggered by the traumatic experience of working with Stanley Kubrick, the legendary director who ‘tortured’ her on the set of the film.
Duvall, who retired from acting in 2002 and moved to a remote town in Texas, says that she suffers from severe memory loss and confusion. She also believes that Robin Williams, her co-star in Popeye, is still alive and ‘shapeshifting’.
‘He’s shape-shifting. I really don’t know what he’s doing,’ she says. ‘I think he’s doing something to make people laugh.’
Duvall also recalls the horror of filming The Shining, the 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a family who becomes trapped in a haunted hotel. She played Wendy Torrance, the wife of Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance, who goes insane and tries to kill her and their son.
She says that Kubrick, who was notorious for his perfectionism and demanding style, made her do hundreds of takes for each scene, sometimes up to 127 times. He also isolated her from the rest of the cast and crew, and verbally abused her to make her look more distressed on screen.
‘He was very hard on me. He pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play,’ she says.
She adds that she suffered from nervous exhaustion, hair loss and insomnia during the filming. She also developed a nervous tic in her eye, which can be seen in some scenes.
‘I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great,’ she says.
Duvall’s performance as Wendy Torrance was widely praised by critics and audiences alike. She won a Saturn Award for Best Actress and was nominated for a BAFTA Award. However, it also took a toll on her physical and mental health.
She also faced criticism from some of her peers, who accused her of being too passive and submissive in the role. One of them was Nicholson himself, who reportedly said that Duvall was ‘uncooperative’ and ‘not a very nice person’.
Another was King, the author of the novel on which the film was based, who said that Duvall was ‘one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film’. He also said that Kubrick had ‘destroyed’ his book with his changes.
Duvall says that she felt hurt by these comments, and that she wished they had been more supportive of her. She says that she did not regret doing the film, but that she would not work with Kubrick again.
‘He was a genius, but he wasn’t very nice,’ she says.
Duvall went on to star in a few more films and TV shows, such as Roxanne, The Portrait of a Lady and Frasier. She also produced and hosted a children’s show called Faerie Tale Theatre, which featured adaptations of classic fairy tales with famous actors.
However, she gradually withdrew from the public eye and became reclusive. She resurfaced in 2016, when she appeared on Dr. Phil’s show and revealed that she was suffering from mental illness.
She said that she believed that aliens had implanted a disc in her leg, that the Sheriff of Nottingham was threatening her, and that she had seen Robin Williams since his death in 2014.
Many fans and celebrities expressed their concern and outrage over the show, accusing Dr. Phil of exploiting Duvall’s condition for ratings. They also called for more support and compassion for Duvall, who they said deserved better treatment after her contribution to cinema.
One of them was Vivian Kubrick, the daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who tweeted: ‘You are putting Shelley Duvall ‘on show’ while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably this is purely a form of lurid entertainment – it’s appallingly cruel.’
Duvall says that she appreciated the love and kindness from her fans, but that she did not want to return to Hollywood. She says that she preferred to live a quiet life with her partner Dan Gilroy, a musician who has been caring for her since 2007.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever act again,’ she says. ‘I don’t have to act anymore if I don’t want to.’