Shining Vale’s Merrin Dungey on Working with Women Behind the Scenes: Women Get $h!t Done!

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As she would tell you, Merrin Dungey has a smaller role on the Starz series Shining Vale, but her role as Kam is pivotal to driving Courteney Cox’s character, Pat, in many ways.

With a terrific cast and strong talent behind the camera, Merrin has valuable insight into why Shining Vale speaks so well to women’s issues and the importance of women behind the scenes on this and every production.

We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Hi, Merrin. How are you?

I’m great. How are you today?

Good. Thank you. So how did you get involved with Shining Vale?

I was lucky enough to get cast as Kam, and when I saw who was involved? Sharon Horgan, first of all, caught my eye. I’m such a huge fan of hers and Jeff Astrof.

And to play with Courteney Cox, Mira Sorvino, and Greg Kinnear is a dream come true. So I was thrilled. I would’ve done anything to be a little part of this thing.

What did you enjoy of Sharon’s in the past? Just curiously.

Oh my God. Wow, you were asking a big question. Well, I love Catastrophe that she that she did with Rob Delaney. Beautiful.

It was amazing. Wasn’t it?

She’s just brilliant and funny and delicious. Oh, and Divorce. I just love her, and I have been dying to work with her for years. So this is a dream come true.

And I’ve worked with Courteney, but briefly, on Friends. So to actually get to really engage with her has been a thrill. And it’s such a tremendous caliber of people on this show.

So what can you tell me about Kam?

What I can tell you about Kam is that she is the anchor and the life raft upon which Pat Phelps survives. She’s the friend with the tough love.

They’ve had a long history, they’ve had the high success of this for book, and she’s been waiting a long time to get the next thing going. And her story is what leads Pat to make the decisions that she does for good or ill along the way. You need that.

And when we were working on the first rehearsals, it was like they had to pull me back from being so warm and friendly with Courteney because we had such a great rapport, and she had to deliver the hard-line constantly to keep the engine driving.

They’ve got to keep this house, and her marriage is struggling, and she feels like she’s losing her mind, and her things are unraveling with her teenage kids and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And she’s got to finish this book. She’s got to finish the book. How do we do that? How does that get done? So you may not see a lot of Kam, but that need and that engine are running the whole time.

Going back kind of to what we were saying before about how great Sharon Horgan’s shows have been and the roles she’s played and the roles she’s written, do you think that it’s getting better for women in the industry, and especially with people like her to represent you?

A thousand percent, because she is an actress and a writer and a producer, and it is a different feeling on set when you have women producers and writers, the whole staff was full of women.

My makeup artist over here, shaking her head. We’re used to having makeup, wardrobe, hair, and actors being the women, and when you show up and there is the team behind video village is 90% women, and there are women in the camera department now, and it’s just a different vibe.

It feels, honestly, more respectful. There’s a different energy. There is the boys’ club that used to run the game, and you just kind of did your thing and blah, da, da, and there, it was just sort of right around behind you. And now it is, I don’t know, it’s more respectful. And honestly, it feels a little more efficient, really. [laughs]

Not to brag [laughs]

Women get shit done. And to have a story, it’s so paramount to have the story about a woman unraveling and trying to hold it all together, as we all do as women.

I was saying earlier I’ve had this whole day of interviews and had to be ready for hair and makeup, but I had a whole day before that day started. Getting my kids ready, and lunches, and feeding the animals. And it’s a whole other thing that comes before mom; it becomes before mom’s job.

And when you have women running the show, they get that; they understand that.

And saying that, how do you identify, then, with Pat, who is doing all of those things you just said? She’s trying to hold life together, trying to get her marriage back on track. And she’s trying to write a phenomenal novel follow-up to something that she can’t get it out.

I wholly identify, and I think that most women will because think about all the times that you’re like, and I don’t know if you have children or whatever, but all the times that I have not felt great, been depressed.

I was going through a divorce recently, and I had to make sure my kids were okay, get them to school, and sign the permission slips.

And I mean, I was telling my youngest daughter, we find out this week about her middle school, and I said, “Trust me, you’re fine because I signed you up on time for the school. For your older sister, I was in the middle of the divorce; the lottery was happening.” And two days before, I was like, “I forgot to put you in the lottery.” And she still got in, ultimately, thank God.

I was on a series at the time. I was getting divorced. I’m trying to get my kid into middle school — stuff falls through the cracks. I love the scene in the first episode, and this isn’t a spoiler, but where Courteney loses her shit on her kids. Because we have that. Yeah.

Yeah.

I made you the thing with the jelly and the crust cut off, shut up, put some clothes on and shut up. All women have been there. Any woman with a job and family has been there. So you have to have one or both.

Absolutely. And if there’s a second season, where would you hope that Kam might fit into that? It’s hard for me to say without saying too much. I just think more Kam, more Kam.

Shining Vale Premieres on Starz, March 6, 2022, with two back-to-back episodes beginning at 10/9c.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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