The prestige TV queen and Oscar movie MVP will team up for the psycho-thriller ‘Shirley.’
Elizabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg are two of the best and busiest actors around these days. Moss is fresh off her first Emmy win for Outstanding Lead Actress in The Handmaid’s Tale. Stuhlbarg just starred in not one, not two, but three Best Picture nominees. Now, these two stars are teaming up to give us the dream pairing we didn’t even know we needed.
According to Deadline, Moss and Stuhlbarg will star in Shirley, a psychological thriller based on Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name. Shirley is a fictionalized account of real-life horror author Shirley Jackson. Moss will star as Jackson, and Stuhlbarg will portray her husband, Stanley Hyman.
Merrell’s 2014 novel revolves around a young couple that moves in with Jackson and her husband in an attempt to start their lives over. When things take a dark turn, the older couple find themselves at the center of a psycho-drama that becomes fodder for Jackson’s next novel.
Jackson is best known for her 1948 horror story “The Lottery,” a disturbing work of short fiction that remains required reading in many classrooms, and she has been cited as an influence on authors such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Her penchant for the creepy and sinister will surely shape the tone of Shirley, as the character of Jackson herself draws inspiration from the events within the film.
Moss and Stuhlbarg’s juicy roles — “Shirley’s beautiful tortured spirit and [the] unflinchingly charasmatic-while-cruel Stanley,” as director Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline) describes them — are, to utilize gross understatement, very well earned and will be very well performed.
Moss has been dominating the small screen for almost 20 years, with an impressive collection of lead roles and incredible performances on The West Wing, Mad Men, Top of the Lake, and now The Handmaid’s Tale. On the silver screen, however, she’s had mostly supporting roles, with less meaty characters to sink her teeth into — Moss is fantastic but underutilized in her most recent films Chuck, The Square, and Mad to be Normal.
With a rich protagonist and a focus on psychological horror, Shirley offers Moss the chance to assert herself fully as a force in film as much as she is on television. She has a knack for visceral, emotional moments, and Shirley is sure to keep those in ample supply.
Stuhlbarg, on the other hand, is one of film’s most criminally underrated players. He was the heart of three of this year’s biggest Oscar contenders (Call Me By Your Name, The Post, and The Shape of Water), which earned him the official title of our Performer of the Year for 2017. Stuhlbarg has spent the past 20 years quietly amassing an impressive collection of roles, all executed to perfection, working with Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, and Steven Spielberg all just within the last decade.
He is a chameleonic actor who is grounded in character and consistently delivers, even on the small screen in something like last year’s third season of Fargo. A rich leading role in Shirley will let Stuhlbarg shine. We’ve seen what he can do with a three-minute monologue (Do yourself a favor and rewatch it. You know you want to.), so obviously, he’ll thrive here.
What could possibly make this movie even better than its two phenomenal leads? Shirley is being completely helmed by women. Merrell penned the source material, Sarah Gubbins (I Love Dick) will write the script, and Decker will direct. Women directors and writers are rare enough in any production (the stats are disappointing, but not surprising), so a film with both is practically unheard of. With this team behind it, Shirley will be by, about, and inherently for women.
And it’s not just the women behind the camera that make the film so exciting, either. The film’s protagonist is a refreshingly complex female character. Decker describes the role of both Jackson and Gubbins as female writers crafting female characters: “No two people write more wildly rich female characters than Shirley Jackson and Sarah Gubbins. It’s an honor to bring their female sorcery to life.”
Luckily, Moss knows a thing or two about bringing “wildly rich female characters to life” (Peggy Olson, Robbin Griffin, Offred — just to name a few). The film will not only add another compelling woman to the film canon but will also honor Jackson’s real-life literary legacy. With two knockout leads and a women-led team, we’ve got good reason to keep a close eye on Shirley.