Frankie Shaw On What A ‘SMILF’ Is, And How She Became One On Showtime

photographed by john clayton lee. styled by virginia fontaine.

The multihyphenate is making heavy topics a little bit lighter

The following feature appears in the October 2017 issue of NYLON.

Frankie Shaw is concerned that she’s being too serious. “I want to tell you more fun stuff,” she says, interrupting her explanation of the inspirations behind her forthcoming semi-autobiographical Showtime series, SMILF, which she wrote, directed, and stars in, about the trials of being a twenty-something single mom, and her 2016 short, Too Legit, in which a woman named Sully (Zoë Kravitz) finds out she’s become pregnant after a rape. The trouble is that the subjects Shaw focuses on are really serious. Her genius is that she turns them into comedic gold. “I feel comfortable making stuff, but I don’t like to express it as myself—I like to let the work talk for me,” she says.

Sitting on the sofa of her Hollywood office at Sunset Gower Studios, her hair tossed in a topknot, Shaw, 35, looks every bit the part of Bridgette Bird, SMILF’s alarmingly pretty basketball enthusiast who has no problem drawing the attention of men, but struggles to keep it once they discover she’s a mom. It’s nearly six o’clock on a summer night and Shaw and her team of writers show no signs of leaving soon. Even on three hours of sleep, her conversation darts between the kind of laugh- out-loud personal anecdotes that have found their way into her work and the harrowing history of the mistreatment of women that has made her certain these stories deserve to be told.

For example, Shaw, a Brookline, Massachusetts-raised Barnard grad, ended a two-year sexual dry spell after the birth of her son, Isaac (now 9), while he slept on a small bed on the floor in the same room. That’s in the show. So is the time she had to bring her son to a Breaking Bad audition. “I’m really interested in how as a culture we don’t support mothers,” she says. “It’s sort of this hypocrisy that motherhood is as American as apple pie kind of thing, and yet you really cannot be in this country and be a participant in the workforce [if you are] a primary caregiver.”

Instead of dwelling on the hair-pulling state of inequality in the world, she takes a wide-eyed and grinning dive into a story about the time she and Isaac rented a room from a family, who, along with owning a litany of animals including a baby goat, wouldn’t allow their tenants into any part of the house, “except the kitchen to make a meal quickly,” she says, laughing in disbelief. Within months of moving in, she and Isaac hightailed it to a friend’s place. “We moved every three months for two years. Normally you have your shit together by the time you have a kid. Being a single mom when Isaac was so small was so hard, but there were so many victories, too.”

Serious or not, Shaw makes hardships genuinely fun to talk about. She makes the personal universal and the universal personal, all while drawing necessary attention to oft-ignored subjects. Too Legit, which she wrote and directed, follows Sully the morning after she’s been raped. The woke comedy unfolds with misogynistic absurdism—the funniest lines from the film are also the most enraging because they, too, are lifted from real life. “When the body is legitimately raped, the cells have a way to detect evil sperm from the love sperm, and generally the body will shut the whole thing down,” says Sully’s doctor, repeating the theory put forth by former Missouri congressman Todd Akin to support his anti-abortion stance. When asked how loudly she said “No” to her rapist, Sully replies, “I didn’t want to cause a scene,” an echo of the 15-year-old New Hampshire student who, in a courtroom cross-examination, said she allowed her rapist to take off her shirt because, “I didn’t want to be offensive.” “We operate in sort of a level of being numb to certain things,” says Shaw. “That short specifically was about, ‘What if we actually say the stuff that we’ve now sort of just accepted?’”

Shaw was not born a confident torchbearer of women’s rights. In fact, she says, “It’s not lost on me that this couldn’t have happened 10 years ago.” She shouts out women who paved the way for her, including Transparent executive producer Jill Soloway and Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke—both early supporters of her work. So, too, Shaw admits that 10 years ago she didn’t even know that she was capable of writing, let alone running her own show. It took years on set as an actress with the likes of the Duplass brothers on The Freebie and Sam Esmail on Mr. Robot to help her recognize her own point of view. And, necessity being the mother of invention, she reached a breaking point in the single-mom struggle. “I was sick of auditioning and being so broke,” she says.

It was her then-boyfriend and now-husband, writer Zach Strauss, who suggested she put proverbial pen to paper. And after taking home her first steady network paycheck for ABC’s Mixology in 2014, she suddenly had the means to actually shoot what would become the first version of SMILF, a short that premiered at Sundance a year later and took home the Jury Prize. “I just did it,” she says. “And then after doing it, I was like, ‘Oh, I can.’” Now she finds directing and running her own show surprisingly “instinctual,” and “the most fulfilling thing,” made all the more so by getting to leave a long day of work to kick up her feet with Isaac in the home that they have no plans on leaving anytime soon.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Picturegroup/Shutterstock.

The list is in

The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards nominations are in. Seasoned pop stars Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are naturally leading this year's nomination pool with 10 nods each, and going head-to-head in multiple categories, including Video and Song of the Year. Billie Eilish, who isn't as seasoned but has built up a sturdy (and beloved) body of work, is right behind with nine nominations this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo via Broadimage/Shutterstock

He has been accused of soliciting nudes from models and touching them while naked

UPDATE 7/23/2019 4:39pm: Kim Kardashian has apparently responded to the allegations against Hyde, though she does not name him, in a post to her Instagram stories. She writes that though she never had a bad experience with him. "I stand in full support of every woman's right to not be harassed, asked or pressured they are not comfortable with," she writes. "We cannot allow this type of behavior to go unnoticed and I applaud those who speak out."

Screenshot via @KimKardashian Instagram

Fashion watchdog Diet Prada has published multiple allegations from models claiming that celebrity photographer Marcus Hyde pressured them into shooting nude photos. Amidst the allegations, Ariana Grande, who has previously worked with Hyde, has published a response, denouncing this kind of behavior by photographers.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock

She should!

Megan Thee Stallion, aka Hot Girl Meg, is in the process of trademarking "Hot Girl Summer," and it's about time. The term, coined by Meg, has recently been co-opted by brands looking to capitalize on the singular good thing on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
Asset 7
Photos via Universal Standard

A win for your wardrobe and reproductive health care

Starting today, you can give your wardrobe a major upgrade from Universal Standard at a deep discount and simultaneously give back to a good cause. The ultra-inclusive brand is hosting its first-ever sample sale online now, with all your favorite silhouettes at up to 75 percent off, and donating 50 percent of profits from the purchases to Planned Parenthood.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Glen Wilson/ Focus Features

Cynthia Erivo captures the power and bravery of Harriet Tubman, a true hero

Focus Features has dropped the first trailer for Harriet, the film documenting the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman. Just try not to get chills watching Cynthia Erivo as Tubman, whose bravery, strength, and brilliance are on full display here, as we see her navigate a treacherous world, and bring herself and countless others to freedom.

Keep reading... Show less