This story contains spoilers for Mike Flanagan’s Stephen King adaptation, Doctor Sleep**. You might want to stop reading this if you haven’t yet seen the movie. And really, go see the movie. It’s incredible.**
There are a half dozen ways your typical 12-year-old boy might celebrate his birthday. A three-hour session at a local trampoline park. A sleepover with some close friends. Or, if you are Wonder and Good Boys star Jacob Tremblay, you ring in your 12th birthday covered in sticky movie blood and screaming your throat raw as a family of bohemian vampires maim and torture you so they can “drink” your steam.
Hollywood. Where dark, demented dreams do come true.
Jacob Tremblay was a surprise addition to Doctor Sleep, mainly because those who know the book understood that there was no role he really could play. Rumors speculated that he’d be young Dan Torrance in flashbacks, though we all knew he was too old for that.
As it turns out, Mike Flanagan cast the Hollywood child star as Baseball Boy, a cameo role with a significant part to play. He shows up briefly, is established as someone with a reasonable amount of Shine (he can read a pitcher’s thoughts and know what pitch is coming in his Little League games), and then falls victim to The True Knot in a scene so uncomfortable, Stephen King HIMSELF asked Flanagan to tone it down when he watched an early cut.
It’s the scene that almost every Doctor Sleep viewer has been talking about since the movie made its debut in November. And now that the movie is finding new life on home video and HBO, people are wondering about the behind-the-scenes facts for Tremblay’s brutal murder. They are FAR weirder than you even imagined. Flanagan came on our ReelBlend podcast recently to dive deep into Doctor Sleep, and all things Stephen King. And when we got to the Baseball Boy scene, he shared a number of amazing stories.
The cast and crew were excited to terrify young Jacob. It backfired.
Mike Flanagan worked with Jacob Tremblay before. After Room put Tremblay on the map, the two did Before I Wake in 2016 with Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane. Do Flanagan knew how good Tremblay was, and how professional he would treat a gig. He called the actor and offered him the Doctor Sleep role of Baseball Boy. He said Jacob was really excited to work with Mike again, and to see a lot of the same crew. But because he was busy on a different movie, he didn’t have to rehearse. So he practiced the scene at home.
Flanagan told ReelBlend:
When we called him and said, ‘Hey, do you want to play this part?’ he was real excited about it, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I'm gonna… I have a great idea. This is going to be really scary.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ And we all showed up full of swagger. It was like, yeah, ‘We're just gonna roll. We're gonna have somebody down there flicking the blood, because we want a little bit of splash on his chin.’ Not what you guys saw. That was a little more than we thought would happen. And Rebecca, who’s pretty fearless, was full of attitude. And when she met Jacob – he had been doing another movie, so we never rehearsed with him. I would talk to his father and he's like, ‘We're rehearsing ourselves. And it's really good. It's really good. It's really upsetting.’
Flanagan went on to explain that this is typical for younger actors. Their parents often will run scenes with them before they ever get to the set. And Flanagan says it makes his job a lot easier when the actor shows up uber-prepared. He remembers Tremblay being really confident heading into his death scene.
He's the sweetest, most charming kid you'll ever meet. Rebecca was even, ‘Oh, get ready, Jacob! We're going to mess you up! Oh, True Knot, we're coming to get him.’ That whole group of actors, they're the bad guys. They get to strut around on set in cool costumes and say cool stuff. So they showed up to it just cocky. We started with Jacob. When we rehearsed, we didn't put any emotion into it. I was like, ‘Jacob, don't scream. We're just going to walk through it mechanically, so you don't get traumatized. We'll save it.’ … We started on him. We started on his frontal and his profile, which were running simultaneously. He's like, ‘No, I got this.’ I was like, ‘Do you want to do a dry run? You want to do anything with it?’ He said, ‘Nope, I'm good.’ And we all went to the monitor.
At this point, it’s expected that the adult cast is going to get the better of young Jacob Tremblay. The True Knot is about to drain his essence, and it’s going to hurt. But the tables were about to be turned. Flanagan remembers:
Rebecca gets all into character and everybody's ready. And [Jacob’s] dad leans over to me and he's like, ‘You have no idea what you're in for.’ He was kind of smirking. And I was like, ‘Okay, like, we know this is going to be a disturbing scene. It's gonna be fine, though.’ He's just smirking. He knows what's coming. We don't know. And, the general idea was, stuff's always worse in the movie than it is on the set. Like on set, the stuff tends to be fun and silly. And Jacob just lets loose. And it's what you see in the movie. He's just screaming and begging, and he’s ad-libbing, you know? He's just throwing in, ‘Please.’ And Rebecca can't get her lines out. He's just screaming over, and he's crying. And Rebecca comes in like, ‘Uh, yeah, this, this is, this is going to hurt, because fear purifies steam.’ And then she starts crying. And we’re in the van. At the time we had all the monitors in this ride, we're all in there, just staring at it, horrified. We get through to the end of the take. I’m too shocked to call cut. He's just dead. He died, and we’re all just staring at it. And I looked over to [producer] Trevor Macy and I was like, ‘What have we done?’
Traumatic, right? Deeply disturbing, right? You have to assume that young Jacob Tremblay needed time to recover from the horror he just endured. Well, not so much. In fact, not at all. As Flanagan explained:
And Jacob's dad is just grinning. So Jacob hops up off the ground. Just, popped. There’s blood all over him. Half the crew is gone. Like, they have abandoned their posts. So during the shot, grips and electricians and stuff were like, ‘Nope.’ And they just walked away. … Jacob hopped up and his dad kind of smirked at him and they, I'll never forget it. He hopped up, walked past his dad, and they high five. His dad just put his hands up to high five, Jacob walked over to crafty to eat candy, but we were all like crying and fucked up.
You win this round, Tremblay.
The scene was filmed on Tremblay’s 12th birthday.
That fact amazes me. On the day he turned 12, Jacob Tremblay had to act out everyone’s worst fear: dying. And in horrible fashion. But according to Mike Flanagan, none of this fazed him, even though his performance devastated the rest of the cast and crew.
We brought out a birthday cake after [the scene]. This is all true. We had a cake that was made in the shape of the baseball jersey with the number 19. It was red velvet cake. So when you cut it up, it was red inside. And we brought that out and sang to him. It was before we saw what he was going to do, and we were all feeling really just, ‘It’s just another day.’ But then we saw what he did, and we all felt awful. We brought it out. We had cake. We sang. He's covered with blood. There are hilarious pictures of him and he’s just [with a thumbs up] with the cake and the blood. And then he just laughed and said good night. You know, ‘That was so fun everybody, bye!’ And he left and the cast recovered.
It took them a while, though. Ewan McGregor and Cliff Curtis didn’t share a scene with Jacob Tremblay, so they weren’t on set for the murder. They showed up after, genuinely curious how things had gone. They knew that the Baseball Boy death was important to the story, and believed in Tremblay. They just weren’t prepared for how devastated the Doctor Sleep cast was going to be. Said Flanagan:
We're all still shaking [when they show up]. Rebecca Ferguson just doesn't want to talk about it. And Ewan’s like, ‘How’d it go with the kid?’ And she’s like, ‘I don’t even want to talk about it.’ She did all of her stuff – all the shots of her when she talks to him, when he's like, ‘Is this going to hurt?’ And she's like, ‘Yessss!’ And like all the roaring in his face and stuff… he was gone. We did that after Jacob left set. She couldn't look him in the eye and do that.
Thankfully for the cast, Mike Flanagan had the perfect stand-in for Jacob Tremblay.
Jacob Tremblay’s body double on Doctor Sleep was named Fake-ob Tremblay.
There’s a scene later in Doctor Sleep where Ewan McGregor and Curtis’ characters drive to Iowa to dig up the baseball glove Tremblay’s character was holding. Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) knows that one of the True Knot held it, and if she can retrieve it, she can use her Shine to track the group down.
Mike Flanagan didn’t make Tremblay lay in the dirt so that they could recreate his corpse being unearthed (though, it sounds like Tremblay would have been more than game to do that scene). Instead, they created a dummy. And they named him Fake-ob Tremblay. Flanagan said:
Jacob had his head life cast when he did Wonder. And so, we got our hands on that to make this dummy. So that's his life cast from that movie, put on this little statue that was all gutted, and it was horrible. Yeah, little Fake-ob, we kept in a wheelbarrow. We never wanted Jacob to see him. Because they were on set on the same day! Like, ‘Jacob can not see Fake-ob!’ … [Makeup effects department head Bob Kurtzman] made it. The whole like chest cavity was open. And it was really like a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving. It was way more than we [needed]. I said to him, ‘This thing's buried. I'm going to see like the edge of his nose. None of this was necessary.’ And Bob was like, ‘Well, it's pretty cool though, right?’
And then look for Doctor Sleep, available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as on HBO Max.