Elisabeth Moss in episode four of AppleTV's 'Shining Girls', directed by Daina Reid.

When Elisabeth Moss was cast as the lead of AppleTV+’s Shining Girls, she soon asked a colleague from The Handmaid’s Tale to join her on the project: Daina Reid.

The Melbourne-based director happens to be a big science fiction buff, and so was already familiar with the original book by Lauren Beukes. Reading the script for the eight-part series, Reid was then struck by how showrunner Silka Luisa had expanded the novel for the screen.

Shining Girls, produced by MRC, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way, Signature Moves Productions, MacLaren Entertainment and Moss’s Love & Squalor, follows Kirby Mazrachi (Moss), a Chicago newspaper archivist whose journalistic ambitions were put on hold after enduring a traumatic assault.

When Kirby learns that a recent murder mirrors her own case, she partners with seasoned, yet troubled reporter Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura), to uncover her attacker’s (Jamie Bell) identity.

Shining Girls is a sci-fi thriller with a noir feel, but Reid tells IF it is grounded in exploring how the trauma of the assault continues to impact on Kirby.

“You’ve got a metaphysical thing going on, but it’s still thematically about how your life is changed forever when something like that happens to you,” Reid says.

It’s very grounded and it’s very truthful. Kirby’s trauma is real, so we start there; that performance style is real and we work into that tone.”

Daina Reid.

Further enhancing the appeal of the series for Reid was the chance to collaborate with set-up director Michelle MacLaren (X-Files, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones), whose career she has long admired.

“I’ve been watching Michelle MacLaren since before I was director,” Reid tells IF.

“I was a huge X-Files fan. The X-Files was directed by all guys until it wasn’t – until it was Michelle MacLaren. I remember standing up in my lounge room and shouting at the television; finally there was there was a woman!”

On Shining Girls, Reid helms the most episodes: three, four and six and eight, the final episode. Moss directs episodes five and seven. Each are also executive producers with Luisa, Lindsey McManus, MacLaren, Rebecca Hobbs, DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson, Michael Hampton, Alan Page Arriaga, and Beukes.

After almost 20 years of directing television in Australia, Reid first headed to the US in 2018 to work on The Handmaid’s Tale, with episode ‘Holly’ earning her both Emmy and DGA nominations.

Reid says it is a joy to continue to work with an actor like Moss, noting their styles suit each other. To the “jangled, raw” and “sensitive” character of Shining Girls’ Kirby, she says Moss brought a “wonderful honesty”.

“The way we approach a text, and the way that we approach a character is very similar.

“I have such great respect for her. We enjoy trying things out and she’s really brave.”

Similarly, Reid relished the chance to work with both Moura and Bell, as well as the other actors on the project such as Phillipa Soo, Chris Chalk and Amy Brenneman.

Jamie Bell as Harper in ‘Shining Girls’.

Bell’s nuanced transformation into serial killer Harper was particularly stunning and intriguing to Reid, contrasting with the actor’s real personality – he was a fun presence on set, often tap dancing, harking back to his role in Billy Elliot.

“Harper, in a sense, is an unremarkable man. He didn’t have the best start in life. He went to war; that’s not good for anyone. He gets this massive power. What an unremarkable man does with that power to irrevocably change women’s lives – what [Bell] brought to that, was a remarkable ‘unremarkableness’.”

Since The Handmaid’s Tale, Reid has consistently worked in US television, on projects such as David Makes Man, The Outsiders, Upload, Helstrom and more recently, the Queensland-shot Young Rock.

Wagner Moura in ‘Shining Girls’.

On Shining Girls, Reid gave a fellow Aussie, cinematographer Bonnie Elliott, her first US break.

Reid first worked with Elliott on Syfy series Hunters from executive producers Gale Ann Hurd and Natalie Chaidez, which shot in Melbourne in 2015. Later, Reid watched Elliott’s work on ABC drama Seven Types of Ambiguity and was so impressed by the “grounded poetry of her images”, with the two going onto again collaborate on Romper Stomper.

“We have a similar sensibility in approach, which really suits this project – there is a poetry, a real lyricism to her work, but it’s very grounded. It’s a perfect fit.”

Elliott also lenses Reid’s debut feature, Run Rabbit Run, starring Sarah Snook, Damon Herriman and Greta Scacchi, which was shot in Victoria and South Australia almost immediately following Shining Girls.

When Reid speaks to IF, she is in the edit suite for the film, a horror/thriller written by Hannah Kent which follows a fertility doctor (Snook) whose grasp on the cycle of life is put to the test when her young daughter Mia (Lily LaTorre) begins to exhibit increasingly strange behaviour. The script is based on an original idea developed with producers Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw of Carver Films, with whom Reid worked on SBS’s Sunshine.

Further, Reid is also currently developing a couple of comedies, drawing on her background as a comedy performer on shows like Full Frontal and The Micaleff Program.

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