Sarah Shahi Talks the Female Point of View of Netflix’s Steamy ‘Sex/Life’
Be careful what you wish for. Discontented suburban wife and mother Billie Connelly (Sarah Shahi) learns that lesson in Sex/Life, a racy new Netflix drama based on the bestselling novel 44 Chapters About 4 Men by B.B. Easton. When Billie begins fantasizing about her wild, carefree past, it threatens her idyllic—but unsatisfying—existence with her reliable husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel). As Billie ventures into a forgotten side of her life that includes a man from her past (Adam Demos), she could end up losing everything.
Shahi spoke to TV Insider about the new series as well as its challenges; she encountered hurdles she’d never experienced in her roles on procedurals like City on a Hill, Person of Interest and Fairly Legal. She also discusses the message Sex/Life conveys to women and how having needs is never a bad thing.
Let’s talk about the show’s title first: Is it about sex vs. life? Are they separate, or can you successfully have both?
Sarah Shahi: They influence each other so much that they are the same halves of one whole thing. At the same time, it’s an interesting thing because you can’t have one without the other. They are different sides of the same circle, but they can be so separate. Like the show itself, there’s a lot of depth within the title. It’s sex/life that’s just purely unadulterated fantasy sex and then there’s also the life part, which gets hard and gritty—life can become life-y. That’s exactly what the show is.
Talk about Billie when the series begins. She seems to have it all—the gorgeous husband, the great house, the kids—but the sex part is not really balancing out.
When we first meet her on paper, everything seems to be perfect, but we’re also meeting Billie at a time when she’s having an identity crisis. She can’t help but think about this one guy from the past. She used to feel wild and free [with him], and the sex was just the best she’s ever had. I’m sure we all have somebody who triggers our memory in that way. No matter who you are, you can’t help but think, “Well, if I had made that right instead of that left, would I be somewhere different? Would I still be who I am?” As a mother, I can definitely relate to a lot of Billie’s things. You can be a great mother but then also still have questions about how you got there and who you are.
We do get to see some of Billie and Cooper’s life when things were better and more exciting, right?
Yes, absolutely. You are going to see Billie in a lot of positions and those definitely include some fun heydays with Cooper, when life was a little bit simpler. But yes, you will see Billie in a lot of positions. [Laughs]
I love the phrase “love bubble rush,” which I hadn’t heard before.
That’s a Stacy Rukeyser [the show’s executive producer] special right there. It’s that adrenaline rush, those butterflies, the rosy colored glasses and when your heart is just so full of love and excitement and adrenaline. I think that’s the one thing Billie is missing. She has an appetite as big as Texas and she’s not okay operating in something that doesn’t allow that. It’s like two kids, the marriage—she just needs to feel that again. It’s almost like she’s a junkie.
The show really goes there. You see a lot of the sex. You see a lot of bodies. Was that something you knew going in? Do you think it’s what the show needs? Absolutely. When I first read the script, it was sexy as hell. Not only did I want to be a part of this because there was a lot of sex in it, but [because] there was a lot of sex told from the female point of view, which I thought was really important. Usually when you have sex—any kind of sex, honestly—it’s pulled through the male point of view, but this was completely through the female lens. I thought that was really smart and something we needed. On top of that, this show really has the courage and the balls to get into the gritty rawness of it. This is not something Billie can just push away.
Watching the first episodes, I assumed that Billie exploring this side of herself is going to end badly in terms of her marriage. But maybe there’s an upside? What do you think? There is an upside to what she’s going through. It’s like the caterpillar thought it was the end of the world…until it became a butterfly. I feel like Billie has these deep-rooted truths within her that she just can’t ignore anymore. She is having this identity crisis, and it is all coming out, and it is messy. But at the same time, that’s what relationships are. That’s what life is like. Motherhood is complex. Marriage is complex. It’s sexy and fun, but there’s also a dark side to all of this stuff. I’m just a big advocate [of the idea] that if you’re living in your truth, it doesn’t matter how it looks.
I’ve talked to you over the years for Fairly Legal, The L Word, Person of Interest. What was new for you in this role? I’ve pretty much played straight procedurals up until this point. I’ve played cops. I’ve played roles in which I was like, “Hey, should I maybe take my shirt off in this scene?” They’re like, “No. Button it up. Put the badge on.” To do this amount of sex was a big new thing for me. I’d never dipped my toe into these waters. We had an intimacy coordinator. We would talk about the sex scenes like it was a dance. We wanted the sex to be real and intimate and not look pornographic or stagy or anything.
My last job before this was City on a Hill. Before that it was Person of Interest, Fairly Legal. I have a history in the procedural world and I was just dying to be a character I could fully relate to in terms of being a mother and having issues and just exploring all that stuff. I feel like the last 20 years of my life, I’ve been prepping for Billie in some way.
What do you hope viewers take from Sex/Life? I want people to go on this fantasy-filled ride. I feel like this show is pure escapism at its finest. I hope people sit down and feel like they just bit into the richest piece of chocolate they’ve ever had. If it happens to inspire them in some way, if it happens to encourage someone to reach a little deeper for their truths, then have at it. Also, talking about Billie and how she’s such a full, rich character [who] really grabs life by the balls, [I want viewers to learn] that it’s okay to have wants and desires. It’s okay to have needs. It’s okay to be desired, and to go out and get that, and to not be ashamed of it.
Sex/Life, Series Premiere, Friday, June 25, Netflix