Shoshannah Stern is a ground-breaking Deaf actress for the many roles she has played on hit shows like Jericho, Weeds and Supernatural, among many others. Now, she’s taken her career to new heights as she and her friend/writing partner, Josh Feldman, have written, produced and star in the hit show This Close – the very first of its kind – on Sundance Now.
In this fresh, smart, often hilarious dramedy series, Stern & Feldman play best friends, who are both Deaf and living out their adventures (and misadventures) in Los Angeles. In addition to these two amazing stars, Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, Cheryl Hines, Zach Gilford, Colt Prattes & Nile DiMarco help make up a mind-blowing cast.
Shoshannah’s most important role, however, is being mom to her 3-year-old daughter. Her family is the most important thing to her. When I met her for the first time, I was struck by Shoshannah’s intelligence, wit and contagious smile. As I’ve gotten to know her as a woman and a parent, I see a strong, wise woman with a beautiful daughter who emulates all of those characteristics.
What were you like as a child?
I thought I was a handful until I became a mom myself and I started talking to my mom about stuff like that way more than I did. And she said no, I was a really good child, but I definitely had a mind of my own. I always asked why we had to do things a certain way. And if I felt like they should be done differently I’d say so! But one funny thing is that I never wanted to sleep away from home growing up for the longest time. My mom would drive me to my friend’s house and they’d be super excited to have me sleep over and she’d remind me of that. Then I’d play and play and have the time of my life… until it was time to go to sleep, and then the phone would ring and it’d be that friend’s mom saying, Shoshannah wants to come home. I always wanted to sleep in my own bed and wake up at home with my mom and dad. Which means that home was my happy, safe place. It still is.
How is your daughter like you?
She’s a lot like me I think! She always asks why, always! So I feel my mom’s pain a little bit now because I’m always having to explain everything we do. And she’s creative—she loves dressing up and creating imaginary scenarios and she loves to laugh. She is also messy, though I feel bad she inherited that one from me.
What was life like for you, growing up as a Deaf child in a multi-generational Deaf family?
It was great. I never felt like I was different from anyone. We all used the same language and so our being deaf was never an issue. Because of that, I don’t feel as if it’s all of me, it’s simply one part of who I am. I’m allowed that because I grew up having full access to any and all experiences that were happening around me, and I owe all that to my parents and the specific experience I had.
I didn’t really have any struggles because I was lucky enough to have my family. There was a time when I realized, at a very young age, that the way my family actually was, was not necessarily the way some people saw us. And that made me feel bad. Not for us, but for them. I was just like, wow, I wish they could open up their eyes more because there’s a lot they’re missing.
What do you most wish hearing people understood?
All hearing people are different. One size never fits all, whether you’re hearing or deaf. So it would be great if people learned, in general, that not all deaf people, or any people really, are the same. If you aren’t sure how to communicate with a deaf person, just ask. Some prefer reading lips, some prefer to write, some prefer to gesture. Just because I might have had one bad experience with a person who hears doesn’t mean they’re all like that, just like a person who hears shouldn’t force one experience they had with a deaf person on every deaf person they might meet.
I always lead with this—there’s a vast spectrum of the deaf experience. I represent only one small part of it. I don’t believe that any one person can represent an entire community. I hope the more people the world sees from that community, the clearer that will become.
What social issues are we going to see on This Close?
We think about the characters first and their stories. Then as we are telling the story we find ways to insert their specific experience into that—whether it’s with being deaf, being gay, or as a woman. But the story always comes first, because if it’s the other way around, it never seems natural and people feel like they’re being lectured to rather than being told a story. In interviews or dialogues we have about the show, that’s when the social issues come out, but it’s always best when it’s in the form of a conversation rather than a lecture.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? An activist? What does that mean to you?
I think feminism means you want equality and equal rights for everyone, so yes. Absolutely. I read something really cool from a profile on an activist I really like and she said, hashtags are not activism. And that’s how I was making myself feel better. I didn’t like what was happening in this climate? I’d tweet about it and feel better, feel like I’ve done something. But reading that made me feel like to be an activist, you need to do more, you need to actually get out of your comfort zone. And I don’t do enough of that. And I need to.
Mayim’s school had an active shooter drill. What was that experience like for you? How has your conversation with your daughter shifted since the shootings and active shooter drill at her school?
She just turned three, so she’s very young still. I don’t think she really understood what was happening other than she knew it was to keep her body safe. Her teachers and her school are doing an amazing job of that. I don’t take issue with what they are doing, in fact, I’m very grateful to them for that.
It’s more that we live in a world where that’s become normalized. I see it not only in these drills, but in myself and my reaction to mass shootings when they happen. We cannot let that happen. We have to constantly make sure we don’t become numb.
How have the shooting at Parkland and subsequent civil war between the NRA and the rest of this country affected you as a parent?
It’s actually made me very proud.
Because I now know without a doubt that our children are our future. And they’re the superheroes we’ve been waiting for. They’re going to save us all. I’ve always told people that as a parent, you have no choice but to feel hope. I have so much more hope now than I ever did before becoming a parent. But now that hope has taken form. It’s not just an ideal now—it’s concrete and real. We are seeing a very big change happen in the world at this moment. And Mayim and all her peers are going to help keep turning that wheel forward.
As a parent, how do you raise your Citizen of the World?
We travel as much as we can, and we always eat the way they do and do things the way they do, whether it’s with her cousins in Arizona or in another country. It’s a good way to her to see that people are different, yet the same. We keep a very flexible schedule when we travel for that reason.
What is your greatest joy?
I’m giving her a life that is more than what I had growing up.
That we are leaving her a mess that she’s going to have to clean up, and she might not be able to.
Before I became a mom I thought I would want to put her into all sorts of classes and sign her up for lots of different things—but I realized constantly rushing her into the next thing and being late wasn’t worth the joy we have just lingering over breakfast and talking about whatever she wants to talk about. The little things are more important to me now.
I want her to be whatever she wants to be, not who I think she should be. I hope she’s passionate about something and she finds ways to keep doing that—even if it’s not as a career.
I hope that she leaves the world better than it was when she entered it.
Do you want her to be an activist?
I want her to always stand up for herself and for others, and lead with love and strength.
What would you say to young people who want to make change in their communities or people who are already activists, but who feel enraged/fatigued at the direction the world is going?
I try to engage with people on social media as much as I can and have real conversations with them, and some of them are young. I always tell them it’s okay to feel whatever it is they feel, because feeling is what inspires action. You don’t always know what that action is yet, and you won’t if you’re not sure what it is you feel. Feel it out first, and then act.
Take care of yourself. You can’t feel one thing constantly because then you go numb. If you have to take a break, take a break. If you have to watch Real Housewives for a couple of days, do it. Laugh at silly things, like grown ass women throwing a completely good glass of wine all over someone else. Get your emotional strength up again. Others will step up for you, and then you’ll step in for someone else when you’re strong enough again.
We have all got to try to bridge that divide. There is more than unites us than divides us.
What advice do you have for parents raising future baby activists?
One thing about being a parent is that you have to lead by example. Children see action much more than they understand abstract things that have to be explained. So take them out in the world. And don’t lead with fear.
If you haven’t seen This Close, don’t miss out! The entire first season is available now at SundaceNow.com, via the Sundance Now app or on the Sundance Now channel on Amazon Prime, Apple TV or Roni.