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Three months into 2022 and we're already being graced with two Courteney Cox horror projects: the big screen return of Scream in January and the new Starz horror/comedy, Shining Vale, which debuts March 6.
In the half-hour series, Cox pulls double duty producing and starring as Patricia "Pat" Phelps. As a 50-something wife, mother and former bestselling novelist, Pat is at a crossroads. She's almost imploded her 20-year marriage with Terry (Greg Kinnear) by having an impromptu affair with a handyman, she's got a debilitating case of writer's block and her teen kids hate her for making them all move to Connecticut for a "fresh start" as a family.
It's been seven years since Cox has starred in a scripted TV series (Cougar Town), but what makes Shining Vale unique is that the story embraces female aging and wife/mother role expectations as part of its horror metaphor.
"I was just so excited to play a character that was so layered," Cox tells SYFY WIRE about her very flawed Pat. "She's going through so many real things like she has an affair, so marital strife. She's depressed. She's having writer's block. She is a mother of teenagers, which itself is really difficult. And then she gets possessed. I've never played a character that had so much going on and that was really exciting."
As they say, you can try and outrun your demons, but they'll just follow you. In Pat's case, the rundown, gothic house they've traded down for has its own demons waiting for her too, including a '50s housewife named Rosemary (Mira Sorvino). Unsure if Rosemary is real, a figment of her depression medication, or a symptom of her menopause, Pat spirals even more living inside the house.
Like Wes Craven's original Scream films, Shining Vale also achieves that high wire act of being very funny but also scary and disconcerting. Cox says she took her horror mentor's tutelage into account in playing Pat.
"Wes was my teacher for all of it in so many ways, in personal ways, and just learning how to be afraid and scream," the actress says of Craven. "I will say in Shining Veil, because I have had experience with people jumping out and things happening, [co-creator] Jeff (Astrof) was very open to hearing [me]. I would say, 'I don't know if that would happen in a horror film' because I do feel like I've done enough of them."
She continues, "I think that all the training I had doing all of those Screams and then doing Friends set the perfect tone for me to be able to play this, but then adding the drama in it, which was a nice balance. And they kept the tone which was so hard to come up with in the first place. I would read things [in the script] and ago, 'How is that going to work? That's just another playing field!' But you just accept it because anything could happen when there's a spirit. Anything! And when you have somebody who doesn't believe you," she smiles.
One of her biggest disbelievers ends up being the still angry but trying Terry. Kinnear also praises the tone of the series which he says has a lot of snark, violence and genuine emotion. "We all worked hard to find a balance just to keep it believable," he says. "There's a lot of stuff that happens in his marriage where you could watch it and think, "I'm out of this marriage! Are you insane?" But Terry's optimism, and his Hail Mary pass of hope to try and hold this [family] together is plausible. And I think what [Pat] is dealing with is very difficult. She's trying to hang on to the family in certain ways, too."
Doesn't hurt that the real house they used as the Phelps abode is rumored to be haunted as well. Kinnear shares, "We did shoot in this house out in South Pasadena to start and it generally had some ooga booga to it. And it was a little freaky."
Backing him up, Cox adds, "Oh, god, yes! There was a guy who was in his 80's that passed away in the house. His wife is pretty certain that he is in the house still."
Shining Vale premieres with two episodes on Sunday, March 6 on Starz. New episodes then drop on Sundays.