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Shelley Duvall speaks out on controversial 'Dr. Phil' interview, 'Shining' trauma

Duvall left Hollywood and disappeared off the map for many years, until an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw in 2016 thrust her back into the spotlight.
/ Source: TODAY

There was a time when everyone knew Shelley Duvall's distinctive look.

Director Robert Altman told her she was "born to play" Olive Oyl in 1980s "Popeye." And she was spot-on as Jack Nicholson's terrified wife Wendy in "The Shining" from that same year.

But then Duvall vanished, vacating Hollywood for her home state of Texas in the mid-1990s. And except for a traumatizing visit from the "Dr. Phil" show in 2016, fans haven't heard much from her lately.

That all changed Thursday, when The Hollywood Reporter published a new, extensive interview with the reclusive, private former actor, now 71. And one of the first things they dove into was exactly what happened with Dr. Phil McGraw, when his show came to check up on her.

Shelley Duvall in 1971.Bert Stern / Conde Nast via Getty Images

"I found out the kind of person he is the hard way," Duvall said in the interview. "My mother didn't like him, either. A lot of people, like Dan (Gilroy, her partner), said, 'You shouldn't have done that, Shelley.' "

What happened in 2016 was this: McGraw and his crew arrived in town and filmed an interview THR characterized as "disturbing." During it, the article said, she "babbled free-associative nonsense and disclosed paranoid fantasies."

Lee Unkrich, who directed movies like "Toy Story 3" and "Coco," was watching that day and had been looking for Duvall for many years, and ultimately sought her out to make sure she was all right. "Unfortunately, on 'Dr. Phil,' the world saw what it's like to have untreated mental illness," he told THR.

Vivian Kubrick, daughter of director Stanley Kubrick (who directed "The Shining") tweeted at the time that the footage was "lurid" and "shameful."

Robin Williams and Duvall in "Popeye."PA Images via Getty Images

(A "Dr. Phil" spokesperson said they wanted to "document the struggle and bring amazing resources to change her trajectory," but "she declined our initial offer for inpatient treatment.")

The article doesn't get into her current mental condition, though it notes she had shifting moods with a memory that was "sharp" and full of "engrossing" stories.

And she clearly has many of them. Having worked with legendary director Altman on six films, Duvall also had a memorable appearance in 1977's "Annie Hall" and dated musician Paul Simon. She went to parties with future stars all over the place, including a carpenter who'd just built a waterfall for a studio executive's home. That carpenter turned out to be Harrison Ford.

"The Shining" was probably her most challenging role, however. Director Kubrick thought she was "great at crying," as Duvall recalled, but the film's shoot took 56 weeks. Kubrick shot six days a week, sometimes for 16 hours a day, and Duvall had to live in a state of constant anxiety and terror just to stay in character.

Jack Nicholson and Duvall in "The Shining."Universal Images Group via Getty Images

"(Kubrick) doesn't print anything until at least the 35th take," she said. "After a while, your body rebels. It says: 'Stop doing this to me. I don't want to cry every day.' And sometimes just that thought alone would make me cry. To wake up on a Monday morning, so early, and realize that you had to cry all day because it was scheduled — I would just start crying. I'd be like, 'Oh no, I can't, I can't.' And yet I did it. I don't know how I did it. Jack said that to me, too. He said, 'I don't know how you do it.' "

One scene, in which Duvall's character has to swing a bat at Nicholson's character, took "three weeks" to shoot, she recalled, and cried while recalling it. "It was very hard," she said. "Jack was so good — so damn scary. I can only imagine how many women go through this kind of thing."

Duvall with Jeff Bridges in "Faerie Tale Theater" in 1983.YouTube

That said, she had nothing but kind words for late director Kubrick: "He was very warm and friendly to me," she said.

Actor Anjelica Huston, then dating Nicholson and living with him during the shoot, said that "Shelley was having a had time just dealing with the emotional content of the piece ... and they didn't seem to be all that sympathetic ... She took it on. She was, I think, incredibly brave."

For a time, Duvall was going from strength to strength; from 1982-87 she produced and appeared in the forward-thinking, star-studded "Faerie Tale Theater" and continued to perform. Then, after shooting "The Underneath" with Steven Soderbergh in 1994 in Austin, she decided not to go back to Hollywood. She remained in Texas, otherwise off the celebrity map, until found again by Dr. Phil's producers.

Now, she seems to have a small group of friends and admirers (like Unkrich) who provide a support system. Fans attended a 70th birthday party in 2019 at Red Lobster, her favorite restaurant. And she might, perhaps, be up for revisiting some of her harder Hollywood moments in the future.

Including checking out "The Shining."

"I'd like to watch the movie again," she said. "I haven't seen it in a long time."