Miriam Shor has been acting on stage and on-screen for over two decades, but it took until the fifth season of her TV Land comedy “Younger” for her to feel like she was ready to step behind the camera.
“I have a lot of experience, but I had kind of discounted that, which is odd,” Shor tells Variety. “I have to say that the climate that we’re in right now — what women are going through right now — really forced my hand on this. I had to ask myself if the reason I had never asked to direct before was because I really didn’t want to, or because I didn’t think I deserved a spot at the table.”
Shor says that she realized “those are some bulls— answers” and were not ones that would stop her from acting, so she didn’t allow them to stop her from directing, either. So she took the helm of the fifth episode this season, where the storyline is steeped in the #MeToo movement after Empirical Press’ most popular and successful author is embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal.
Ahead of her directorial debut, Shor speaks with Variety about the challenges of directing for the first time, tackling #MeToo on-screen, and what she learned about acting by stepping behind the scenes.
What made this the right time for you to direct?
I noticed so many friends of mine who are actors and just people in general in the business jumping to the opportunity to direct, and one of the things I had questioned was why there weren’t more women. I was troubled by that — why there weren’t more women asking and why there weren’t more women being asked. I thought, “How could I judge a woman for not asking if I’m too afraid to ask myself?’ I knew I was in a unique position being an actor on a show going into a fifth season. I knew I might never get this opportunity again.
What did you find most challenging about directing?
On some level some of the challenges end up being similar, which is when you have a very emotional scene to shoot as an actor you have to prepare a certain way but you also have to prepare a certain way when you’re a director because you have to be sure you’re telling the whole story. Both things are about storytelling — they’re just about using different tools. I’m so used to using my body — my physical self — that it was a challenge to broaden my vision. …There were two big parties with lots of extras, and they were very, very different. And then there were exteriors in New York City during a freezing cold season. New York is a big character in our show, and I had a love affair with the Chrysler Building in this episode and made it serve this particular episode because it worked with the locations that we were able to get and it’s a very beautiful, romantic building and there were two beautiful, romantic moments for different characters. It happened in part because we lost a location at the last second and ended up shooting in the middle of the night in Bryant Park, which has a really beautiful view of the Chrysler Building, and then the other location was an apartment balcony that also happened to have a really great view of the Chrysler Building, so it was a nice tie-in.
Have you noticed people reacting to you differently as a director than as an actor?
It’s interesting in seeing when I’m talking to men in particular and telling them I’m an actress versus a director and the different turn the conversation will take when I say I’m a director. The level of respect is very interesting. It speaks to a lot of things. It’s been a great learning experience all around.
What do you feel you learned about acting from directing?
Everything feels so personal when you’re an actor because you’re so open and vulnerable and you have to trust your director to guide you to where the storytelling needs to go. And there’s times when the director’s asking you to go certain places and you’re taking it very personally and you’re just not seeing the bigger picture of the story that needs to be told. And now I have a greater understanding for the millions of moving parts that are trying to connect to get the story told in the best way possible. It’s nice to let go of your ego.
Were you concerned or excited by the the season tackling #MeToo?
I love how they dealt with the #MeToo moment — it’s a hard place to find humor and it’s particularly fraught — but they were able to look at it through the prism of each different character. [My character] Diana has a whole monologue where she’s like, “Look, you guys call it harassment, I called it going to work. This is what we did. This is what we survived and I can’t tell you the number of times a man tried to show me his penis. Oh wait, I can, it’s seven.” We all kind of have a different way with dealing with what we had to go through, and the s— she had to go through to get to the top is what informs her impatience with the next generation. Sometimes it feels the younger generation doesn’t understand the work you had to put in and the hardships you had to go through to get where you are. There is a wonderful — and I mean this — a wonderful sense of entitlement that millennials have, particularly millennial women, in that they feel they deserve to be listened to, they deserve to be heard, and they seem to be going about the world knowing that — which is a revelation to those of us who didn’t go through the world knowing that because we were told we can’t. So there can be a disconnect between the two generations that I think is really interesting to look at and is somewhat the basis of our show.
What are Diana’s biggest challenges this season?
She always, always is being challenged — and this is true of many women in many industries — by her place being jeopardized because we have such a romance with youth culture. She feels, and rightly so, that her place might be in peril, and there’s some suggestion in this season that it’s true, and she has to fight. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve talked to in their 40s and 50s who are in various forms of media who are being pushed out or thought of as irrelevant simply because of their age and there’s sort of no weight being given to their experience. So we do touch on that [and] I know she learns about herself this season — certain ways she views the world and biases. She opens herself up via [a new] relationship. Maybe she had a skewed view of the world about class — she’s a bit of a snob and this relationship forces her to look at herself and not judge people. She holds herself to an incredibly high standard and so she holds everybody else to that high standard as well and everyone pretty much falls short, but she’s called out on that — on being judgmental.