How Ewan McGregor Approached Dan Torrance’s Alcoholism In Doctor Sleep

Dan Torrance looks in a mirror Doctor Sleep

Over the years, Stephen King has levied many complaints about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as an adaptation of his original novel, and one of the prime targets has long been the movie’s depiction of Jack Torrance’s alcoholism. It’s true that the film does mention Jack’s addiction, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact on the character’s development and descent into madness as depicted in the book.

Now, however, fences have been mended to a certain extent thanks to the creation of Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep. While alcoholism may not have been a central focus for Stanley Kubrick, it is the most definitely the biggest issue facing Dan Torrance in The Shining’s sequel, and as I learned recently from star Ewan McGregor, it was absolutely an element that was emphasized on set:

I feel like we readdressed that in this. I think Mike [Flanagan] was always very clear that Stephen King had... I don't know Stephen, I've never met him, sadly, but Mike was very clear that The Shining was a novel that was written about alcoholism and addiction, and Doctor Sleep is a novel that was written about recovery.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Ewan McGregor for an interview late last month during the Los Angeles press day for Doctor Sleep, and one of my questions for the actor was about Dan Torrance’s problems with alcohol – and specifically how that material was handled knowing Stephen King’s opinions about The Shining. The actor explained not only that he and Mike Flanagan recognized the absolute significance of that subject matter in the source material, but also that it was an aspect of the character from a performer perspective that made him interested in taking on the role.

Based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel, Doctor Sleep picks up with Dan Torrance decades after his traumatic childhood experiences at The Overlook Hotel – but firmly establishes that the demons created there have not left him. Partially because of genetic disposition, and also because he desperately tries to drown out his psychic/telekinetic powers, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. Upon arriving in a small New Hampshire town, he starts to put his life back together, but sees both his life and sobriety threatened when he first discovers a local young girl who has similar gifts, and then learns that there are dangerous people hunting for her.

There is a very natural arc that plays out for Dan Torrance, as he has to basically try and rebuild his entire life from scratch – and that was character material that very much attracted Ewan McGregor to Doctor Sleep. Continuing his thoughts on the film’s approach to alcoholism, he explained how the recovery process was something that fascinated him:

My character, of course, as the young boy from The Shining is, when we find him, at his sort of rock bottom and he is an alcoholic. I think it was really key. That was one of the reasons I wanted to play him so much, cause it's of interest to me, and the fact that he then finds recovery and that it was very much central to his psyche for me to play him, I think.

You can watch Ewan McGregor talk about this vital aspect of Dan Torrance as a character by clicking play on the video below.

Doctor Sleep co-stars Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Cliff Curtis, and Bruce Greenwood, and will be arriving in theaters everywhere tonight. Do yourself a favor and check it out, and then be sure to return here to CinemaBlend, as we’ll have tons of spoiler-centric content waiting for you!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.