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Shining Vale Co-Creator Jeff Astrof Talks Finale, Show's Future & More

Shining Vale co-creator, showrunner, and writer Jeff Astrof spoke with Bleeding Cool about the horror-comedy STARZ series, the lines between genres, hopes for certain characters, and what he loved most about the season finale. Just in case there's no confusion, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign for what's to come…

Shining Vale Co-Creator Jeff Astrof On Series & Genre [Interview]
Source: STARZ/ YouTube
Bleeding Cool: Oh my gosh, we need to talk about this finale because it was incredible. It was really interesting to see a lot of the aspects of other horror films there, especially "The Shining." There's a really interesting theme of women's fear and hysteria in "Shining Vale." What went through your mind when working on the finale with that in mind?

Jeff Astrof: When I write a series all the clues and Easter eggs are always worked out well within a season of the show. Everything's in the first episode, if you go back and you watch the first episode, it's all there. Pat's mom went crazy when she was that age and even the title card of the show is that women's possession and depression are the same, sort of the same coin, or at least on some continuum of how they're treated. Similarly, the episode in which Jake goes into the woods, we originally had that he finds an antique speculum which hints at what the house was. But you know, for me, with seven or eight episodes we can't explore everything, but it's in the DNA of the show, really from the first episode. With Joan we see everything given Pat's fate and having Judith Light with how much she looks like Gaynor, you see this generational thing. You know that that's what is going to happen to Gaynor, who is much like her grandmother. We learn that Joan is also a drug addict and so is Pat, and it just seems to be the natural place to go. I just love The Shining, it's such a cool movie.

My writers were telling me like it's very obviously a metaphor for spousal abuse. And our show is kind of a metaphor for mental illness. I got a chance to really explore Pat and Terry's relationship. And I also knew and it was just like my own personal thing. It's like I always have like a finale, especially like I really want to challenge the actors. And I knew that Courteney Cox was doing the best work of her career and that she was really getting into it. We had Greg Kinnear and Mira Sorvino, and then a third of the way through the season, not even that, I was like "Wow this Gus Birney kid can act!", especially after I saw her with Dylan Gage. It was probably before she saw the script. I was talking to her and I said, and it was after we just shot, like episode six, I said, "This whole season is about you, and this is how it ends". And I remember she started sobbing and I was like, Okay, you're up for it. And I was like I think she's going to be able to cry.

Shining Vale Co-Creator Jeff Astrof On Series & Genre [Interview]
Source: STARZ
There's so many scenes in the show that made so many of us so uncomfortable, like the scene with Pat and Terry at the top of the stairs. It just was like a natural place for the relationship to go, it was very fortuitous. I made Pat into a writer in the beginning, not even because of Jack Torrance from The Shining. Actually, it was half because of Jack and half because of the horror of being a writer. It just seemed like the inevitable place for the show to go, at least for me, although I think the ending is very shocking. You never know when your series is going to end. I'm hopeful that it's not the end of the story. I have a lot more story to tell. I'm not allowed to announce anything, but I have some suspicions that we'll be able to tell the next chapter of this. With the question so whether or not Rosemary is a ghost, we've kept that kind of siloed. The only person in Shining Vale who got that feeling of Rosemary's presence was Gaynor in episode seven when she got to hug her. But this is all past perspective. So whatever happened in that picture is also Pat's perspective.

BC: That was also such a heartbreaking scene. Talk to me about the relationship between them, Gaynor and Pat.

JA: It's something that Sharon Horgan and I discussed early on was you can have joy in being a parent and also it can be heartbreaking. Courteney obviously is just such a key. And we, you know, she called me, we talked about it after the scene at the top of the stairs and. She just said it brought up so much stuff with her and with it being so draining.

BC: I was thinking about Rosemary and Pat's interactions in this episode, and it's very interesting the relationship. What did you want to convey in this episode between them?

JA: It's funny because Mira has loved playing Rosemary and then I told her she might not be a ghost, and she had such a hard time with that because she wanted to be liked. So there's levels in there and the original conceit in the pages that Sharon gave me years ago, she said that Rosemary was someone that if antidepressants had been around it would have helped her. So I wanted to make Rosemary a victim. She was a victim, she was a victim of a terrible marriage, probably depression, she probably had her own stuff going on. I mean, there's clearly a connection between her and Pat and she never got to leave the house and so her punishment is never being able to leave the house. So Rosemary is also a victim of whatever it is that is the darker force source, you see this when Pat and Rosemary say the same things as seen with Pat saying to Gaynor, "I don't think you know who you're talking to."

There's the forces of mental illness and there's bigger forces. Whatever the bigger force is, drug addiction, if it's going to, it's going to consume Pat. The penultimate scene of Shining Vale originally was just the scene where Pat goes down to the bar and it's like The Shining and with nobody there and then suddenly there's all the people who were there and then pat has the final toast. But then I realized that this has to be about the Phelps family, and Rosemary had her due here and I have to let that go. Rosemary is just a character, another victim of this entity. I wanna give all my actors their critical scene.

BC: If you're able to say, I was thinking about Terry and wondering what you see happening with him?

JA: I can not say, but it would be a big move for him. Everybody's worried about Terry. I think that's good. I don't want people to be upset at the finale, but for now, I'm hoping that they're still ok and I have him holding her hand at the end. I will also say that, you know, it's a good place to be dead because other people are dead that you still see. Kinnear had a lot to do in that final scene at the top of the stairs, for an actor. He asked me, he said, "Can I just put it down? Can I just put down my sword?" And he kind of does and he relents and he's going to take whatever punishment is due. He loves her so much that he's going to sacrifice himself and I think it's just so tragic in every possible way. This show doesn't work and the ending doesn't work if they don't want each other.

BC: Terry's definitely a character who defies expectations of him.

JA: It's credit also to Kinnear and it's not exactly his instinct. I think a lot of guys want to play like the tough guy. Before when we were shooting the pilot, he said, "Why does he stay with her?" Because you love her and because she may be sick. With my horror writers, they say you always need to find out why you're still in the house. So, we get to answer all those questions too.

BC: I do love the horror and comedy bits, I love that mixture. How did you go about switching between the comedy and horror in "Shining Vale"?

JA: Sharon initially asked me, "Can you do it?" When you're in it, when you're in a very tense situation like that, as a viewer, you really want to get out of it and you can only keep an audience in a tense situation for a certain amount of time. So there's only three releases If you want to keep the audience. Either you have to do it with a joke, do it with something really scary, or do it with something really, really sad. As a comedy writer, I'm always going to go for the joke. I'm uncomfortable being in my own skin. That's why it's very easy for me to write and put people in these intense situations and break in with the joke. The situation doesn't abate in the finale, it doesn't fix the whole thing. That's also why jokes come easier.

If you notice when you're in a scary situation you laugh more because you want to get out of it somehow and that's kind of the balance of the show. And I'm not like a huge horror junkie. I watched the classics, but like I had to watch a ton of horror to just kind of learn the rhythms of it and learn the language of it. I don't have that language wired in. My language is comedy. But there's similarities to it and that's what Sharon wanted to do with her whole idea of doing a horror-comedy. And I thought, well, that's just genius. It's for me. It's just a new way to kind of surprise people.

BC: I think that's definitely very evident in "Shining Vale" and I'm excited as people watch the finale and and get to see what's going on because it's crazy. I'm hopeful for you guys to possibly get another season because I want to see what happens.

JA: Yeah, me too. We are cautiously optimistic, but I'm really glad. I really hope people love it. You know, I hope this show takes off and I can like build episode to episode, and I just want to keep challenging my actors. And boy, oh boy, did they come through? I think it's Courtney Cox's magnum opus here with her incredible performances in every episode. I will go on the record for that kind of thing.

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Brittney BenderAbout Brittney Bender

In love with media, from TV to film, you'll find me writing recaps, reviews, TV news, "Top 5" content, opinion pieces are everything and anything, and more! Bisexual creative mess with a love for dark humor, promoting important projects, and sharing interesting finds.
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