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Netflix takes it to the limit with ‘Bonding’

In ‘Bonding,’ best friends from high school Tiff (Zoe Levin, left) and Peter (Brendan Scannell) reunite in New York City after years of growing distant. Tiff offering Peter a job happily agrees. Unbeknownst to Peter, Tiff hides a sexy secret and she soon reveals the job he’s accepted is to be her assistant … but as an assistant to her Dominatrix persona. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

Within moments of Netflix’s new dark comedy “Bonding,” you might well be ready to break out the bull-whip, visit a sex dungeon and/or indulge in some non-vanilla fantasies wearing your best black latex outfit. The series profiles Pete (Brendan Scannell) a young gay man in New York City, who stumbles into the world of BDSM when his dominatrix bff Tiff (Zoe Levin) asks him to be her assistant. 

The series is loosely based on the real life of gay writer/executive producer/creator Rightor Doyle, who at the age of 22, stepped into a world he was not quite ready for. 

“I had a friend who had become a dominatrix, so for extra cash I would go with her as her  bodyguard/assistant,” Doyle told The Blade at the series’ premiere. “It wasn’t something I thought to write about until it became a very popular ‘dinner party story’ for me to tell. As I got some distance from the experience, I also saw just how much it had shaped and changed the ways I thought about sexuality and shame. So the seed for the show began to form there.” 

Doyle, who also stars in HBO’s “Barry,” wrote the pilot in some form three years ago now and then pitched the concept around. 

“Once we got funding, I had only two months to write the whole show before filming. So it was a fast and furious process,” he says. 

Writing and directing started as a way of gaining some control over Doyle’s acting career. 

“Stepping into other people’s worlds and exploring them. Getting into not only the character’s brain, but the brain of the creator to find tone, story and surprises. But the downside to being an actor is a real lack of control. ‘Will you get the job? Will they cut your lines? Will you be asked to do something you can’t do?’”

This is why writing and producing eventually became Doyle’s passion. 

“I love the creativity and collaboration of being at the helm of a project. I love having my actors and my crew inspire me. That’s the most exciting part.”

Doyle is still friends with his dominatrix pal. 

“She was a wonderful resource and fact-checker for things I was unsure of. She read all the scripts and has been so supportive of the show.”

While have been many versions of the BDSM world on TV and film, most often times, it’s depicted as salacious and scary, acknowledged Doyle. 

“I wanted to approach it in a more fantastical way. ‘Bonding’ is attempting to invite people into a conversation about sexuality, kink and power, rather than scare you away. We all have a kink, we just may not call it that. I wanted to shed light on that part of the world.”

Gay/queer actor Brendan Scannell steals every scene he’s in — yet another refreshing aspect of the well-written series. 

“We shot in New York and finished the whole thing in a month,” Scannell says. “We got to shoot in all these fun sex dungeons in Chelsea that are actually used in the evenings, so it was pretty wild. We were all running around exploring the different rooms while the dungeon workers who let us were very unimpressed by our film crew and kept shrugging and saying (Showtime’s) ‘Billions’ was here last week.”

Working with Doyle was a privilege for Scannell.

“The story is based on a true experience of his, so it felt like the whole shoot was very special. Also, we shot on a microbudget, so you could tell the whole cast and crew was committed to the story more than the paycheck.”

Scannell equally loved working with the Mistress Mae aka Levin.

“Zoe Levin is a force, and she and I really connected. The chemistry you see on screen is real: I love her and she sort of terrifies me. The rest of the cast were all pleasures to work with, and I especially enjoyed scenes with Theo Stockman, who plays Pete’s love interest.”

Scannell’s character gets to do some surprising things that might shock viewers. But the biggest challenge? Getting into the leather pants.

“It takes a lot of lube FYI,” he says. “Other than that, shooting in New York was a new experience for me. In Los Angeles, you’re often in a studio far away from the world, but we shot in the streets of Chelsea and people would walk by either completely unfazed or shouting at us.”