Welcome to the final article in our Pride series for the month of June! Each day this month, we have highlighted a different LGBTQ+ character who we think is a great example of representation, dynamic characterization, and overall badassery. Today, we are concluding Pride with an exclusive interview! Check out the rest of the series here.
This Close is a six-part series on Sundance Now that focuses on best friends Kate and Michael (played by Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, respectively), two twenty-somethings living in Los Angeles. Kate is newly engaged to boyfriend Danny and is trying to climb the corporate ladder in the public relations field, while Michael is a writer struggling with a suffocating bout of writer’s block that stems from an abrupt end to his engagement with his fiance. The series has garnered critical acclaim for focusing on the lives of two deaf lead characters, without making their deafness the primary – or only – focus of the story, like so many shows and movies have done in the past. Their deafness is a part of their lives, but Kate and Michael are not defined by that alone.
The series focuses on the fierce, and oftentimes codependent, friendship between the two main stars. But it is Michael’s story in particular that captured our attention. In the first episode, we learn that Michael is reeling from a breakup with his fiance Ryan, and his professional and personal endeavors suffer because of it. He tries to escape his pain in very self-destructive ways, using drugs and casual sex to carry him through each week. By the end of the season, Michael’s actions have even strained his relationship with Kate, and the final scene’s cliffhanger leaves the audience unsure of how the two will be able to make amends.
Nerds and Beyond had the opportunity to interview Feldman, one half of the writing and producing team (along with Stern) behind This Close, about the series and his character, Michael Rosen.
Nerds and Beyond: Can you describe the process behind This Close? How it got started, how you and Shoshannah came up with the idea as a series, etc.?
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Josh Feldman: This Close started out as a short, twelve minute pilot that Shoshannah and I shot ourselves with the help of some friends. We were tired of having meetings or trying to explain to people why a show about two deaf best friends was going to be groundbreaking, and how it was going to build upon the common “twenty something best friends try to get it together” storyline. Our pilot, and subsequent Kickstarter, got the attention of Super Deluxe, which helped us produce five polished webisodes that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. At the festival it caught the eye of people from Sundance Now who asked us to come in to pitch our idea for a full fledged television series that expanded on the webseries.
Nerds and Beyond: What is one of your favorite scenes from the first season of This Close?
Josh Feldman: One of my favorite scenes from the first season would have to either be the closing scene from the pilot, with Kate and Michael in airport jail, or their argument in the season finale, because those scenes just show you how a natural conversation is supposed to look and feel like between two deaf characters onscreen, while also hitting all the ranges of emotion sign language offers. Both scenes take place entirely in American Sign Language, with one being tender, the other crushing, but I think they both capture the beautiful complexities of sign language.
Nerds and Beyond: Like Michael’s deafness, his sexuality does not solely define him in This Close. Was it important to you for Michael to be gay? What do you think his sexuality brings to the story that would otherwise be missing if he were not gay?
Josh Feldman: It was very important for Michael to be gay, because I’m gay myself, and one of the things I desperately needed – and still do – is to see myself represented onscreen. Having Michael be gay also allows us to explore intersectionality, what it means to be a member of more than one minority, and more than one cultural group. Like myself, again, Michael is also deaf, gay, and Jewish – and that means he’s comprised of many different backgrounds that all share being underrepresented or discriminated against in common.
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Nerds and Beyond: A common theme in This Close is the challenge of communication that exists between the Deaf and hearing communities. This is seen when Michael is wrongly arrested by airport security, when Kate’s interpreter at her work’s Disability Panel does not convey Kate’s words correctly or with much care, and it plays a significant role in Kate and Danny’s relationship. I can’t help but imagine that the process of coming out as LGBTQ+ would be made even more difficult for a deaf person who struggles to be heard in common, everyday situations. Was that the case in your personal experience?
Josh Feldman: I was fortunate enough that my coming out story, though it didn’t start happening [until] I was in college, was mostly without thunder. My family and friends were very understanding, and I’ve always felt fortunate I [did not have to] worry about them accepting that part of my identity so I could focus on other things.
Nerds and Beyond: This Close is a leader in shining a light on positive intersectional representation. Why is intersectional representation important in media, in your opinion? What can be done to ensure that representation is respectful and “gets it right”?
Josh Feldman: Intersectional representation is so important in media because more people are intersectional than you realize! We’re a country comprised of many different cultures, races, and experiences – but the media hasn’t been accurate in trying to represent that in television or movies. And I really think that had a big hand in our nation’s political climate right now. Who’s controlling what stories are being made and told? Who’s trying to make the laws right now? We have many things to change.
Nerds and Beyond: I know you and Shoshannah Stern are currently writing for season 2 of This Close. Do you have any other projects you’re currently involved with?
Josh Feldman: Right now I’m just focused on making season two of This Close the best it can be. I’m always trying to figure out what story I want to tell next, to make sure it is different enough from the show but within an experience that is familiar enough I can tell it authentically.
Nerds and Beyond: Something off topic but also important to us at Nerds and Beyond – What color would your lightsaber be?
Josh Feldman: The color of my lightsaber would most definitely be red, no question. Didn’t even have to think about that one.
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Nerds and Beyond: Finally, my can’t-hurt-to-ask question: What This Close season 2 spoilers can you share with us?
Josh Feldman: Spoilers for season two? Hmm. Michael returns as a ghost and haunts Kate who decides to become the first deaf woman to hike Mount Everest. Just kidding. I can’t give anything away, that would be no fun, but you can rest assured there’ll be more laughter, and even more tears… Consider yourself warned!
Josh, thank you so much for your time! We can’t wait to see what you and Shoshannah have in store for us in season 2 of This Close!