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Jack Nicholson Accidentally Destroyed This Prop In The Shining

While you willingly enter a realm of suspended reality when you watch a film like the 1980 cult classic "The Shining," you have to hope what you're seeing on screen isn't too close an imitation of real life. Once it's over and you've turned the lights back on, it's easy to dismiss some scenes — like the ones with those creepy twins — as (hopefully) mere cinematic creations. Others strike a little closer to home. Visions of Jack Nicholson slowly and steadily losing it as writer Jack Torrance are perhaps even more terrifying for the way they portray a supposedly normal, loving father and husband as a person who can plausibly morph into a homicidal maniac.

No one can pull off that type of transformation quite like Nicholson, and when he goes after his character's wife, Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall), you have to wonder how he made his rage look so real — especially in one particular scene, where he actually wrecks the set to get at his target, intending to take her down, too.

Jack Nicholson brought a specific skill set to The Shining

By the time Jack Nicholson came on the set of "The Shining," he had plenty of experience as an actor. In fact, many of his early roles were in horror films. The first time he appeared on screen, he played a teenager who wrongly believes he's a murderer in 1958's "Cry Baby Killer." Nicholson went on to make a name for himself in classics including 1969's "Easy Rider," 1974's "Chinatown," and 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

But his background in the industry was balanced with work that had nothing to do with entertainment. As a teenager, Nicholson worked as a lifeguard, as detailed by the Washington Post, and at a toy store. Later on, he served in the military and trained as a fire marshal (via the Independent). But it was Nicholson's firefighting skills that came into play when he took on the role of Jack Torrance in "The Shining."

Surely director Stanley Kubrick knew what he was doing when he cast Nicholson to play the part, but did anyone on set realize this was an actor who knew exactly how to wield an axe?

A fake door didn't cut it

There's an intense scene in "The Shining" in which Jack Torrance nearly kills his wife Wendy. First, we see Jack Nicholson's character limping through the hall, carrying an axe. The scene then cuts to Shelley Duvall's Wendy, who's struggling to escape the bathroom by climbing through a too-small window. Their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) watches helplessly from outside.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Nicholson croons creepily, continuing toward the bathroom door. He tries the doorknob. Then, he knocks. And finally — as we knew he would — he begins hacking violently at the door.

Destroying authentic objects for movie-making purposes can get expensive. After all, who knows how many takes might be required to get a scene just right? It only makes sense that Nicholson attacked a prop door in the scene — well, at least at first. Before filming began, Nicholson revved himself up by jumping up and down, talking to himself, and throwing the axe on a bed (via the Independent). But when Stanley Kubrick first shot the scene, Nicholson tapped into his firefighting skills and quickly destroyed the prop door.

Basically, he was far too good at his job. The prop had to be replaced with a real door to slow down the action. In the final cut, Nicholson takes his time, working steadily through the wood. And when the axe head finally breaks through, the reveal is terrifying.