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Shakina Nayfack Talks Connecting… in the Time of Coronavirus

Nayfack makes history as the first trans series regular on a prime-time network comedy.

shakina nayfack

I don’t know a single person who would want to relive the relentless nightmare factory that is 2020. But actress and activist Shakina Nayfack is doing just that, as a member of the ensemble cast of Connecting…, NBC’s new quarantine-set series.

Connecting… follows seven close friends as they come together via Zoom to commiserate through the rollercoaster of emotions that is life under quarantine. Whether it’s full-time parenting, financial struggles, or not killing off your sourdough starter, the group leans on one another for support. The series, created by Martin Gero (Blindspot) and Brendan Gall (The Lovebirds), was inspired by their own Zoom bonding experiences with friends. And that authenticity comes through in this smartly-written, deeply empathetic show and its performances (you can read our review here.)

Nayfack, who delivered scene-stealing performances in Hulu’s Difficult People and Amazon’s Transparent Musicale Finale, stars in the series as Ellis, a trans woman and Clippers super-fan living through the pandemic. Nayfack makes history in the role, as the first trans series regular in a network prime-time comedy.

She talked to us about the strange experience of filming in her own home, where COVID-19 has the cast pulling double-duty as their own crew. “It was, first of all, like an all hands on deck experience, like everyone is having at this moment, in whatever their circumstances are, and secondly, we were all taking the emotional commitment to revisit things we were still living through and trying to reflect on them with critique and humor, you know, so that was a big task,” she said.

Connecting… is a huge and emotionally challenging undertaking. After all, how do you accurately portray life during a pandemic in a 30-minute comedy? And how do you confront an experience that is still very much ongoing? Is it cathartic to revisit these moments? Nayfack responded, “Yeah, absolutely, I mean, in so far as you can have a catharsis and still be living in the real world that prevents you from any sort of liberation at this moment so yes, there were aspects of it that were very healing to revisit and reclaim in a different way for myself.”

The character of Ellis faces her own unique struggles as a trans woman that the rest of her friend group doesn’t. Nayfack said, “I don’t want to give away any spoiler, but the journey of my character touched on a lot of things I still wrestle with as a trans woman in the world, and especially during this time of pandemic and quarantine.”

The series, which features multiple LGBTQ+ folks and people of color, will also deal with the racial justice reckoning that continues to reverberate in our country. Nayfack added, “I hope that our audiences, especially around the issues of racial justice, find some kind of catharsis through at least the acknowledgment of what went down this summer, because if we don’t keep telling that story, it won’t be told.”

She continued, “By virtue of the existence of this ensemble of friends, our very lives become political. And we don’t shy away from that in the way we approach the show, but we also are trying to be a place where people can come together and make difficult conversations accessible and show that we can move through them, and that’s something that we try to do in the show as well.”

And while the themes of the series are heavy, the show remains upbeat and optimistic. There are dramatic moments, but there is plenty of levity to be found in Connecting… “I think we all have to find joy in order to get through the hardship, and so we always know that we’re there to bring joy, even when the scene that we’re playing is a dramatic one.” Even during the heavier scenes, Nayfack says, “I find a way through it with a kind of lightness, because that’s what we need, we don’t need to burden people with more grief. We need to be able to move through our grief with some sense of lightness.”

She concluded, “I hope folks remember that they can laugh, and it’s okay because sometimes when things are this rough in the world, it almost feels irresponsible to smile, but we need to allow ourselves to feel joy and happiness because it gives us strength to go back into the fight.”

Connecting… premiered last week on NBC, and will return on Oct. 29th.

(featured image: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Hulu)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.