By MICHAEL GINGOLD
DOCTOR SLEEP, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, takes audiences back to the world of THE SHINING—including a reunion with Wendy Torrance, mother of protagonist Dan. Playing Wendy is Alex Essoe, a familiar face to genre fans from STARRY EYES, FASHIONISTA and others, who spoke exclusively to RUE MORGUE about taking on the classic role.
Originally played by Shelley Duvall in Stanley Kubrick’s SHINING film, Wendy is seen in early scenes of DOCTOR SLEEP (which we review here) with young Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), and later when the adult Dan (Ewan McGregor) has flashbacks in the Overlook Hotel. Following up Duvall’s classic turn was an exciting challenge for Essoe, a major fan of both books: “I read [DOCTOR SLEEP] as soon as it came out; I was so excited. I loved THE SHINING, so I had been highly anticipating the sequel.”
How did you become involved with the DOCTOR SLEEP movie?
I just went in and auditioned, but it was funny, because nobody told me what the project was. Warner Bros. just said it was an untitled short film—although, in the sides that I got, they changed the characters’ names by, like, one or two letters. Wendy was Brenda or something like that, and Dick was Rick and Danny was Denny or a name kind of like it. She called him “Doc” in the sides they sent over, and I was like, “That’s…strange!” It was kind of a hint, but I still had no idea. Then, three weeks later, I got a call welcoming me to the cast. It was amazing; I had actually just landed in Thailand, because I did a movie with Darren Lynn Bousman there [DEATH OF ME, which she discusses here]. As soon as I got off the plane, I got the call that I was going to be in DOCTOR SLEEP. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried just a little bit—and by a little bit, I mean a lot!
Was there a lot of pressure in preparing to follow up an iconic performance like Duvall’s?
I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, but at the same time, I’ve seen THE SHINING so many times, and her performance is one of my favorites in any movie; I love Shelley Duvall. I’ve watched it a lot over the years, and I was already intimately familiar with her performance. So it was intimidating because of the reverence I have for Shelley Duvall, but it was also very easy to get lost in, because I was like, “I’m in THE SHINING! I get to be in THE SHINING!” [Laughs] I just jumped in, and it was fun.
How was it collaborating with Mike Flanagan?
Working with Mike is an absolute dream. He is extremely even-keeled, and a very good leader. If he is stressed out, he does not let on to anybody else—maybe to his 1st AD [laughs], but certainly not to us. It’s wonderful, because he’ll only do a few takes. If you want another one, he’ll always give you one, but he’s so good at guiding you to where you need to go, you only need a couple of takes and there you go. He’s very specific, and he knows exactly what he wants, which is worth its weight in gold in a director; it is such a gift. And he’s just the coolest dude; he’s great to talk to, and you can nerd out about movies with him. After I wrapped, I actually stayed for a while just to shadow him, to watch his process, because I really like how he works. I do want to transition to directing as soon as possible, so I wanted to get a feel for what he does.
In approaching Wendy, how did you find the balance between drawing from King’s DOCTOR SLEEP novel and Kubrick’s SHINING film?
They are very different in certain ways, though I think it was a much harder task for Mike than it was for me. Because Wendy is in the book in the capacity of still being in that time after THE SHINING; it’s right after they leave the Overlook, and is about their life when they move to Florida. So for me, Wendy is still very much in that world; it’s not like there’s a new element to her that I had to play, so it was a little easier for me, a little less demanding than it was for Mike.
How did little actor Roger Dale Floyd take to playing Danny?
Roger is wonderful; he is my little man, he is such a sweetheart and he does an amazing job as Danny. I have a feeling that he will be in a lot more movies after this. We were very lucky; all the child actors in this movie were better than some of the adult actors I’ve worked with [laughs]. They were precocious and very professional, and Roger is 6, he’s truly a child, and he was dealing with some very intense scenes, and I was really impressed.
Was it a strange experience, being such a fan of THE SHINING and walking onto the Overlook Hotel sets?
That was like, my dreams came true. I was maybe the most excited I have ever been in my whole life, because I literally just walked into the Colorado Lounge and was like, “Oh, here I am in my ultimate fantasy!” I threw a tennis ball against the fireplace, and I had a whiskey in the Gold Room. Oh my God! I got chills, it was so great. People are going to go nuts for this movie, it’s unbelievable.