Courteney Cox has done a bit of everything: danced in a famous music video with Bruce Springsteen; produced a game show; starred in one of the most famous sitcoms of all time and survived a dozen fights with Ghostface.
So, what inspires an actor with so many successes? Something completely different. While Cox’s own show, Starz’s “Shining Vale,” which she both produces and stars in, is an Emmy contender in the comedy category, she hasn’t been watching shows that are making her laugh. Instead, she’s been watching true crime stories, first with HBO Max’s “The Staircase.”
“Colin Firth has gotten that character down. I’m just thrilled with it. I loved the documentary series, but I can’t believe how he has his own twist on it, but it’s how he’s enveloped that character,” she tells Variety of the show, which tells the real story of Michael Peterson, who was accused of murdering wife Kathleen Peterson.
“I like dark things,” Cox adds. But that’s not limited to true crime — she also loves “The White Lotus,” a murder mystery and comedy. “That character that Murray Bartlett plays, he’s so good. … ‘The White Lotus’ had my attention for six episodes straight.”
On this episode of Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast, “Shining Vale” star Courteney Cox discusses her dark Starz comedy, as well as if we’ll see more of her in the “Scream” franchise and what she’s rooting for this Emmy season — including a certain Friend. But first, our Awards Circuit Roundtable dissects this year’s Emmy submissions, and what is or isn’t there, as nomination voting winds down this Monday. Listen below!
Cox says she has always loved the true crime genre, an obsession that began with “The Jinx” in 2015. She views it all as preparation as an actor.
“I think I’ve watched the ending five times just for character study,” she says. “I can’t believe what you can learn by watching people. I watch TV for so many reasons. I will really get stuck on a shot because I love directing and so sometimes, I rewind just because I want to see the way they did that. Did I feel it was gratuitous or did it enhance the story? I love watching people’s subtlety and how they portray [a part] in a way that’s not in your face. I think I do get lost for sure. I suffer from acute awareness, I notice everything. So, I’m watching it for all reasons. But when I get lost, then I know I’m watching something incredible.”
“Shining Vale” also has dark tones throughout as both a half-hour comedy and a psychological thriller. In fact, creators Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan described it to her as a comedy version of “The Shining” — a description that really piqued Cox’s interest: “I mean, that’s just something you don’t ever think of and [Sharon] actually coined this phrase that she wanted to be like a ‘shit-com.’ That that was a big draw for me. I read the script and thought, ‘I haven’t read anything like this.’”
After her character, Pat, gets caught cheating on her husband (Greg Kinnear), the duo moves their family to the big city to try to save their marriage. As she goes through life changes, battles addiction and mental health issues, she realizes the house is haunted — but she is the only one who can see the ghost (who appears as Mira Sorvino).
“I’ve always been a fan of movies like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or ‘The Shining,’ where it’s so psychological, and the characters have such transformations. This has that dry wit, which I really love,” Cox says. “My character is just drier and it’s something that I relate to. I enjoy her sarcasm.”
Additionally, she was able to tap into many different parts of Pat.
“I’ve got a teenage daughter and maybe [my daughter] Coco’s not quite as brutal to me, but that attitude of kids trying to push away from their parents and become independent and get bugged by parents is very real, and it happens around me all the time,” she says. “I can tap into menopause. I can tap into marital strife or having times in your life where your career is not going [great]. She’s having writer’s block.”
Luckily, Cox is in a great place in her career, with the series being renewed for a second season the day this interview took place. She was beaming about the news, but had a feeling it was coming.
“It felt right — it just felt like something that worked. I’ve thought that before and usually I’ve been pretty right like, I mean, obviously with ‘Friends.’ By the end of doing the pilot, I just took a chance and bought a car. I was like, ‘I know this is gonna go,’” Cox recalls. “This time, I think the chemistry of the cast and the subject matter [works]. It’s not a groundbreaking genre. It’s nothing new. I’ve obviously been in comedies and horror that have been joined together, but the way this is done, I thought it was really original and I had high hopes for it. It’s very exciting.”
In fact, this role is one of the most challenging she’s ever taken on.
“I really delved into this character in ways that I haven’t before. I wanted to be really prepared and take all of it so seriously. I didn’t want to phone it in any way. There’s certain things in your life, you’re like, ‘OK, this is what I do. No, this is not what I do.’ This actually meant the world to me.”
In general, comedies hold a close place in Cox’s heart. While she’s not much of a binger, she can’t help but still turn on reruns of some of the most popular sitcoms in history — including, every now and then, her own.
“‘Seinfeld’ is a great show. ‘Cheers,’ there’s no question that that makes me laugh. I don’t watch ‘Friends,’ but it’s on all the time. So, when I see it, I don’t remember any of the episodes, so I really get surprised by how funny [it is],” she says laughing. “I love the old shows, like ‘The Honeymooners.’ Humor that’s good, it’s timeless.”
The half-hour comedy genre has proven to be timeless overall. This year saw huge success with ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” NBC’s “American Auto” and “Grand Crew” joining hits “Young Sheldon” on CBS and “Black-ish,” which wrapped its final season on ABC this year.
“I’m starting to think that everything works well that’s a half-hour. I think, especially in this day and age, when things are compact and put together in a short amount of time, it helps with all of our attention spans,” says Cox. “With social media, everything is just so quick that we’re almost used to that. I think doing audience comedies is a much tougher thing to live up to, but doing half-hour filmed comedies are my favorite. ‘Shining Vale’ is kind of a combination.”
Of course, she also takes a break from comedies for movies like “Scream,” confirming she’ll be back for the sixth installment. “I did not die so yes you will see me,” she says. “Gale’s pretty strong. She may not ever [die], but who knows!”
So, what is she pulling for at this year’s Emmys? In addition to those listed above — “The White Lotus” and “The Staircase,” she can’t help but show some love to “The Morning Show” and her former “Friends” co-star — and real life best friend — Jennifer Aniston.
“I mean, obviously my friend Jennifer,” Cox says. “She wins a lot and I always want her to, because I think she’s incredible.”
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.