Mike Flanagan on directing Doctor Sleep: ‘I was terrified from the start’

Credit: WB / Jessica Miglio

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, the psychological horror film from director ‎Stanley Kubrick that made “Heeeere’s Johnny!” creepy. It follows an adult Danny Torrance, who is still suffering from the events of his childhood. Who better to capture a protagonist with a tortured soul than director Mike Flanagan, who gave Netflix subscribers the creeps with “The Haunting of Hill House.” Nerd Reactor had the chance to chat with the director about the challenges of adapting a film from Stephen King’s book, feeling terrified by the film’s pressure, and the chilling music.

Nerd Reactor: Were there challenges in adapting the film from the book?

Mike Flanagan: I’m always looking for something different in every project. This one, in particular, was already in King’s book. It kind of jumped into a lot of territories that I love anyway and into ideas that I’m fascinated with like childhood trauma and how it affects us as grownups, addictions & recovery, and the destruction of the nuclear family & the aftermath of that overtime. Those are things that I have gotten to work with before and things that I gravitate toward.

This movie had a huge amount of brand new challenges, more than any other project I have ever done. Its heart and a lot of its themes were very comfortable for me and were places that I like to venture into.

Nerd Reactor: Did you have a lot of leeways when making the film, or did you feel constrained?

Mike Flanagan: Stephen King has a lot of approvals for a movie to get made in the beginning, but once the movies happen, he intentionally steps back to make sure that he’s not interfering. “The book is mine. I want the movie to be yours.” There’s quite a bit of freedom to that. The other side of that coin though is that you know he’s going to see it as soon as it’s ready. As Kubrick learned, he’s not shy when he doesn’t like something. I didn’t feel constrained in anything. I kind of felt nervous and excited that we were able to take the kind of risks we were taking.

Doctor Sleep Ewan McGregor Credit: WB / Jessica Miglio

Credit: WB / Jessica Miglio

Nerd Reactor: Was there any hesitation in tackling the project?

Mike Flanagan: I was interested in the book from the day it was published, and I loved The Shining since I was a kid, so I was never going to be able to resist this if someone was going to offer it to me. But I was terrified from the start and every day. I’m still terrified. I don’t think I ever had a job that came with so much pressure built into it. I’m only starting to relax because I can’t do anything else. It’s too late. The bullet has left the gun, and all I can really do now is explain myself. That’s the only thing that has let me relax because I can’t do anything anymore.

Nerd Reactor: Doctor Sleep is a different type of sequel because it follows a new journey for Danny.

Mike Flanagan: That’s one of the reasons why I felt comfortable making this at all. I think King structured it very much as a descendant from The Shining instead of a sequel. It was a story that was informed by the DNA of its parents. In this case, the parents were Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick. It was also its own thing and had its own identity and had to find its own way in the world, much like Dan Torrance. That made me feel a lot better because it wasn’t just rehashing The Shining or living within the same story. So much of this was brand new and so much of it was so far removed that it made me feel better about the whole endeavor.

Nerd Reactor: The music really brings you back into the world of The Shining.

Mike Flanagan: The score just gave me goosebumps. It was like walking back into my own memories, and kind of sharing some of the DNA with The Shining in that way was one of the really cool opportunities that we had in this. In the music, in our sets, and in our camera work, that was one of the most exciting elements in this for me.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

Nerd Reactor: How exciting was it to have other weird stuff happening out there other than ghosts?

Mike Flanagan: That’s one of the really cool things about the Stephen King universe. Of course, the story is going to have ghosts, both literal and kind of metaphorical, but I love these monsters he’s created in the True Knot. They’re the kind of stuff from ancient myth, this predatory world. It’s almost vampiric. I’ve never gotten to play with characters like that in my work before, so that was some of the stuff that was the most attractive.

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep hits theaters on November 8, 2019.

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 10179 posts

Assassin, scoundrel, head honcho.