The Shining Vale takes its time before properly introducing the audience to Mira Sorvino’s Rosemary. The Starz horror comedy focuses on Pat (Courteney Cox) and Terry (Greg Kinnear) Phelps, a couple in a strained marriage who move from New York City to the eponymous Connecticut suburb in search of stability. However, their quest is doomed to fail – they’ve moved into a house haunted by Rosemary (Mira Sorvino), the ghost of a 1950’s housewife who plans to use Pat to live the uninhibited life that she never could.
However, in classic horror fashion, the show teases its villain very slowly. In the first episode, Sorvino only has a single line. It takes a full three episodes for her to have a proper full-length scene with Cox, and even then her presence on the show is used sparingly and rarely appears for any length of time. It may seem like a thankless role for the Oscar winner, who was loved for her role in the cult classic Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and has become known as a major figure in the #MeToo movement in recent years. But despite her limited screen time, Rosemary stands out throughout the show, and that’s in no small part due to Sorvino’s deliciously mannered performance, expertly blending a sugary sweetness with barely concealed menace.
“What I love about Rosemary is that she just has this zest to be alive,” says Sorvino. “You can see it bleeds into everything she does because she’s essentially been locked up in an attic since the ’50s. She’s just so excited to be alive and to have someone else hear her voice. And whether she’s good or bad, she has a kind of happiness that I really love.”
Before the season finale of “Shining Vale” diversity spoke to Sorvino about returning to comedy, bouncing off Cox’s pat and how her limited screen time is making her mark on the show.
It’s been a while since you’ve been in a straight comedy, especially a lead role. What was it like diving into this form of acting for the show?
I just love it. I mean, there’s nothing I love more than comedy. It’s an interesting mix of comedy and horror, and then a bit of relatable drama. I feel like there’s something about this show that people can relate to, especially if they’re married or they’re struggling to understand their lives and they have kids and they have a career and they’re trying to figure out like them want to control all of this yourself. I think Pat’s character is super relatable, and in some cases, Rosemary is too. A really interesting mix. I love it and I love Rosemary’s character. She’s multifaceted, not only is she the glamorous kind of ghost we see her, but she’s also the historical Rosemary who was a real person. And sometimes that historic rosemary pops up. So it’s really interesting to play these two Rosemarys because they’re kind of different.
For the first few episodes of the show, audiences only see flashes of Rosemary. It takes a while before you get more screen time. How do you as an actor go about making them interesting in the limited windows you have?
In the first episode, I basically confront Pat about why she’s in my house. And Rosemary is also about mesmerizing and seducing Pat. You know, she wants Pat to somehow transition into the, you know, never-never country of where she lives, the tiki bar, the naughty zone. It’s almost a seduction. She performs in a way, she’s trying to get Pat to befriend her, to drink with her, to live on the dangerous side, to be more sexual, to have more power. So I just did the things that the script asked me to do, but those things get attention.
How did you develop your comedic chemistry with Cox since she’s your only real partner in the scene for the entire show?
I immediately felt connected to Courteney. Rosemary just wants to be her best friend. She longs to have a companion, a drinking partner. It’s so cute when Pat first sees her and she says, “Are you my muse?” And there’s something about the way she says that that reminds me of characters in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. There’s something really childish about Courteney when she’s around me, and it was wonderful to play that out. And then I’m only there to flatter and tempt. And she’s just so naturally funny when she plays it straight. She doesn’t have a weird voice, she absolutely understands the timing of everything and she can play every woman in a weird situation and make it funny. And that’s a huge talent that very few people have, and that’s why she is who she is. We just had fun. I kept catching myself staring at her across the bar and thinking, “Wow, you’re so beautiful.” Because she’s so beautiful. But we both have teenage daughters and are basically the same age, so between takes we chatted about motherhood. So I don’t know if we worked on that, I think the rapport was actually already there. It was very easy. And all the scenes just kind of worked naturally.
How did you come to play this 1950s housewife archetype for Rosemary? She has such a unique way of speaking and moving that she enjoys watching her bounce off Pat.
I’ve played other characters from the 40’s and 50’s and there’s this sort of mid-Atlantic way of speaking that they kind of took on. I’m not sure if anyone actually spoke like that in the 50’s. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t an actor who actually spoke the way people do in old movies. Anyway, I’ve looked at a couple of sitcoms from the 1950s, like The Donna Reed Show and Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet, and I’ve tried to see what the public’s expectations are of that what a housewife and mother should do like and that’s what the original Rosemary tries to preserve. And then, in Rosemary’s mind, I would watch things like The Postman Always Rings Twice, movies of that era that were a little bit femme fatale and more glamorous. Because Spirit Rosemary is everything that Rosemary dreamed of in real life, could be and could not be, so Spirit Rosemary is really trying to live the life promised by cinema movies. I wanted her to have that deep voice, which I hadn’t done with any other character in the 50’s or 40’s. It’s this weird, timeless, weird, seductive thing that she does. It’s maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of years old. We don’t know what is this? So I wanted her to have a little more gravitas in her voice, a little deeper. And then I would just slide around and spin. It’s almost like she’s always dancing somehow.
Speaking of dancing, Episode 7 starts with an all black and white sequence where you dance to “Patricia,” that old 50’s standard by Perry Como. How did this sequence come together?
That’s the amazing thing about Jeff Astrof, our showrunner. I thought, “Oh, you know, it would be so great. If we could do something like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, I used to dance when I was a kid, blah blah blah. And then all of a sudden he says, “Great, I’ll write that in.” They came up with this choreography, it was a bit longer at first – but still I got to live this dream of being in an old movie and dancing while I was building the house clean. We all have those little moments. We just said something and then Jeff wrote it in and let the writers room accommodate our different whims or instincts and I was so excited about it. That was the most fun I could ever have doing that dance number. Even though it’s a short key note for the beginning of the episode, I was gleefully happy. I can’t even tell you.
Episode 7 also contains several sequences where your character owns Rosemary Pat. Have you spoken to Cox about repeating your performance on the show?
She did a great job. I offered, if she wanted, that I read all the lines neutrally, but only in the Rosemary voice. And she said yes. So I recorded all her lines as Rosemary so she could hear my patois. But I didn’t do it. I just read it flat so she can hear my accent. Just like I work on an accent when I work on an accent.
The show juggles many themes about how women with mental illness are treated. How do you think Rosemary and the show’s horror elements fit into this theme?
Rosemary is an example of a disenfranchised woman who couldn’t even buy liquor in a store because her husband said ‘cut it off’. She was just stuck at home with a mounting depression that went untreated. Maybe she self-medicated with alcohol. But I believe the real Rosemary suffered from depression in the 50’s. I think Pat is depressed. I believe the idea of the hysterical woman has been around since Freud. Dismissing a woman’s basic instincts or cries for help as hysterical. And I believe that [Show creators] Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan want to explore this further in Season 2, this historicity of the way women with mental health issues are treated and treated very differently than men. It is very easy for a woman suffering like a rupture to lose her autonomy completely. Even in my life I had a relative that I was very, very, very fond of. And when she was in her middle age, she had a mental crisis because of the events that happened to her. But the answer was to give her electroshock therapy. And it’s debatable, I think nowadays people say “maybe that will help”. But I think there must be less barbaric ways to approach the brain.
I’m interested in your opinion: What do you think of Rosemary? How do you feel about her when she becomes more possessive?
That actually goes with something I wanted to ask you. I think she’s definitely misguided, but at the same time she’s really charming and you can feel a lot of sadness at her core, which makes her hard not to like. I wanted to ask you how do you want the audience to feel about Rosemary’s intentions?
I always try not to judge any of my characters, right? There are certain characters I wouldn’t play, but when I say I want to play a character, I have to look at it from their perspective, right? I have to play it from their perspective. And like I said, Rosemary is very human, even though she’s technically not alive. She oozes humanity. And sometimes that’s the good side of humanity. Sometimes those are the bad sides. You know, she’s almost like our underbelly, right? It is pure instinct, and that instinct can be good or bad. It is pure It. I hope people stick with her through her ups and downs. It’s a ghost story, and in most ghost stories, the ghost is up to some mischief. So we have to forgive her a little bit for those things because Rosemary from that other side of the ectoplasm is going to cause trouble. It’s just in their nature. But hopefully people will still enjoy and relate to them.
This interview has been edited and abridged.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/mira-sorvino-shining-vale-1235232508/ Mira Sorvino on The Shining Vale, Romy and Michelle