For over 40 years, the Grady twins have sent chills down the spines of anyone who laid eyes on them. The Shining is one of the most famous films in cinematic horror history, and I spoke to Louise Burns, an actress of one of the Grady twins, to discover what her experience in the unsettling classic was like.

The movie ‘The Shining’ tells the tale of a family who moves to a remote hotel during the winter. However, an eldritch phantom takes over and influences the father of the family, Jack Torrance. Meanwhile, his son, Danny, is a psychic who sees terrifying visions from both the past and future. The movie is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

At the time, the twins, Louise and Lisa Burns, had an agent who told them of the exciting role, which was a public audition. Louise, 55, says that she actually did not know she wanted to be in The Shining; she just knew that she wanted to be a film star and do something different every day.

The audition was a busy one, much like most of them. There were many people, consisting mainly of single girls, who were paired up with someone who looked similar to them. The final stage of the audition process was done with the director of the film, Stanley Kubrick, while others were done with Kubrick’s assistant director. The turning point for them that caught the assistant director’s attention was actually a complete accident! They both happened to say ‘Hello’ at the same time, and he thought it was really creepy; therefore, he took the twins to Kubrick and made them repeat it.

Burns said that on set, there was a lot of sitting down and not doing much. ‘At least we’re not doing school!’ she joked. The twins had a personal tutor, but it was not the same as doing actual school; lessons were stuck in around filming schedules.

When starring in a famously scary horror movie, it is normal to question if the actors are scared. Louise said it was not scary because, when acting, it’s all make-believe. She stated that the worst part was her notably gory scene in which the Grady twins are lying in blood. She was never scared, though. She said each makeup artist had their own recipe for fake blood and could change the thickness based on what was required. She was worried that she and her sister would get cold lying in wet, soggy clothes, so Kubrick just gave them heaters!

Louise and her sister, Lisa, have always been very close and still see each other regularly, despite not living together anymore. Louise enjoyed acting beside her sister because she had always been in her life, and she therefore enjoyed the fact they were in an entire movie together.

Before their role in The Shining, the twins did some TV work for London Weekend Television. They starred in a show called ‘Kids’ in 1979, where they played the posh children of a woman who ran an assessment centre. The series was about children in care in an assessment centre and was based on real-life stories. ‘We got to swear!’ said Louise, talking about some things she enjoyed on the show.

After filming The Shining, the two stopped acting in order to do their O-Levels and GCSEs. Their father said to not do anymore filming until they were 18—they should finish their exams and then decide what they want to do. Louise went to university, where one of the lecturers had a partner who organised for people to take a year out of university for a diploma. Louise took this opportunity and got a job, which led to a research paper being published. This paper resulted in a lecturer at her university offering her a chance to have a PhD, meaning she had a job before she even got her degree! She soon became a research assistant, and she is now a published scientist.

She says that as a young actress, her greatest strength was going for any opportunity and not worrying too much about the future and what would happen.

Burns said the most challenging aspect of the role was lying in blood. She says, ‘It was not a terribly pleasant experience.’ Another challenging part was the dullness of the repetition of saying the same thing in the same way over and over again. She recalled how one scene even took a whole half-term to shoot at one point!

I asked Louise what she thinks makes a performance most memorable, and she answered that it is ‘onscreen chemistry because people love to believe’. She spoke of how we like to be told stories, and those stories are more enjoyable when they feel more real.

The Burns twins’ role is one of the most famous in horror film history, and their most recognised scene is the one where they are standing at the end of the hall. Louise believes that their performance is so memorable because of human fears. For centuries, twins have always been odd and fascinating. Furthermore, the film has a sense of relatability. We’ve all always been somewhere where we wonder, ‘Is someone watching me?’, ‘Have I been here before?’ Whether it’s dark, scary alleyways or a creepy hotel hallway, The Shining makes these aspects we believe in not too far-fetched.

I asked Burns what she thinks is more important: talent or training? Her reply was a straightforward one. ‘You can train someone to be a good actor, but if they’ve got talent, they’ll be a great actor.’

Louise said that working amongst world-famous actors and directors such as Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance in The Shining) and Stanley Kubrick actually felt quite regular. She said that Nicholson was already a father by then, so he acted like one towards her and her sister. She recalled sitting on his knee. She said that despite Stanley being a world-famous director to a regular person watching the film, to the cast, he was just ‘Stanley’. He did not have a particular air or grace about him. Burns said she met a lot of famous stars, but they were completely normal to her. She would forget they’re famous because you know them as just a person who is no different from anyone else.

She talked of how she still gets recognised for her world-famous role when she does shows. She shared a story about when she and her sister had gone to Philadelphia to do a show. They saw a long queue of people at a door, and Louise turned to her sister, saying that someone really famous must be there, and they had to queue to get in. They queued for some time and thought that they must be queuing for some actor they'd never even heard of! They later asked a lady in front of them who she was queuing to see, and she said that everyone was queuing for them!

The Burns twins still get invited to events and receive opportunities because of their role in the bone-chilling movie, but Louise said that she doesn’t know if she would ever go back to acting, and it completely depends on the role. Louise Burns said that if she could go back and go through her whole experience of playing one of the blood-curdling Grady twins, she would.