Shining Girls: Elisabeth Moss and Her Costars Offer 8 Things To Know About the Genre-Bending Thriller

The series explores one woman's hunt for a killer and path to redemption. Moss, her costars, and the series' creator and director offer some background on the Apple TV+'s adaptation of the best-selling book by Laura Beukes.

by | May 1, 2022 | Comments

Known for her standout work in projects like Mad Men, Top of the Lake, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Blumhouse’s updated rendition of The Invisible Man, Elisabeth Moss has shown an attraction to playing resilient characters in stories that are nuanced, tragic, and oftentimes terrifying. That trend continues with the new Apple TV+ limited series Shining Girls.

The thriller, which was created by Silka Luisa and is based on Laura Beukes’ book of the same name, follows a young woman named Kirby Mazrachi (Moss), a would-be journalist, who struggles to piece her life back together after a violent assault left her sense of identity, agency, and perception of reality fractured.

Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls key art

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Part sci-fi, part crime-thriller, the program ups the ante by hopping through time, while chopping up Kirby’s idea of what’s real as she races alongside troubled journalist Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura) to stop her attacker, unsettlingly played by Jamie Bell.

Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Moss, Moura, Bell, Luisa, and veteran TV director Michelle MacLaren (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad) to discuss the many moving parts that make up Shining Girls. From the show’s notable cinematic influences to Moss’s deep involvement in the story development and execution, to the needle-drops that coincide with its 1990s Chicago backdrop, here are eight things you need to know about Shining Girls.

1. Elisabeth Moss hasn’t done a project quite like this before

Shining Girls stars Elisabeth Moss

(Photo by Apple TV+)

It’s easy to see the resemblance to her other notable roles. But while strong women overcoming traumatic experiences is a niche she has carved for herself,  Shining Girls pivots tonally into something quite different.

“I felt like this was a genre that I kind of hadn’t really done, even though there were similarities content-wise and similarities character-wise to what I tend to gravitate towards,” Moss explained. “I just think there is something entertaining about it. It’s a mystery. It’s a thriller. There is kind of genre-bending elements to it. So I felt like it was more about the show as a whole for me, which is why I also wanted to be a producer and a director. I was interested in the show as a whole.”

2. She executive produces and directs the show, as well

Aside from starring in Shining Girls, Moss stepped into two integral roles behind-the-scenes: executive producer and director.

“She gives you a lot of freedom to explore,” Moura revealed, praising the star’s directing process.

Bell, who had to perform multiple fight scenes with Moss, said, “I’m genuinely inspired by her, because she doesn’t do it with a sense of entitlement. She does it with passion. She really is so invested, personally, and she’s so generous.”

Silka Luisa admitted that Moss was at the top of their list when they first began developing the project. According to the first-time showrunner, once Moss took the role, “She became incredibly collaborative during the development process. It translated on set, because now you have somebody who really understands the intention of the story you’re telling. We’re seeing the same show. So as a producer and as a director, she was there from the beginning. She really was just my partner.”

3. Michael Mann and David Fincher are among the series’ influences

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Shining Girls is technically a period piece, which is part of the show’s appeal. The majority of the story takes place during the early ’90s in Chicago. According to MacLaren, they drew from a trio of cinematic auteurs to bring the crime-thriller story to life: Michael Mann, David Fincher, and Alan J. Pakula.

“Michael Mann’s Insider, Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac, and Pakula’s All the President’s Men we’re bringing together those different types of movies,” she said. “The Insider is one of my favorites because of its voyeuristic quality. And, of course, Se7en and Zodiac have the thriller aspect. And then All the President’s Men is the journalistic aspect of it. So it was fun to draw on those different genres and bring them together as one.”

4. There are some epic needle-drops throughout

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Aside from its unique visual pallette, Shining Girls also features a collection of songs that work to keep the audience’s attention. Since it mostly takes place in the early ’90s, with an ancillary storyline that explores Chicago’s underground music scene (Kirby’s mom was not a musician in the book), the audio tracks that pop up throughout the series feel both justified and exciting.

“When I was researching Chicago and when I was writing the pilot, I was like, The Chicago music scene is so exciting,” Luisa admitted. “It was really exciting in the ’80s and in the ’90s; it just felt so specific and vibrant, and I hadn’t seen it before. So, to me, that seemed like an exciting pocket of the city to really put a lot of scenes in.”

5. The show revisits newsroom journalism of the early ’90s

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Kirby’s memory and her overall understanding of her reality are quite damaged, which makes the backdrop of the Chicago Sun-Times feel so much more poignant to the overall story. Shining Girls explores how subjective truths can relate, or get completely buried, by the bigger objective news machine.

“It really focuses on journalism, when it was at its height before it changed,” MacLaren said. “I think that the characters are really powerful, and Kirby’s really powerful. She’s this woman who, in the beginning, is really vulnerable and decides that there’s this opportunity to get her life back and try and figure out what happened to her and what’s going on in her life, and from a journalist’s point of view, so to speak. There is a thriller aspect to it. But there’s also very much a ‘We’re going to beat down the story and figure out what’s going on’ aspect to it.”

6. Jamie Bell’s murderous sociopath keeps them on their toes

(Photo by Apple TV+)

It would be tough to explore an assault without digging into the person who inflicted it. And in Shining Girls, the attacker in question is named Harper, played with unsettling ease by Bell. The actor described his character as, “A kind of sordid, twisted, deranged sociopath who has a compulsion to extinguish women’s lives.”

What’s it like to play such a character who is gratified by committing such acts? “Icky,” is the word Bell used. Drawn to the material out of a fascination for the genre, and love of the script, Bell shed some further light on why Harper does what he does: “Underneath that desperate need for control lies the heart of a very weak, humiliated, emasculated, diminished, small man.”

7. An underdog partnership is the key to solving everything

(Photo by Apple TV+)

From the get-go, it’s clear that Kirby’s mission to reclaim the narrative of her life won’t be easy. Thankfully, she finds a like-minded partner in Dan Velazquez, a reporter struggling to prove his worth. Their bond is slow to form, but once it does, it becomes a source of shared pain, determination, and progress.

“Their strengths and their flaws are very complementary to each other,” Moss said. “Dan’s strength is his need to figure out the answer to the story, his strength is in listening, his strength is in believing somebody and getting completely immersed in a story. His flaw is his own life and his addiction and his wanting to forget. Kirby’s strength is in her ability to know that something is wrong, and not be able to give up on figuring out why and how, and what’s going on. They complement each other in these ways.

“And they have the same objective, which is to figure out the story,” Moss continued. “They’re aligned in their objectives completely. They need each other, workwise. They need each other, personally. Kirby needs somebody to listen to her and believe her. I think what Dan discovers is that he needs somebody who is going to be his partner, as well.”

8. Ultimately, it’s a series about trauma, resiliency, and survival

(Photo by Apple TV+)

When all is said and done, Shining Girls is about one woman’s trauma, the aftermath of the event, and the ways in which it can reform a person’s reality. While this is not a series that can be categorized as horror, Kirby fits the final girl archetype to a T, and it’s her path to fighting back and reclaiming agency over her life that resonates and keeps things riveting.

“Whether Kirby is reclaiming her own narrative and understanding her past or future versus breaking a story and trying to nail down something that’s concrete and has a beginning, middle, and end, those two elements actually felt very aligned,” Silka said. “It makes sense as a character that she learns how to become a reporter because she’s reclaiming her own narrative. At the end of this journey, which is very circuitous, and can go through dark places at different times, you have a sense of Kirby’s resilience. She’s able to navigate the aftermath of trauma. And even though it’s two steps forward and one step back, in the end, she is able to take control of her own life and not be at the mercy of someone else.”


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