Ewan McGregor revisits the horrors of The Shining's infamous Overlook Hotel in Doctor Sleep, playing Danny Torrance in an adaptation of Stephen King's 2013 sequel novel. The psychic boy from The Shining is all grown up in this movie. Off screen, McGregor recalls a spine-chilling King moment of his own from his first year at drama school.
Sharing a room at a London YMCA in the late '80s, the Scottish actor was reading Christine, which tells the tale of a possessed car.
"I couldn't put it down. You know, like a lot of Stephen King's books," he told me over the phone from LA. "And at 4 in the morning, I was still reading away. I was at a very scary bit and my friend Richard, who was asleep with his back to me said, 'Ewan, are you OK?'"
McGregor apparently "jumped out of his skin" and said he was fine, but Richard claimed to be getting "very strange vibes" from McGregor's side of the room. When asked about it the following morning, McGregor's friend didn't have a clue what his roommate was talking about.
"So he was sleep-talking to me -- maybe he picked up on my nervous energy from Stephen's writing," McGregor said.
Having immersed himself directly in King's world for his role in Doctor Sleep, it's the metaphor and subtext lacing the author's work that McGregor loves now.
"I feel like he wrote The Shining novel very much about addiction and alcoholism. Both from the point of view of alcoholic Jack Torrance and also the point of view of the alcoholic's child, with Danny," he noted.
King revisited those themes in Doctor Sleep, which McGregor noted "is very much a book about recovery and sobriety." Danny initially deals with the trauma of his childhood with a possessed, murderous father at the Overlook by consuming alcohol -- mirroring his dad's addiction. It's subtext the actor could relate to on a very personal level, having given up drinking in 2000.
"I've lived a sober life for many, many years after having my own torments with alcohol when I was younger," said the actor "And that's why I was so keen to play him."
The actor was "adamant" that director Mike Flanagan's movie adaptation explore this element of the character.
"I felt that it was important that we really show his rock bottom, that we really show how lost he is," McGregor said. "These things do go down through families and they pass on and on and on -- it's a terrible disease, addiction like this."
Addiction isn't the only demon Danny faces in the visually stunning Doctor Sleep. He needs to help teenage psychic Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) confront a terrifying group of cultists who kill people like them to prolong their lives. That quest takes them back to the place where it all began -- the Overlook Hotel from The Shining.
"So he has so much on his plate, this poor boy Danny, and I felt like ultimately the only way he can try and live with any of it is to numb it away," McGregor said.
"I think that's really what alcoholism is -- a desire to not feel and not think because you haven't got the courage to confront these things yet. Or maybe not the courage, but maybe you haven't got the tools."
McGregor said being back on the iconic Overlook Hotel set was "just chilling."
"It felt a little bit like Jack Nicholson had just gone to his trailer for a minute and could be back at any moment. It just felt so real; the typewriter was there on the table, the chair was knocked over, the staircase in front of us, the fireplace where he threw the ball against the wall," he said. "It was like being in The Shining."
Moviegoers will next see McGregor as the villain in the DC Comics adaptation Birds of Prey, where he'll play crime boss Black Mask and face off against a female superteam led by Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. In January, the actor heads to New York to play fashion designer Halston in a six-part Netflix biopic produced by American Horror Story's Ryan Murphy.
Watch this: What's new to stream in November 2019
In the second half of 2020, he'll return to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which he played in the
prequels, to shoot the unnamed Disney Plus show focused on the character. Conveniently enough, he's been sporting some facial hair worthy of the Jedi master as he promotes Doctor Sleep.
"Well, the beard is here for just laziness' sake, but it'll have to come off for Halston and I'll have to regrow it again afterwards," he told me. "But I'm doing a practice run."