Between “Friends” and the “Scream” franchise, Courteney Cox knew that playing both comedy and horror were well within her wheelhouse — but something told her that the new Starz series “Shining Vale” would test her skills in unprecedented ways.
“Such a dramatic role that also was comedic was a balance that I hadn’t played in quite this way,” Cox said at Monday’s series premiere at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where she was joined by co-stars Greg Kinnear, Mira Sorvino, Judith Light and Rob Morrow, as well as a familiar face from her TV past, Lisa Kudrow. “It’s a part that I’m just not used to being able to challenge, and it got me really excited about acting again.”
“Shining Vale” was conceived by co-creators Sharon Horgan (”Catastrophe”) and former “Friends” writer Jeff Astrof as a comedic riff on “The Shining.” Cox plays Pat, a “lady porn” novelist struggling with writers’ block and depression who, after cheating on her husband (Kinnear), seeks a fresh start by moving her dysfunctional family into a new home with an increasingly unsettling vibes – and some unexpected ethereal occupants, like Sorvino’s perfectly put-together 50s-era spirit.
Astrof said he immediately fell for the concept floated by Horgan. “Sharon said, ‘I want to do something really scary. Do you think you can do horror and comedy together?’ And I said yes, because every time you go to a horror movie, after you scream, you laugh,” Astrof said. “I’ve been doing this long enough [that] I’m always looking for fresh ways to tell jokes.”
And Horgan, he said, pushed him far out of the comfort zone of familiar sitcom rhythms as they collaborated from different continents. “When she’s speaking in person, you get the Irish brogue and it’s beautiful, it’s lilting and it’s poetic and you’re like, ‘You’re right,’” he laughed. “But when she just writes in the long email, ‘Are you really doing this? It’s sitcom crap. Are you really doing a callback?’ I’m like, ‘My house is built on callbacks!’ Sharon didn’t write that much, but every one of her notes made me a better writer.”
“I knew I wanted to be a part of it because of the creators,” said Cox. “I just know how talented they both are, and then I read it. And I just love the way within 30 minutes, there’s so many things to play and what she’s going through: having a teenage daughter, trying to get her family back together, going through this writer’s block – she feels just really unhappy and purposeless. It resonated, the fact that she’s depressed.”
As bizarre supernatural activities increasingly invade her new environment, Pat’s fragile mental state inspires doubt among her family: a metaphor, both horrific and satiric, for the culture’s tendency to dismiss the problems of women of a certain age.
“It’s really heavy issues, and they’re real,” said Cox. “She’s not being believed when she sees a ghost for the first time and it’s just so frustrating…It’s an honest topic in every way. When you are the age that she is, it’s what people go through.” But the comedic aspect, she says, allows the scarier stuff to go down easier. “I love the comedy of it. I just love everything about this show: I love the sparring between me and Greg, and I love that it’s a half-hour – that’s just right up my alley. I have the attention span of hummingbird!”