By David Weiner
“Come and play with us Danny. Forever, and ever, and ever.” No empty hotel hallway can ever be the same after watching THE SHINING, especially when you turn a corner and half expect to see the ghostly Grady sisters standing side-by-side, inviting you to join them. Lisa and Louise Burns were 10 when they started filming Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, and finished after they celebrated their 11th birthday on the set. Decades after the iconic film’s release, the identical-twin Brits go about their London lives maintaining their anonymity, unless they’re making a convention appearance. Lisa is a banker, and Louise is a genetic engineer.
From the comfort of their Colorado hotel room just down the hall from room 237, the charming duo (who speak quickly and often finish each other’s sentences) gave me new insight into what clinched their SHINING audition, what it was like to work with Kubrick, how it felt to be covered in blood, and what they really think of the wild SHINING conspiracy theory film ROOM 237.
What are your memories of your SHINING audition?
LISA: We’d worked in TV, but we’d never done anything in films.
LOUISE: We’d just gone to London for the day sightseeing. We had an agent and she said there’s an audition at Elstree Film Studios, and dad said, “You know, if we go along, then we can look around the film studios.” Studios didn’t do tours too much like they do now. And he said, “Don’t worry, if you don’t get the part, at least you get to see maybe how they make a movie, maybe meet some fun people.”
LISA: We’d been walking around London, we’d been shopping, so we looked a bit shop-soiled. (laughs)
LOUISE: We washed our faces, brushed our hair. We must’ve seemed like the least horrific children in the entire room.
LISA: We met [Kubrick] at the audition. I remember we both said, “Hello Mr. Kubrick,” at the same time and he really thought that was freaky. (laughs).
Did you know you were making a horror movie? What did they tell you as 10-year-olds?
LOUISE: I don’t think they told us it was a horror movie until the end. In fact, the filming of the girls laying in blood was one of the last scenes filmed. … That took about three days to film, to prepare us, to talk about what was going to happen, and to allay any anxieties. It was a very closed set. There were very few people on set that day, where usually at the time you might have two actors and there’s 50 stage people hanging around.
What was the explanation for this bloody scene? It’s pretty horrifying, but for an 11-year-old, was it fun?
LOUISE: It didn’t seem that horrific.
LISA: We might’ve been very brave children.
LOUISE: It wasn’t real blood. It was just Kensington Gore (fake theatrical blood) that the makeup man Tom Smith made up. In preparation for that, he would show us how movies can make anything seem very, very real. We had a cat, and he painted cat scratches on my face, and it looked like the cat had really done them. I was so proud of them that I went to lunch and showed everybody. “Look at my cat scratches!” It was very funny. And he gave us some blood to take home. He said, “Put some on your fingers and show all your friends. Make them think you cut yourself.” It was really very interesting.
LISA: And the outside of [The Overlook Hotel], that didn’t exist; the whole front looked so real. When you walked ‘round it, it was [a facade] set against a hill so it doesn’t fall over. You’d think, “Wow, these people could take anything and they can make what I know to be fake look so real that you’re fooled.” We were accustomed to the idea that these people were almost like magicians. They could make something that was fake seem real, so when they said it wasn’t real blood, you’re like, “Yeah, that’s fine.” We knew it would look real.
LOUISE: My biggest worry was being cold. That it would be cold blood. (laughs) And I also remember keeping the set very quiet by not having lots of people.
LISA: Because [Kubrick] only had one take. And that [closed set] was probably for him, because he liked re-shooting. He liked to take lots of takes.
LOUISE: It was one take because there was only one set dressing. Once it was covered in blood, that was really it.
Did he say “play dead”? How did he direct you?
LISA: [to Louise] He didn’t say hold your breath, did he?
LOUISE: He didn’t say play dead! I think we breathed quite shallowly. He wanted one to be the mirror of the other. He liked repeating themes.
How was Kubrick with kids? Very personable? Or more authoritative — speak when spoken to?
LISA: Oh god, no.
LOUISE: We used to hang out together. We went sightseeing a lot with his parents. You wouldn’t think they were making a big expensive movie. It was like a collection of people got together and just thought, “You know, we might have a little bit of fun doing this.” Our worst bit was is takes a long, long time to do anything, for anything to happen. You spend a lot of time just waiting. You might be on call every single day, but you might not perform for a week.
LISA: But you turn up and sit around.
LOUISE: Kids find themselves entertainment, don’t they?
LISA: But in those days there weren’t any of the hand-held devices there are now.
LOUISE: We could either choose to be bored [or not]. Stan had his own children come, and his daughter was making a documentary. She let us look down the camera and show us how to do different things.
LISA: And she explained what the crew members did. We weren’t allowed to to “play” as such, but were were allowed to touch things and move around the movie lot sets.
Were Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall present while you were filming your scenes? What was your relationship like?
LOUISE: I remember sitting on Jack Nicholson’s knee. The caretaker’s apartment — that seemed to be the place where most people congregated at the end of the day.
LISA: It was not a real place and just a set, but it was all made so real that you’d just use it anyway.
LOUISE: They were very serious about what they did, but they didn’t stand on ceremony and speak to each other in hushed tones. You wouldn’t know that Stanley Kubrick was a world-famous director. He just seemed like a very regular person.
How old were you when you finally saw the film?
LISA: I saw it at university on TV.
LOUISE: It was on TV one night and I lived in a house with other people, and it came on and I said, “I’m in that movie.”
LISA: No one believes you.
LOUISE: And I said, “No seriously, straight up, wait ’til the end.”
LISA: They think I merely have the same name. Who would go through the trouble of taking someone else’s name?
What is your perception of the film and its impact on pop culture?
LOUISE: I think its impact as a horror movie is an homage to how good Stanley Kubrick was. I think Stanley could direct anything he chose to. … You get so embedded in [the film] that you feel like you’re in the story, and I think that’s what he did with all of his films. But I think THE SHINING’s one of his more accessible films.
Lastly, what did you think of the documentary ROOM 237 and all of its wild theories about THE SHINING and its hidden meanings? Were you amused by it? Do you subscribe to any of it? Do you actively want to debunk anything in it?
LOUISE: It’s all bollocks. (laughs)
LISA: I find it very funny that the Americans who landed on the moon prefer to believe that Kubrick faked it. But generally speaking, I find people who’ll believe the fake much more quickly than they would ever believe [the truth], they prefer to be lied to. They really don’t seem to mind. It’s just weird. But it’s all over the world that people will believe what would seem incredible, when the real truth isn’t that incredible and it also isn’t considered to be believable either.
LOUISE: We do love a good conspiracy theory.
(This article first appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland issue #283 for the film’s 35th anniversary)
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