Is Jack Nicholson in Doctor Sleep, the new sequel to The Shining?

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Heeerrreee’s Johnny!

When Doctor Sleep – the long-awaited sequel to The Shining – was announced earlier this year, it posed an immediate question. Was Jack Nicholson going to be in it? His bonkers turn as axe-wielding maniac Jack Torrance in the 1980 original has shocked horror fans for decades. But given that psychotic Johnny bit the snow dust at the end of the film, surely he couldn’t make a comeback?

Well, fellow horror fans, we have the answer.

Is Jack Nicholson in Doctor Sleep?

In short, no. Wacky Jack, as he’s known in Tinseltown, is very committed to being retired. Despite rumours he’s to play Winfried in the US remake of German indie Toni Erdmann, Nicholson is pretty much out of the game. Now 82, the triple Oscar-winner reportedly turned down Steven Spielberg when asked for a cameo appearance in Ready Player One. That was last year, so 12 months down the line it was pretty much taken for granted that indie filmmaker Mike Flanagan wasn’t going to be able to coax him onto set, however hard he tried.

That’s not all though! After attending a press screening last week, NME can reveal that while Jack Nicholson doesn’t pop up, frothing-at-the-mouth in Doctor Sleep, his character Jack Torrance does.

In a chilling scene, Danny (now grown-up, still supernaturally gifted) approaches the bar in The Overlook Hotel’s grand ballroom. If you remember, it was at the same fancy drinking hole that Danny’s dad glugged his way to oblivion during The Shining. Now nursing his own newfound sobriety, Danny is tempted to pour himself a glass of scotch by the spectral bartender, whose face remains hidden until… heeerrreee’s Johnny! The camera pans up to reveal Jack Torrance, grinning sinisterly down at his son. It’s a tricky business, recasting classic roles, but director Mike Flanagan manages to pull the scene off without any cheesy dialogue. Hats off!

Who plays Jack Torrance in Doctor Sleep?

For his most difficult casting decision, Flanagan turned to a longtime collaborator. Henry Thomas, recent star of The Haunting of Hill HouseGerald’s Game and Ouija: Origin of Evil, steps into Nicholson’s considerable shoes – and plays the part with manic glee.

is jack nicholson in doctor sleep

E.T. star Henry Thomas was arrested last week. Credit: Getty

Who is Henry Thomas?

Film fans amongst you may recognise Thomas’ rosy-cheeked face as Elliott, the flying bicycle enthusiast from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The 48-year-old veteran of 67 roles has been having a tough time of it lately. Arrested last week (October 23) for driving under the influence, Thomas was allegedly found passed out behind the wheel, before Tualatin Police Department officers woke him up. According to TMZ, Thomas was taken to Washington County Jail on suspicion of a DUI “based on other signs of being intoxicated,” although there was no smell of alcohol in the vehicle. The curse of the Overlook continues!

Is Shelley Duval in Doctor Sleep?

Similarly to her on screen husband, Wendy Torrance (previously played by Shelley Duval) is also brought back in Doctor Sleep. However, we mostly see her in flashback scenes and Danny’s nightmares. Desperate to protect her little boy, Wendy is seen hugging him tightly on the sofa as they watch late-night movies. Elsewhere, we watch as she is attacked with fresh gusto in a recreation of the famous ‘here’s Johnny’ bathroom scene. Some new moments are used to fill in the gaps that were left by Stanley Kubrick’s iconic original.

is jack nicholson in doctor sleep

Alex Essoe attends the LA premiere of ‘Doctor Sleep’. Credit: Getty

Who plays Wendy Torrance in Doctor Sleep?

Shelley Duval has gone on record several times to say that filming The Shining scarred her for life. Said to have behaved tyrannically towards the young actress in order to get her into character, Kubrick pushed his cast to the limit. Dehydrated after intense shooting schedules – the legendary baseball bat scene reportedly took 127 takes –and hoarse from crying, Duval even started to lose her hair. So, you can probably forgive the now-70-year-old for not wanting to return for the sequel. Anyway, she’s probably too old to play the part now.

Luckily, Flanagan found the perfect replacement in Alex Essoe. Lesser-known amongst film fans, you’ll probably only have spied the Saudi Arabian actress on screen if you’re into horror. Predominantly working in the scarier genre, Essoe has notched 36 credits in movies such as Starry Eyes, Midnighters and Red Island.

Are they actually good?

Surprisingly, given the delicate nature of recasting classic roles – Thomas and Essoe actually pull it off. Thomas puts in a restrained but detailed turn as the mad writer Jack Torrance, while Essoe’s likeness to Duvall is on the verge of uncanny. Neither spend much time on screen together, which is probably wise, but the recreations of the characters never feel gratuitous or tacked on to appease fans. A distinguished horror director, Flanagan is clearly passionate about his chosen subject and has a clear eye for the intricate. Kubrick would have been proud, we think. You never know with ol’ Stan.

‘Doctor Sleep’ is in cinemas from 31 October 2019

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