Anyone and everyone who’s watched Stanley Kubrick‘s landmark horror film The Shining (1980) either once or multiple times over the years knows that its two lead actors, Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are all but synonymous with the film. The existence of the film doesn’t seem remotely plausible without the two of them filling the roles of strained couple Jack and Wendy Torrance. However, per a report from CinemaBlend, an upcoming book about the film has revealed that Kubrick did in fact have a backup choice for character Jack Torrance, if Nicholson fell through.
The Shining, which is based on the original novel by Stephen King, was a grand undertaking for Stanley Kubrick. One of the most acclaimed directors in cinematic history and an infamous perfectionist, each of his 12 films was meticulously crafted with him taking over much of the process every time. When it came to The Shining, Kubrick was dead set on casting Jack Nicholson in the role of alcoholic writer Jack Torrance, who is put in charge as caretaker of the haunted Overlook Hotel. Nicholson, who was in the prime of his acting career at the time, fulfilled the role effortlessly. Through Kubrick’s use of dozens if not hundreds of takes of multiple scenes, and allowing a degree of improvisation among the cast, Nicholson conveyed Jack Torrance’s decent into demented madness almost too perfectly.
However, according to disclosures within a new book by filmmaker and Shining superfan Lee Unkrich, Nicholson may have been the frontrunner for Kubrick, but the director did have a backup choice in case something happened. Rumors swirled for years that legendary actor and comedian Robin Williams was that second choice. A well-known acting chameleon with limitless natural talent, Williams was speculated by fans everywhere. However, in the late 1970s and into the 80s, Williams was still too young and had yet to become a household name, thus that notion was dashed.
Unkrich reveals in his book that after speaking with Warner Bros, the distributor of the film, he found out that Kubrick actually had singer and actor Kris Kristofferson in mind as backup. At the time of filming, Kristofferson had built quite the acting resume, being cast in films such as Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974). It was apparently enough to catch Kubrick’s eye, but Nicholson was still the one who would ultimately bring Jack Torrance to life. It may be hard to say how different of an outcome a performance by Kristofferson would bring, perhaps a vision that more closely fit the original book, but Nicholson’s performance is still forever cemented in film history.
What some may or may not know, is that Stephen King, who wrote and published the original book The Shining in 1977, has voiced nothing but contempt for Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of his story. King actually wrong a full-length screenplay for Kubrick that was faithful to its source material, but Kubrick rejected it entirely, opting to write his own version. This would set the tone between the author and director for the rest of creative process, as well as the finished product.
While the movie has since become formally established as one of the greatest horror films ever made, King was wholly disappointed with the entire production. He voiced his disappointment in the mishandling of both Jack and Wendy’s characters from their book versions, and the outright ignorance of the story’s major themes. He also panned Nicholson’s performance as a “flat line” with no character development whatsoever. Ironically, the 2019 sequel to the film Doctor Sleep, which is also based on King’s 2013 follow-up novel of the same name, was better received by King, as it catered more to the story’s original themes.