P-Valley Star Shannon Thornton Can’t Live Without Her Mascara

Shannon Thornton wearing a gold bodysuit
Photo by Raven Verona. Styling by Mickey Freeman. Treatment by Ashley Peña for W.

P-Valley, the Starz series centered on the drama at a Mississippi Delta strip club called The Pynk, is not short on the hijinks. In the first season of the series created by Katori Hall (she adapted the material from her play, “Pussy Valley,” for the show) there was a case of forged identity, extortion, sinister churchgoers, and so many scams. Now, the series returns for another season after flying a bit under the radar when it first premiered in 2020—and its cast promises that viewers’ jaws will drop when they see what the characters get up to this summer.

One of the many colorful eccentrics employed at The Pynk is Keyshawn, also known as Miss Mississippi, whose aerial routines dazzle the club’s clientele and her colleagues. “Keyshawn’s pole is always on spin,” Shannon Thornton, the actress who plays Keyshawn, says. “I get the worst motion sickness!”

The enchanting sequences, married with the sheer athleticism coming from the women who portray the dancers working the poles, must not be underestimated by P-Valley’s viewers—it’s hard work, and the actors go through what Thornton playfully refers to as “stripper boot camp” to get in shape. And as much as the series was praised for pulling off these athletic feats, its visual sequences shot from the perspectives of Black women and melodramatic twists and turns are just as laudable. Below, Thornton talks about the ups and downs of training for the pole, and the tips and tricks she’s used to create Keyshawn’s signature look.

In the first season of P-Valley, your character Keyshawn had recently given birth. In the finale, she had to choose between life with her abusive boyfriend and the club. In season two, she’s dealing with the fallout from that decision. What are you most excited for people to see Keyshawn do in this new season?

There are so many moments in this show that made me just gasp. There’s a moment in episode three that made me scream, and people are going to know exactly what it is—it’s this one thing that kind of stands out. When we shot it, I was like, Why? This doesn’t make sense. Then I saw where they placed the scene, and it’s nuts. You see her go on this journey of finding herself and coming into her own, fighting to be free.

What do you like most about her?

As an actor, it's fun to play someone who has so many colors. She’s the life of the party, but she’s also deeply insecure. She’s also in an abusive relationship that she tries to hide. How you see Keyshawn on social media is completely different from how she is around [her boyfriend] Derrick. She’s also a completely different person when she’s around [club owner] Uncle Clifford—she almost turns into this little girl. She’s different when she’s around her coworkers backstage. And the sweetness between her and Diamond—they have these really quiet, very tender moments where, if you pay attention, they’re not really saying much to each other, but there’s this deep connection.

How do you prepare for such an athletic role?

We do have doubles, but the actors are doing a lot. We’re in our second season, so I have a few years of pole dancing experience now. Before a season starts, we would train for a couple months before production. During production, we train right before a dance number. We’re conditioning, and learning how to do splits and certain tricks that would be signature moves.

What would you say is Keyshawn’s signature look?

I had a conversation with the makeup artist this season and last season. I wanted her to look like a baby doll. I already have very big, expressive eyes, and Keyshawn is a childlike, vulnerable girl. She’s just this chocolatey, glowy, shimmery baby doll. I wanted those eyes to be huge.

When you wake up in the morning, whether you’re going to set or not, what’s the first thing you do for skincare?

I love washing my face—I think I enjoy it more than most people. I grab my cleanser—I love the Biossance line. I use their squalene vitamin C oil all the time.

Have you picked up any good beauty tips on set?

I’ve learned to draw my eyebrows a lot better now that I’ve been on the show. I used to go in looking like a vampire or like one of the Munsters. Now, they’re a lot more natural than the way I thought I was doing it. My makeup artist has taught me how to better blend foundations and how to mix and match so that I don’t look too done up.

Do you mix and match different foundation brands or just different tones and colors?

I mix Black Opal with Fenty. I’ll use Fenty’s liquid concealer under my eyes and mix that with Black Opal around my face.

What’s the one skincare rule you always follow?

You are what you eat. Skincare really starts from within. It sounds so cheesy, but it’s true. Once you start eating cleaner—eating fruits, vegetables, and real whole foods—it does wonders for your skin.

Do you have a beauty icon?

I have always thought Diana Ross is just absolutely stunning, ever since I was a little girl. I have a black-and-white photo of her in my bedroom, she has these doe eyes that are actually part of the inspiration for Keyshawn’s eyes.

Are there any products that you use for Keyshawn’s eyes you have taken from set and included in your own off-duty beauty routine?

We play around with the waterline a lot, so we’ll do different, fun colors. We’ll do pink on the water line, or light blue or creams or whites. I’ve actually taken home a ton of makeup from the show that the makeup artist gifted to me. And I love mascara. If I'm not wearing any other makeup at all, mascara is definitely my go-to.

What’s your favorite kind of mascara?

I love Dior. They have a nice, chunky brush that does the job. It makes my lashes look extremely long.

What’s your ideal spa day?

My ideal spa day would be somewhere out of the country. [Laughs.] Somewhere hot. I love the sauna, it’s really good for your skin. I love a good massage, because our bodies go through it. That’s the very first thing any of us think [after filming]: Oh my gosh, when am I gonna get a massage? I also want a good facial because of months of wearing makeup all day, 12- to 16-hour days.

What’s your favorite form of self care?

I love listening to music, so I will turn on my laptop. I have a Spotify playlist that I share—it’s a collaborative effort with one of my cast mates. And it’s got some of the best music! I think we could get into the business. I also have a really cool ’90s playlist that I absolutely love. And I meditate—manifestation meditation for 10 minutes a day. Also, I love to journal, it’s good to get it all out. And if it’s too embarrassing, I’ll rip that page out and I won’t see it. [Laughs.]