Jacob Tremblay Explains How He Prepared For That Traumatizing Doctor Sleep Performance

The new movie release My Father’s Dragon is a Netflix original that tells the story of a young boy, a perilous journey and the dragon that ties both together. Jacob Tremblay provides the voice of Elmer Elevator, the young man at the heart of it all, which is a far cry from earlier projects that have seen him put through the emotional ringer. One of the most memorable parts in that regard has to be Tremblay’s traumatizing appearance in Doctor Sleep, and the actor had some special memories about how he prepared for such a horrifying scene.

As I spoke with both Jacob Tremblay and director Nora Twomey during Netflix (opens in new tab)’s press day for My Father’s Dragon, the subject of the Room actor’s earlier career came up. So, of course, while discussing the heavier roles that prepared Tremblay to tackle animated adventure, writer/director Mike Flanagan’s legacy-quel to The Shining had to come up.

After asking how his 12-year-old self could have prepared for such a moment, Jacob Tremblay told CinemaBlend about his process on Doctor Sleep. The answer was as method as you would have thought, as this is what he had to say: 

As weird as it sounds, it comes from my heart. I don’t know if you know this, we actually filmed that scene on my birthday. It was funny because they had a whole red velvet cake that they brought for me. I think something like that, and something about my acting is just ever since I was a little boy, when I went to school everyone else they were into sports, they were into hockey. I just never really connected with that, for me it was all about the movies. And the way I loved to play as a little boy was just pretending to be a different character, and get a lightsaber. Obviously pretending to be a Jedi is completely different than getting kidnapped and murdered, but something about that is just that I guess I knew how to do, is just teach myself to just put my mind in another persons mind, if that makes sense.

It’s amazing what childhood imagination can do for an actor trying to get into the right headspace. Nowhere is that more true than Jacob Tremblay’s gruesome birthday celebration, in which the True Knot cult brutalizes his character, “Baseball Boy” Bradley Trevor. Led by Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat, it’s a sustained scene of blood, screams and steam - the life force these pseudo-vampires feed on to stay young. 

Before I go any further, you really need to watch this scene, as it cannot be understated that Tremblay put in a performance so raw it actually freaked out everyone else on set. If you don’t mind some fictional child endangerment and want to truly get a feeling for what Jacob Tremblay did with his big scene in Doctor Sleep, here’s that clip: 

While some might argue that pretending to be a Jedi, especially a youngling Padawan, is the right experience for this scene, it’s another brilliant performance from Jacob Tremblay that shows his acting talents. By tackling this sort of darkness at a young age, Tremblay noted that he was ready for roles like the one in My Father’s Dragon that embrace childlike adventure with a more serious edge.

Still, the young man understood just how important it was to shake off his horrific fate once the take was in the can. As he further explained the day on set, Jacob Tremblay discussed how using the skills that helped him pretend to die a cruel and unfair death also helped him know when it was time to give his dad a high five and brighten the mood.  

That I was kind of able to kind of teach myself to do it at that young age. Even for a role like that to just close my eyes, and just really picture the surroundings. It was just very real for me. I did the scene, and as soon as it was over obviously I didn’t want to linger on those emotions for too long, because maybe I’d start to freak myself out a little bit. As soon as they yelled cut, I got up and gave my dad a high five, because he was there and we had some cake. Filming that whole scene, oddly enough, was a fun experience.

One could imagine the career that Jacob Tremblay has ahead of him, especially when getting comfortable with some really dark stuff. As he admitted, honing one’s craft on such things only makes playing lighter, but still bittersweet animated roles all the easier. 

You can hear the results of such an approach when you watch My Father’s Dragon, which is currently streaming for those with a Netflix subscription. Meanwhile, if you want to watch Doctor Sleep, which is always something worth suggesting, you can stream the theatrical cut with an HBO Max subscription

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.