Awards Radar sat down to speak with creator Silka Luisa about her television adaptation of the novel Shining Girls, written by author Lauren Beukes. Shining Girls is about Chicago Time archivist Kirby Mizrachi (Elisabeth Moss), who was brutally attacked and left for dead. Her assailant, time traveler Harper Curtis (Jamie Bell), was never found or identified by the police. Kirby and veteran reporter Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura) investigate a series of murders that resemble her assault.
Luisa says Shining Girls focuses on” Kirby who was brutally attacked six years ago. Since then, her reality keeps shifting, shown through small things like her desk changing or some big fundamental things. A recent murder is linked to her assault. The show’s heart is Kirby working with Dan Velazquez. They are trying to crack the story of these murders that somehow stretch back decades. The show has two mysteries. First, why does Kirby’s reality keep suddenly changing? How is it connected to these other murders?”
Our conversation with Shining Girls creator Silka Luisa is below:
Q: Can you describe adapting a book into a television series?
Luisa: You must come in with a particular take on the book. You pitch how you would approach making the television series. That’s how I started with this project. The most significant change I made while adapting the book was focusing on the story from Kirby’s point of view. I also changed some science fiction mythology to make the narrative more subjective.
Q: What was the casting process for Shining Girls?
Luisa: The casting began with Elisabeth Moss. Kirby is the centerpiece of the show. She was the most important piece to find first. Lizzy was the very first actor we went to for this role. Oh, wow. We got the dream, which was lovely. She came on as an executive producer, which meant she was incredibly involved during the show’s production.
It’s fun seeing the audience’s reactions to all the actors. For example, I feel like people have been taken back by what a surprising turn this performance is for Jamie Bell. We all know him to play warmer, more vulnerable, accessible characters. So, to see him play somebody dangerous is exciting. When we were talking about casting Harper, we discussed the scene in the pilot where he approaches Dr. Jin-Sook Gwansun (Philippa Soo). If he’s downright creepy and terrifying right off the bat, why would she even engage with him for a minute? But, the fact that he can make her feel comfortable and be charming makes her consider what this guy is about for a minute. It opens the door and lets him into her life a little.
Q: What was your favorite part of creating Shining Girls?
Luisa: This was my first show. My favorite part of creating the series was being on set and the experience of seeing something you’ve written come to life and be a complete world. It was amazing to stand inside the newsroom that the art department created from nothing. It’s affirming to have so many people support me and make the series possible—what a gift.
Q: Can you speak a little about how you created the rules for time traveling & the way realities shift for Kirby? Did you take them straight out of the novel, or did you take some creative license? What are the rules?
Luisa: By the time you get to the end of the season, this is all laid out. I thought of time as just a single string. Harper is connected to Kirby no matter where he is in time because she survived his attack. Yet, all these years later, she’s still tethered to her perpetrator. Every time he does violence against another woman, every time he gets excited, those feelings ripple forward and change Kirby’s life. It’s kind of like a butterfly effect. That’s what you’re watching in the first couple of episodes. Harper’s life ripples forward and impacts hers. Then, Kirby cuts that cord by the season’s end and untethers herself from him.
Q: What was it like writing Harper’s character?
Luisa: Harper is one of the most complex characters to write about just because he’s a problematic space mentally to live in for any length of time. One of the biggest challenges was I wanted to do a serial killer that wasn’t necessarily sexy. He is not the most compelling character in the show. I wanted Kirby to be front and center. I was trying to create a character that felt like a small, insecure man who happens upon all this power. It’s all about how Harper uses this totem to make himself feel more significant. That felt much more relatable in terms of people I’ve seen in my own life.
Q: Now, can you explain how you wrote Kirby?
Luisa: I took a lot of inspiration from the book when writing Kirby. What I liked about her that felt different from female characters I’d seen in a material like the novel was that she was able to be both vulnerable and move forward. You don’t have to be strong every step of the way. Sometimes you get blown back when you’re confronting things that are challenging. Especially when you’re looking back on your past, you can sometimes move two steps forward and one step back. So that was something we talked about while shaping the character. We wanted to make sure that it never felt like Kirby could charge forward no matter what.
The metaphor for the entire series was built on the concept of working through trauma. The shifting realities are about how years after a traumatic event, it can feel like you can’t start your life. You can sort of be pulled back in time and become disoriented at any moment. No one believes you. You can feel isolated and alone. I think Lizzy (Elisabeth Moss), right from the get-go, completely understood that. And you can see that in her performance.
Q: What are the themes you are exploring in Shining Girls? Would you say that the series wrestles with feminism?
Luisa: I think this is a larger story about trauma. It’s been interesting because so many different people have connected with the show. They have talked about it in terms of general trauma. For example, Harper is a perpetrator against women, but at the same time, I think many people can relate to living through horrific events. They have had to deal with situations like Kirby. It doesn’t necessarily have to be from a specific type of incident.
Q: Will there be another season of Shining Girls?
Luisa: I connected with the book. It was essential for me to maintain the architecture and the shape of the text in the first season. I’m sure there are still a lot of pieces to explore. The world and the characters feel rich enough to continue investigating them differently. At the same time, I think I satisfyingly told Kirby’s arc.
Shining Girls is a beautiful story about trauma and healing. By the end of the series, Kirby switches the script on her attacker Harper who’s just a tiny man trying to feel significant. Creator Silka Luisa feels like more storylines could be delved into in a potential second season, but Kirby’s arc feels finished to her. Do you think there should be another season of Shining Girls, or has Kirby’s arc had a perfect ending? Watch all episodes of Shining Girls on Apple TV+. Then, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.