Doctor Sleep: Rebecca Ferguson on Becoming the New Shining Villain

Rebecca Ferguson opens up about bringing Rose the Hat, the villain of Shining sequel Doctor Sleep, to the big screen.

A role as the villain of any Stephen King movie is a big enough deal as it is, but what about the antagonist in the sequel to one of the most beloved King adaptations ever made? It’s a huge deal. Fortunately, when Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the The Shining, arrives in theaters later this fall, it will count on the extremely talented Rebecca Ferguson (Dune) to bring the evil Rose the Hat to the big screen. 

Well, evil might be too strong a word, according to Ferguson, who spoke to us on the phone a few months after our initial visit to the set of Doctor Sleep, which also stars Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance and is written and directed by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House). 

“I like finding the layers to all characters,” Ferguson says of Rose, an energy vampire who feeds on the psychic essence (called “steam” in the book) of children who possess the Shining. Rose and her band, known as the True Knot, torture and ultimately kill their victims while they feed. The sheer horror of Rose’s crimes might actually put the Overlook Hotel’s otherwordly methods to shame. 

Ferguson thinks there’s more to Rose than who she’s eating, though: “I mean for me, yes, she’s a villain. But what is so beautiful is that everything she does, she does out of the love for her people. Yes, the consequence is that people die, but because she’s feeding the ones she loves. Be that as it may, she is a villain and the antagonist and obviously that’s fun, but I don’t analyze it as a villain. I try and find the bits that I love in each character.”

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The Swedish actress is no stranger to villainous role. Ferguson plays three different baddies in 2019 alone, including Morgana in The Kid Who Would Be King and Riza Stavros in Men in Black: International. Still, following up Jack Nicholson’s axe-wielding Jack Torrance, one of the greatest horror villains of all time, is no easy feat.

“I mean, it was absolutely incredible and quite scary in a sense that, I’ve never played a character who needs to be scary for grownups,” Ferguson says of taking on the role. “I’ve come from doing The Kid Who Would Be King, where I play Morgana, who is a threat to the young children in a children’s film. This brings a completely new layer to my acting. I want to say I was scared of being too animated, but I felt very secure with Mike Flanagan, because I’d seen his work and I know the importance of the depth of character for him. But it’s not just about the scariness, it’s about the layers that come underneath for each character and what they’re dealing with, addiction or recovery.”

While the comparisons will be inevitable once the movie’s out — “Is Rose as scary as Jack?” and so on — the two characters couldn’t be more different from each other. In The Shining, Jack becomes the vessel for the haunted hotel’s evil intentions. He’s a broken, unhappy man, and a recovering alcoholic prone to fits of rage — an easy target for the forces at work in the book and movie.

Rose the Hat, on the other hand, has a real distate for humans and has been killing them since at least the 19th century. In Doctor Sleep, she orders her cult of nomadic vampires to kidnap a little girl named Abra Stone, who is very powerful in the Shining, so that they can feed endlessly on her steam. Rose is cold, calculating, and will go to any lengths to get what she wants, which is not only bad news for Abra, but also Dan, who develops a relationship to the little girl as somewhat of a mentor in the book. He’s her Dick Hallorann.

Speaking of the kindly Mr. Hallorann, he’s in the movie too, played this time around by Carl Lumbly (Supergirl). But didn’t he die in Kubrick’s movie? Well, according to Ferguson, it’s not really correct to call Doctor Sleep a sequel to the first movie since it follows aspects of both King and Kubrick’s versions of the story. For example, the Overlook is no longer standing in the Doctor Sleep novel since it blew up in The Shining, but it will be a major setting in the movie since it was never destroyed in Kubrick’s film. The same goes for Dick Hallorann, who wasn’t killed off in The Shining novel and plays a major role in helping Dan cope with his trauma in Doctor Sleep

“I don’t like using the word sequel because that just builds up the possibility of being broken down,” she says. “This is a continuation of the master Mr. King’s book, The Shining, with a beautiful homage and connections to Kubrick’s film. I call this kind of a peace gathering and a standalone film.”

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Despite its haunted older brother, Ferguson assures us that newcomers can view Doctor Sleep as its own story separate from The Shining: “It works, because they pick up a story 40 years after The Shining, where we meet, once again, for people who have seen it, Dan. Otherwise it’s a character called Dan, who has powers that are reignited or activated to massive threats in the shape of this group called the True Knot.”

That’s all you really need to know, according to Ferguson. Besides, the new movie itself takes a few liberties of its own with the source material. For one thing, you’ll meet a slightly different version of the True Knot in Flanagan’s film. 

“We have done our own version of the True Knot,” Ferguson says of the group, which features Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy, Carel Struycken as Granda Flick, Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi, and Catherine Parker as Silent Sarey. “I had this idea of hippy barefoot caravan livers with circus lights and the modernity of massive RVs. We wanted something that was quite relatable and, image-wise, quite beautiful and a little bit Voguesque. Whilst in the book I believe they’re dressed in pink onesies and somewhat overweight.”

The actress also describes how all the True Knot actors, which she calls “misfits and just so funny and geeky and weird and quirky,” “played around in our group to see what it’s like to be a sort of predator character,” with help from movement choreographer Terry Notary, who is best known as Rocket in the modern Planet of the Apes movies.

Flanagan and Ferguson also made changes to Rose’s signature hat, moving away from the top hat described in the book for something a little different.

“It’s a bloody good hat,” Ferguson says. “The hat was a normal top hat that they found, and I said it was too high and it looked too goofy and silly, but the shape of it was incredible. So they cut off the middle bit and just put the top back on again and made it shorter.”

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Ferguson says that this approach to adapting the book ultimately benefited the movie: “That’s the beauty of creating something yourself as well. You can be very, very close to a book, but  also it takes away the freedom of creating something for yourself.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Ferguson isn’t a big fan of The Shining and King’s work in general. She watched the Kubrick movie for the first time when she was 14, but she was so scared that she didn’t finish watching it.

“I remember falling asleep at the maze and I believe that was because I was so bloody scared throughout the movie, that incredible tension that Kubrick managed to create, the visual bloody feast. And I think the music is so unsettling. I’d never read The Shining and I still haven’t.”

Surprisingly, despite playing one of King’s scarier villains on the big screen, Ferguson doesn’t really watch many horror movies. She hasn’t watched Halloween, for example.

“I just don’t like being scared in that sense,” Ferguson says. “But I love the way [King] writes. I love his character descriptions. Right now, I’m reading The Outsider. I can’t stop being drawn into, it’s not the simplicity of his ways, it’s the characters that just come to life in the way that King writes.”

And Ferguson loves that there’s been a resurgence of adaptations of King’s work for the past few years and that she gets to be a part of that in such a big way. 

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“I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to make films out of everything that he writes. It’s so adaptable. It’s so understandable. It’s so relatable and the imagery, it’s like you don’t really have to make scene images anymore, you just have the book.”

Doctor Sleep opens in theaters on Nov. 8.

John Saavedra is an associate editor at Den of Geek. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @johnsjr9 and make sure to check him out on Twitch.