Before he became an actor, Narcos star Wagner Moura had actually studied to become a journalist, even spending several years working at a newspaper room after graduating. “I graduated as a journalist. I worked as a journalist for a couple years before [acting].
“I have a lot of respect for the profession of journalists, especially nowadays where we have world leaders discrediting journalism and journalists are getting killed just because they’re doing their job. Or people getting informed through social media and the spread of fake news.”
So to play one in Apple TV+’s new thriller, The Shining Girls, it’s something of a full circle moment for the Brazilian actor.
Based on the best selling book by Laura Beukes, Moura plays Dan, a journalist at the Chicago-Sun Times who has just returned to work after taking a break for reasons unknown. But rather than easing back into the job, Moura’s character immediately finds himself following the trail of a murder case, assisted by the newspaper’s archivist Kirby Mazrachi, a survivor of a brutal assault and played to tense perfection by Elizabeth Moss whose attacker potentially the same one responsible for the victim Dan is investigating.
Essentially a murder mystery, The Shining Girls also offers a fascinating insight into the lived world of trauma, PTSD and survival. Research has shown that our function for memory is delicate and our ability to summon them is impacted by traumatic events. It’s often the reason why rape victims are unable to recall key details or have fragmented recollections in the aftermath of their attack. In events prior to the show, Kirby – who herself was on her way to becoming a journalist like Dan – was savagely assaulted and left for dead. The impact of this is obvious – her career on hold, she holds herself apart from those around her and seems to be determined to be invisible. But Kirby’s world, we discover, isn’t real.
There’s a scene where Kirby comes home from her job and pulls out a red diary. She flips a page with a growing list of mundane details, crosses one out. Adds another. It feels like the kind of memory game one plays to keep their mind sharp. Which in some ways it is. But as the show develops, this diary of mundane data transforms into a lifeline for a woman whose world seems to suddenly shift in detail from one minute to the next.
As Dan begins to work with Kirby, the realisation that truth isn’t always black and white is a palpable message. It also means that Dan – and we, as we navigate the narrative through his eyes along with Kirby’s – are constantly left wondering what’s real and what’s not.
Which if you’re a journalist the calibre of which Dan is allegedly meant to be in the show, this is a problem. A particular skill that’s key to the job is the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. For a journalist, facts and the ability to recall information are paramount. They are the bread and butter to effectively doing your job. But as we soon find out early on in the show’s first episode facts are malleable and memories are to be approached with caution.
“The hardest thing for him, for Dan, is to believe Kirby,” says Moura. “Because things that she says to him don’t make any sense. I wouldn’t believe her if I was him! But there is something about her – something about this woman that seems right.
“[When we meet him] Dan Dan is struggling to get his life back on track again,” Moura says. “He was a guy who used to have a column and now no one really cares about him. And he sees this dead body as a means to achieve that. But his relationship with Kirby starts to become closer, it’s not about that anymore.”
Rather, it becomes an act of catharsis for the both of them.
The Shining Girls is streaming on Apple TV+ from April 29.