A sad Dr. Phil interview with an unrecognizable Shelley Duvall hit the Internet last night that shows the actress clearly suffering from some sort of mental illness. Among other things, she says that Robin Williams is living as a shapeshifter, Robin Hood’s Sheriff of Nottingham is somehow threatening her and there’s a”whirling disc” implanted inside of her leg. “I’m very sick,” she says. “I need help.” Dr. Phil has been widely criticized for putting Duvall on television in this state, especially since she’s been out of the public eye for 15 years and so clearly needs expert care and not press exposure.
Duvall’s career peaked in 1980 when she starred as Olive Oyl in Robert Altman’s Popeye and Wendy Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The latter film has attracted an enormous cult following over the years (see the brilliant documentary Room 237 for more on that), but for Duvall the shoot was a living hell. Kubrick’s meticulous methods caused the production to run way over schedule, forcing Duvall to spend more than a year in England away from her family. Certain scenes were filmed again and again until the actors were nearly in tears, with the famous baseball bat confrontation between Duvall and Jack Nicholson supposedly taking a world-record 127 takes.
“Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable,” Duvall told Roger Ebert in December of 1980. “Jack Nicholson’s character had to be crazy and angry all the time. And in my character I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week. I was there a year and a month, and there must be something to Primal Scream therapy, because after the day was over and I’d cried for my 12 hours … After all that work, hardly anyone even criticized my performance in it, even to mention it, it seemed like. The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn’t there.”
Kubrick was notoriously secretive and press-shy, but he did allow his 19-year-old daughter Vivian to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary on the set of the film. One moment captures Duvall lying down on the floor in a state of complete exhaustion, and in another, which you can watch right here, Kubrick reams her out for missing a cue. “If it hadn’t been for that volley of ideas and sometimes butting of heads together, it wouldn’t have come out as good as it did,” she says, somewhat unconvincingly. “And it also helps get the emotion up and the concentration up because it builds up anger and you get more out of yourself. He knew that and he knew he was getting more out of me by doing that. So it was sort of like a game.”
Vivian Kubrick’s documentary doesn’t make the set of The Shining seem like a very fun game for Duvall. And for Shining writer Stephen King, Duvall’s character is just one of the reasons why he’s never liked the film. “[The movie] is so misogynistic,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dish rag.” (The character is much stronger in King’s book.)
Watching this clip of Duvall struggle on the set of The Shining is doubly sad knowing her current state. Hopefully this tragic Dr. Phil appearance will lead to her getting some professional help.