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The American Horror Story Cast Member Who Was Almost In The Shining

There's little dispute among horror fans that 1980's The Shining, adapted from Stephen King's novel by master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, is one of the finest examples of the genre. The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an aspiring author with an alcohol problem who agrees to act as the caretaker of the secluded Overlook Hotel during its annual winter shutdown. Accompanying Jack are his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses a psychic ability that allows him to read minds, communicate telepathically, and (unfortunately for him) see ghosts. The elderly Overlook employee Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) calls this gift "the shining." Trouble arises when the spirits that dwell in the Overlook take advantage of Jack's weaknesses to lure him into a place of profound darkness, causing him to place anything and everything – including his beloved family — second to the deadly pull of his own self-loathing, insecurity, and addiction.

The Shining became a showcase for the famously meticulous Kubrick's skill in building a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere, and for his peerless eye for framing and composition. But in fulfilling his vision for the project, the director famously butted heads with his cast, crew, and King, who disagreed with virtually every creative liberty Kubrick chose to take with his novel. Among the choices King disagreed the most strenuously with was the depiction of Wendy — who, in the novel, is a brash, strong-willed, blonde former cheerleader with a wicked sense of humor and mixed feelings about her troubled husband, and isn't that way in the movie. As it turns out, before Shelley Duvall landed the role of Wendy in the film, a different actress almost got her shot at it — a performer who would go on to become one of the faces of AMC's smash-hit anthology series American Horror Story.

Here's the American Horror Story star who was almost in The Shining.

Jack Nicholson and Stephen King both wanted Jessica Lange for the role of Wendy

In addition to his disagreements with Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King also had issues with Jack Nicholson, whom he felt didn't play Jack Torrance correctly. Nicholson's portrayal of Jack was off-kilter and unhinged from the beginning of the movie, whereas Jack in the book has a slow descent into madness. But about one thing,  King and Nicholson agreed: Both felt that Jessica Lange, then known as a talented up-and-comer who had raised her profile significantly with roles in 1976's King Kong and 1979's All That Jazz, was the best fit for the role of Wendy. 

According to ScreenRant, Nicholson personally recommended Lange to Kubrick after reading the novel — but Kubrick had other ideas, having envisioned Wendy as basically the complete opposite character type that she had been presented as in the novel. Kubrick reportedly wanted a Wendy that was more weak-willed, fragile, and emotional — basically a 180-degree pivot from King's characterization — and he felt that Duvall fit the bill. According to The Vintage News, King also lobbied for Lange's casting, to no avail. 

The author has had plenty to say about his problems with the film version of The Shining over the years, and Kubrick's re-imagining of Wendy is one of the aspects of the film that King never fails to complain about whenever he's asked. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, King called the portrayal "so misogynistic." He added, "Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag."

Lange would, of course, go on to amass an award-winning filmography on her way to a latter-day career as a scream queen as part of American Horror Story's stable of regular players. But her involvement in the horror genre might have begun much, much earlier if Kubrick had actually been interested in making a film version of The Shining that was a bit more faithful to King's book.