We often see actors morph into (and out of) disparate roles. That is, after all, the nature of acting.
But watching Miriam Shor play a dying artist full of rage on the final season of The Americans this spring, and then watching her return as the hilarious Diana Trout in the fifth season of Younger, is downright inspiring. The two characters could not be more different. We’re in awe.
This season, Shor expanded her skill set and directed an episode of the TV Land comedy, which concludes its fifth season tonight. Paste had the chance to talk to Shor about her career, creating Diana, the season finale of Younger, and what she would like to see for her character when the series returns for a sixth season. [Editor’s note: The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.]
Paste: It’s been a lot of fun watching Diana with Enzo (Chris Tardio) this season. She’s falling for him in spite of herself.
Miriam Shor: She’s continually caught off guard by Enzo and her feelings for him, and I love that. I love when the writers are able to find a place of vulnerability for Diana. It’s fun to play. It’s just interesting storytelling. He really is, on paper, not the right person for her, but in person, he’s the right guy, and I think we’ve all found ourselves in situations like that on some level or another. It’s interesting to explore.
Paste: Did you have conversations with the writers about Diana having a big romance this season?
Shor: I do like to go hang out with them and pretend I’m a writer, because secretly, deep down, that’s my aspiration on some level. They did take some suggestions. I lived in Italy half my life. I was angling for an episode in Italy. I was angling to go on a field trip to shoot in Italy. Instead it was, “Let’s just throw some Italian into your storyline and we’ll take you to Staten Island instead.”
Paste: Why did you live half your life in Italy?
Shor: My dad was a professor and he had a Fulbright to teach in Venice, so we lived there when I was really little and then we moved to Detroit, like you do. But then my parents split up and my mom had just fallen in love with Italy, so she decided to move back to Torino. She and my dad had joint custody, so we would spend every other year in Italy until we graduated from high school.
Paste: Diana is so interesting because she could have easily been a one-note character who just comes in with hilariously biting one-liners. But she’s got so much more depth than that. How do you go about humanizing her?
Shor: I didn’t want to play a one-note character, as fun as that note was to play. The writers write in these chinks in her armor. That’s the fun of it—getting to make this person as human as possible. I could see right away she built up an armor and protected herself on her warrior path to the top of her career.
To me, that’s the fun of playing a character who is very different from yourself. That’s what I love doing—understanding another person’s perspective that’s really different from mine. To me it’s like an emotional puzzle, trying to figure out the humanity of a character who is very different from myself and why they think the way they do.
Paste: Talking to you now, you sound so much different than Diana. Where does her voice come from?
Shor: So many things you do to create a character really help with that. The clothes she wears, yes, they are so fun, but they also kind of speak to the kind of person she is—that she feels she needs to armor herself to go into battle. That’s not how I walk through the world. But someone who is that meticulous about it would also speak a certain way. It also kind of comes together organically. It really comes from more of a place of what her objectives are and what she’s trying to accomplish.
Paste: Do you ever find yourself talking like Diana in your real life?
Shor: Her level of confidence is much, much greater than mine. Part of her thing is that she does not suffer fools, and she doesn’t have time for someone who hasn’t worked as hard as her. I don’t think she just disparages people because she’s an asshole. She has worked so hard and she has such high standards for herself that she requires everyone reach those standards—and when they don’t, she doesn’t have time for them.
I rarely feel like that. A lot of time, the characters I’ve played in the past kind of come out in me in situations when it’s very useful. If I need someone to listen to me in a situation where they’re not listening, then Diana might come out.
Paste: This season you directed an episode, “Big Little Liza.” It was your first time directing.
Shor: A really fun part of getting to be an actor is exploring those parts of yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise explore. I play someone who knows she’s the smartest woman in the room and is comfortable being a boss. Asking to be a director is being comfortable being a boss and respecting my own intelligence and ability.
Paste: What was directing like?
Shor: It’s kind of like jumping off a high dive: “Oh, I really hope I have this skill set when I get to the bottom.” It just opened a lot to me about what abilities I had and what I could learn on the go. I also had four seasons on the show. I wanted to learn the intricacies of this particular show and really make a great episode of Younger, and I had so much at my disposal for that, so many tools. And then I had the greatest cast and crew ever. It’s really great to challenge yourself when you are in your 40s with something new. I was nervous. I really wanted to be a good director to these actors, because they are my friends and I respect them and love them and I didn’t want to let them down. We really jelled as a director and cast, and I know this show inside and out. I always have opinions, and it was fun to voice those opinions and have people listen to them.
Paste: The show has been picked up for a sixth season. Do you think you’ll direct an episode next season?
Shor: We’ve asked. Putting together a season is a big endeavor. I would love to do it again. I hope they let me. As much as I love the actors on my show, when I was directing them I was like, “Jesus Christ, these are good actors: ‘I’m an even bigger fan of yours now because I need you to do this at four in the morning after a long day. I need you to get this right.’” And they did it beyond beautifully.
Paste: Switching gears, I wanted to talk a little bit about your amazing arc as an artist dying of cancer during the final season of The Americans. How did you get cast?
Shor: I just auditioned for it and I was over the moon that I got to do the part. I think The Americans is one of the best shows on television and to get to join it in the last season, I couldn’t believe my luck. I never understood why The Americans didn’t get even greater accolades. Is it too good? Is that the problem?
Their storytelling is really unique—the fact that they made my character an artist just to see the effect that being near art would have on Elizabeth. Getting to work with Keri [Russell] was so fun, and I mean fun. Keri is one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with. She is a delight, and then action happens and she is an unbelievable actor. Matthew [Rhys] directed an episode and I got to pick his brain. He is also the most charming person on set. I was like, “Let’s get these kids in a comedy, stat.”
Paste: What did you learn about being an artist?
Shor: I got to have a one-on-one art class with the actual artist who created the art. All of that artwork is hers. She was on set with us to help. Really, the couple hours I spent with her on that lesson changed the way that I looked at art, which is amazing. She would say to draw the picture out of the paper, as opposed to putting the picture on the paper.
Paste: You are mostly known for your comedic roles. Is it difficult to get people to see you as a dramatic actor?
Shor: I’m happy to audition for something. That’s part of what I do. It’s my opportunity to show that I can do it. I get riled up when I’m not allowed to audition. Just the opportunity to show that, yes, I can do this. I was the first one to audition, and the casting director said, “That’s usually a disadvantage, but you really touched me in this audition.”
Paste: What can you tell me about the season finale of Younger?
Shor: The finale for Diana is more about Enzo, and it’s pretty great. It’s a pretty interesting moment that they have, [and] that’s all I can say about that. It’s a “beautiful” with quotes around it moment for them.
Paste: What would you like to see happen for Diana next season?
Shor: I would like for a little bit more of Diana’s take on being pushed out of an industry that she knows she’s an expert in. I think that is a really interesting story that is true and that is happening, and I would like to see Diana fight against that, because she’s a fighter.
I would love to see what happens with Enzo. Happiness isn’t as interesting in storytelling, so I don’t know if that’s where it will go, but at the same time he’s constantly pulling the rug out from under her emotionally in kind of a great way. More of that would nice. And who knows what’s going to be happening at her work place, which is her life. There’s a lot of destabilization, which makes for interesting storytelling.
Paste: So many characters have learned Liza’s [Sutton Foster] secret. Do you want Diana to find out?
Shor: I have a fantasy about that. I would love that if and when she finds out she would say, “Of course I always knew. Do you think I’m a moron? I know what it takes to get ahead in this world. I know the prejudices. I know what you have to do, and if it means lying and saying you’re in your 20s, well, good for you. Now go get my fucking coffee.” She’s a smart lady. The only reason she might not know is just because she’s so narcissistic.
Paste: When I was younger, I never understood lying about your age. But as I get older, I kind of get it.
Shor: I’ve haven’t lied about my age. I’m proud to be 47. My hat goes up a little when people say you should lie and I’m like, “Why should I lie?” But the truth is that people do judge you, and they make assumptions about you based on your age. And [judge] women in particular. I think one of the ways to fight that is to say, “Yeah, I’m 47, and I’m amazing.” I think one of the ways to combat the perception that getting old means you should disappear is by not disappearing and being loud and stating who you are and being proud of it. The older I get, the louder I’m going to get, and I’m starting at a pretty high decibel.
Paste:What’s next for you?
Shor: I’m working on a project that deals with women in their 40s as artists.
Paste: Is Younger the longest time you’ve spent on a series?
Shor: Oh, yeah. I’ve killed every other show. I’ve had really good luck getting a pilot picked up and I kill it dead in 13 episodes or less. That’s usually the way it went for me. I like to play lots of different characters and I got to do that.
Paste: You live in New York, where the show films. Are you recognized more now than you have been in the past?
Shor: I do not walk through the world looking like Diana Trout. I think Diana Trout would be horrified by how I go out. I don’t wear jewelry. I don’t even wear a wedding ring. I look nothing like her. We are the same height and we have the same color hair. I’m pretty incognito when I walk around, and I like that. I’m not doing this because I want people to stop me on the street. I’m doing it because it’s fun to tell stories.
The season finale of Younger airs tonight at 10 p.m. on TV Land.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .