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You’ll recognise Frankie Shaw from season one of Mr Robot, where she played Shayla, Elliot’s drug dealer, neighbour and former lover, but her real breakthrough came last year as the lead actress, writer, director, and executive producer in SMILF, a semi-autobiographical series about being a working class single mother.
SMILF ended up on multiple Best of 2017 lists, including Deadline, The Los Angeles Times, and Vogue, before earning Frankie Golden Globe nominations for both Best Comedy and Best Actress.
With SMILF now first and only on Showmax, we caught up with Frankie.
How did SMILF end up on Showtime as their third biggest premiere week audience for a comedy ever?
I wrote a pilot and wanted to direct a scene from that pilot so people would understand how I saw it, more than just what was on the page when they read it. Scripts are a blueprint, so tone is so specific to the person making it. I knew that it had a specific feeling, which I don’t know if you get just from reading the script. So I directed a scene from it, which then took on a life of its own and became a short film, which then I submitted to Sundance and we got in, and it won an award, which then helped me sell it to Showtime and turn it back into a TV show.
So what’s SMILF about?
It’s about a struggling single mother. She lives in blue-collar Boston. She has a relationship with her mom who’s mentally ill and she has to navigate, figure out how to make ends meet raising her three-year-old and then co-parenting with her baby daddy, who now has a new girlfriend.
Why is the life of a broke single mom a great idea for a TV series?
Part of it stemmed from when I was moving around every three months with my toddler. There are so many funny stories of me and him in these crazy living situations.
But I also feel like so much of this country [America} lives in poverty, or lives check to check. That was a real thing that I’ve experienced that I thought would be interesting to explore.
You direct, write and star in the series. Tell us about that experience.
Wanting to be in every element is just part of who I am. I love it. It’s so fulfilling, but yeah, it’s insane. But I do have to say there’s amazing people around me. So my husband’s a writer on the show, and then I have an executive producer who’s a writer on the show, Scott King. The three of us would divvy, when we were shooting, “Oh, this scene has to be written; you go to the edit.”
Why is it called SMILF?
In the pilot, when someone calls her that, she sort of scoffs when she gets the text. It’s not a word women can actually call themselves, which is the point of it. It reclaims this derogatory term men use to categorise women, which started with American Pie with a bunch of teenagers looking at Stifler’s mom. It’s challenging because people might write it off as a gimmicky title, or inappropriate, but the whole point is we’re seeing a story we don’t usually see, and we’re seeing someone represented who’s not usually represented.
Why are the guys all naked in the sex scenes?
I just feel like we’ve seen enough naked women. Come on. So it was important that if we were going to have nudity, the women were not going to be objectified.
Every episode is directed by a woman. Why was that an important choice?
There’s just so many women who need work and if I’m in a position to hire them, I’m going to.
What is it like working with Rosie O’Donnell?
She just lets go. When you walk around with Rosie in public, she’s the Mayor, she’s talking to everyone. And that’s not this character. She sinks in and gets quiet and really shows her raw emotions. We are so lucky. She’s beyond my wildest dreams of an actor.
What do you hope the audience will take away from this show?
Hopefully people identify with it and laugh and cry with us. If you’ve struggled with anything – parenthood or money issues or even just “should I follow my dreams” or class issues, race issues – we get into all of it. So I just hope people identify and enjoy it.
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