'Bonding' Star Zoe Levin Says Netflix's BDSM Comedy Is About So Much More Than Whips & Chains

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If you're looking for a buddy comedy about two 20-somethings, Netflix's Bonding fits the bill. But this isn't your average series about friends trying to make it in New York City. Yes, grad student Tiff (Zoe Levin) and struggling comedian Pete (Brendan Scannell) are struggling to make ends meet, but what they do about it is what sets this show apart. You see, Tiff moonlights as the dominatrix Mistress May, and she ropes her high school friend Pete in to being her assistant to earn some extra cash. It's kind of like Friends, if Central Perk had been a sex dungeon and Joey and Chandler were into golden showers.

Through seven tight 15-minute episodes, the two go on a whirlwind adventure of whips, latex, and self-discovery that suggests that self improvement is all about being free of shame in all aspects of life. But for actor Zoe Levin, channeling the fearless energy needed to command a man to beg for mercy in a kinky kidnapping or the confidence to nonchalantly encourage a client who wants someone to pee on him wasn't an easy task.

"We only had 30 days to shoot, so the biggest challenge for me was jumping into the process so quickly and having to put on that confidence of being a dominatrix," Levin tells Bustle. "There are all these people on the crew behind the scenes that I didn't know, so I just had to hold my head up high and be as unintimidated as I possibly could be."

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In the show, Tiff spends a lot of time swapping between different personas. There's the surly, defensive grad student; the sultry, self-possessed Mistress May; and the honest, vulnerable version of herself that really only comes out around her best friend, Pete. The idea of presenting different masks to the world is something Levin says she relates to in her own life, too.

"Exploring Tiff's different masks made me realize how difficult it is to be that way in real life. We all have these different sides of ourselves and we put on different masks. It's important to learn to have some cracks in that and let our real, authentic selves show."

While wearing a leather muzzle and using a fake name might not seem authentic on the surface, Levin explains that Bonding shows a different side to the world of BDSM than is usually represented in pop culture. "I think the popular public opinion for BDSM is like, very Fifty Shades," she says. "And with Bonding, I felt like it was so much less about the actual sexuality of it and more about what it means on the inside, and the liberation from shame. The more psychological piece of it."

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It's true — fans hoping for the thrill of watching ridiculously hot actors simulate sex on screen will be sorely disappointed. Bonding definitely has sexy moments, but there's no mood lighting or soft porn-esque soundtrack. Instead, it handles sex and sex play in a straightforward way that doesn't take itself too seriously. The effect is refreshing, and feels much closer to real life than anything in Christian Grey's mansion. It's a frank portrayal that Levin hopes will help eliminate the stigma around BDSM.

"So much of the show is about how BDSM can be liberating from shame because our culture has so much shame around sex, especially kinky sex or playful sex," Levin says. "But it can be such a way to let go and lose control, cause we’re all so obsessed with controlling everything."

So how about trying something new? Chances are, Bonding will leave you wanting more.