Frankie Shaw is best known for playing Mary Jo Cacciatore on the 2010–2011 Spike TV series Blue Mountain State, and for the 2017 Showtime series SMILF, based on the 2015 short film of the same name, which she wrote, directed and starred in. Shaw is also known for her recurring role as Shayla Nico in the first season of the USA Network television series Mr. Robot.
Frankie Shaw in Blue Mountain State
Age: 31 years and 6 months
Residence: Los Angeles, California, U.S
Height: 5′ 6½” (1.69 m)
Years active: 2005–present.
Measurements 34-25-34 inches (86-64-86 cm)
Bra size 34A
Eye color Blue
Hair color Dark brown
75th Golden Globe Awards, 2018
In the series category, “SMILF” — about a single mother, played by Frankie Shaw, living in South Boston — was nominated alongside ABC’s “Black-ish,” Netflix’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Netflix’s “Master of None,” and NBC’s “Will & Grace.” Shaw was nominated alongside Pamela Adlon of FX’s “Better Things,” Alison Brie of Netflix’s “Glow,” Rachel Brosnahan of Netflix’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and Issa Rae of HBO’s “Insecure.”
Early life and education
Frankie Shaw grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her mother is from South Boston and raised her Jewish. Shaw’s parents divorced when she was four years old. She grew up in a single-mother home with an older half-brother, who owns a bar in Boston.
She graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University with a degree in English literature. She first gained recognition in the completely improvised Sundance film, The Freebie (a Duplass Brother production) and then as the oddball drunken cheerleader in the sitcom Blue Mountain State.
Frankie Shaw attended Michael Driscoll School in Brookline, during which time she played full court streetball at a nearby neighborhood park. Shaw said that basketball was a constant of her childhood, and she incorporated it into the pilot and third episode of SMILF. After receiving a scholarship in her junior year, Shaw transferred to the private school Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, where she graduated in 2000. In 2007, she graduated from Barnard College with a degree in literature.
After college, Shaw decided to move to Los Angeles, but discovered she was pregnant. Much of her struggles to work as an actor while being a single mother are the loose inspiration for SMILF. A role in the 2014 ABC’s ensemble series Mixology was a breakout role, providing Shaw with her first sense of financial stability since giving birth to her son.
In 2009, Shaw first received recognition in the completely improvised Katie Aselton-directed film The Freebie and then as the oddball drunken cheerleader Mary Jo Cacciatore in the 2010 sitcom Blue Mountain State.
In 2013, Shaw appeared in the HBO’s TV series starring Stephen Merchant called Hello Ladies. She had roles in the 2013 independent film The Pretty One, which starred Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson, and the 2014 romantic comedy film Someone Marry Barry. Also in 2014, Shaw appeared in another independent feature, the drama Lullaby, which starred Garrett Hedlund and Amy Adams.
In 2015, Shaw had a recurring role on the first season of the television series Mr. Robot, where, for seven episodes, she played Shayla Nico, the drug dealing love interest of Rami Malek’s character, Elliot Alderson.
In 2015, Frankie Shaw she appeared in the ABC Family pilot Tough Cookie as well as on the 2015 Fox TV series Mulaney. In 2016, Shaw reprised her role of Mary Jo Cacciatore from the 2010 series, in the movie Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland. Also in 2016, Shaw appeared in the Netflix series Flaked. She was a series regular on the 2016 TV series Good Girls Revolt.
Shaw’s 2014 short film SMILF, which she wrote, directed and starred in opposite Thomas Middleditch, won the 2015 Short Film Jury Award for U.S. Fiction at Sundance. In 2015, SMILF was picked up by Showtime as a half-hour comedy television show with Shaw as showrunner, writing, directing, starring in, and producing the series.
SMILF, which was shot on location in Los Angeles and South Boston, received generally positive reviews, with her portrayal of single mother Bridgette Bird notable for its realism, insight, and biting humor. SMILF co-stars Connie Britton and Rosie O’Donnell, and tackles subjects like eating disorders and sexual abuse. Shaw said that the show was a way to discuss and portray the role of women on screen.
In 2016, Shaw returned to the Sundance Film Festival with another short film she wrote and directed, a dark comedy titled Too Legit, which stars Zoë Kravitz, Teresa Palmer, Nate Corddry and Clark Gregg. Too Legit is inspired by a satire of Congressman Todd Akin’s controversial 2012 remarks about rape and pregnancy: “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, rape resulting in pregnancy is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
In 2017, Shaw had a supporting role as Gail Hurley in the feature film Stronger, which was directed by David Gordon Green, and starred Jake Gyllenhaal as 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman. In November 2017, Showtime renewed SMILF for a second season.
rankie Shaw was 20 when she showed up outside the office of writer-director Katherine Dieckmann armed with a letter and an offering of bagels. And grit. Always some grit.
After taking a semester off her junior year — a period in which she worked as a lobster fisherman in Maine — the Boston native found herself one credit shy of graduating from Barnard College in New York. Studying English literature, Frankie Shaw had ambitions to write her first script, so she propositioned Dieckmann, an associate professor in the MFA program at Columbia University, in the spring of ’07 in hopes that she’d work with her in an independent study capacity. Dieckmann, as Shaw remembers it, initially said no.
“So I wrote her this long letter begging her to take me on,” says Shaw, now just shy of 31. “I just remember wanting it so badly and, I don’t know, I guess I thought showing up with some bagels and cream cheese would help my cause.”
Dieckmann, that day, relented. And Shaw, whose full name is Rachel Frances Shaw, would go on to write her first script about an isolated girl in South Boston who falls in love with a veteran with PTSD.
This is, by all accounts, typical Frankie: nevertheless, she persists.
A smirk slinks across Shaw’s face — the kind that sheepishly recalls God, I really did that — as she sits on a couch inside her office at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood and recounts what led her to this moment: writing, directing, executive producing and starring in the new Showtime dramedy “SMILF.”
The half-hour series, which premieres Sunday, is loosely based on Shaw’s life and follows the raw struggles of Bridgette Bird (Shaw) a working-class single mother to a toddler son, Larry (yes, as in Larry Bird), who splits her time between tutoring and acting to make ends meet. The South Boston-set series also stars Rosie O’Donnell, in her first series regular role, as Bridgette’s guilt-inducing mother, Tutu. The series is adapted and expands on Shaw’s short film of the same name, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s jury award in 2015.
“I wrote the original short because I was tired of struggling to make ends meet with a 2-year-old son,” Shaw says. “It was me trying to make something happen for myself that wasn’t happening on its own.”
Showtime Chief Executive David Nevins told The Times at the show’s premiere screening last month that he responded to the “underdog nature of [the show] and the smart blue-collar oomph it brings.”
“And the thing that makes Frankie fun to watch is,” he added, “is there’s more going on behind her eyes than just what she’s saying. I think that’s a really good quality for a star of a show to have.”
“SMILF” was me trying to make something happen for myself that wasn’t happening on its own.”
— Frankie Shaw
“SMILF” marks a crowning moment for Shaw, whose son, Isaac, is now 9 years old. After years of fitting into someone else’s narratives, with mostly background roles in such TV series as “Mr. Robot” and “Good Girls Revolt” and films like this year’s “Stronger,” Shaw is now both the face of and the creative force behind a premium cable show.
“She’s very much the same as when I met her all those years ago,” Dieckmann says by phone. “She’s a really passionate, wild personality. I’ve just always been really attracted to her energy and her charisma and her drive. And she’s always had this great head for turbulent women’s narratives.”
“SMILF” is an example of that. At a time when there’s a generation of young storytellers offering fresh perspectives on the angst of coming into your own as a young adult, with her dark comedy Shaw adds motherhood — with all its complexities and joys — to the mix.. The series is an unflinching and at times uncomfortable look at a working-class mother trying to make it. A premium-cable version of “Roseanne” for the millennial generation.
The premiere episode, for example, includes a scene in which Bridgette, who sometimes binge-eats, bolts to the corner store, leaving her child unattended while he sleeps, so she can load up on snacks.
“The scene where Bridgette leaves Larry alone was in my original draft in 2012,” Shaw says. “And it survived a lot of people trying to cut it.”
As for the show’s title, which is a play on the acronym for viewing a mother as a sex object, Shaw says it’s supposed to be ironic. (She emails after the interview to elaborate.)
“Milf is a term used by men to categorize a certain ‘type’ of woman,” she writes. “The ‘I’ in MILF is only the male [point of view], a woman HE would like to sleep with. But in SMILF, the story is Bridgette’s. By telling the story from her [point of view], getting inside her life experience, we are in a sense changing the meaning of that word, reclaiming it as something else, something of our own.”
Frankie Shaw is interested in saying something with the series. The first season explores class issues, mental health, addiction, sexual violence, politics and race.
The themes are in keeping with Shaw’s body of work — whether it be that first script she penned in college or her other short film, “Too Legit,” which was a satire about campus sexual assault that was inspired by statements made by former Congressman Todd Akin, in which he said that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy.
“I am fully a feminist in this modern definition of the term,” Shaw says. “It’s innate in my work because that’s just who I am. Most of the stories I write are women’s stories — but the darker, unseen stories.”
O’Donnell, for one, finds hope in that: “To think that we, as a feminist movement, have allowed the stage for a young woman like that — at 30 years old — to do what she is doing gives me a tremendous amount of inspiration and reminds me that, even though things might look bleak out in the world, there are these outliers who are getting it and going to be the ones creating the cross-culture narratives for decades to come.”
Sitting in her office with a bag of tortilla chips by her side during her lunch break on set, Shaw is in sweats and an oversized shirt (her character’s outfit for the day) trying to find time to eat, but also checking her phone frequently to make sure there aren’t loose ends that need tying up on the episode she is directing or last-minute questions before production moves to Boston. All the while, she insists she’s the boring version of Bridgette.
But those who’ve worked with her say there’s nothing boring about Shaw.
“On the surface, you expect certain things no matter how much of an enlightened feminist you are,” says friend and “Good Girls Revolt” creator Dana Calvo, a former staff writer at The Times. “And what you get instead is someone who could move easily between glamour parties of West Hollywood and neighborhoods of South Boston, who can speak with her excellent literary references about feminism and literature and psychology and religion, and then can also sit there and have about 100 emotions pass over her face as she’s playing the character of a single mom with needs and wants … I loved the complexity and the surprise that she brings.”
Filmmaker Paul Feig, who mentored Shaw while he was working on the female-fronted “Ghostbusters” reboot, praised her instincts and curiosity about the business. He recalls inviting her to the editing room on the film. In the room was Feig’s producing partner Jesse Henderson and producer Amy Pascal (former CEO of Sony Pictures).
“It was an intimidating room for somebody who’d never been in that situation,” Feig says by phone. “She just came in very comfortably and sat with us and then I had her give her notes first and she went over all these notes in a very confident way. And I remember she left, Amy and Jesse were like, ‘wow, those are great notes’. And I’m just like, ‘yeah’… the irony is, Frankie didn’t need a lot of mentoring.”
Not that storytelling had always been Shaw’s ambition. The grit and drive, though, were always there. Like her character, Shaw comes from a working-class household. Her father was out of the picture by the time she was 4, and her mom worked as a loan officer.
Frankie Shaw didn’t need a lot of mentoring.
— Director Paul Feig
While working as a short-order cook at a country club in high school, Shaw was told by a teen member there that she should consider attending Milton Academy, a tony prep school in Massachusetts.
“I essentially stalked this private school and begged my way in and said I needed to go there for free,” Shaw recalls. “And eventually they were like, fine. I got a scholarship. And all of a sudden I was in this place where everyone wore J. Crew peacoats and I begged my mom to get me one so I could fit in.”
It was while living in New York for college that Shaw felt the pull to the creative world.
“I started seeing art-house movies and taking photography classes,” she says. “I really had had no culture. I think that I am still playing catch-up. I was just, like, so in this bubble.”
Shaw, who is now married to writer-producer Zach Strauss, is mindful of how far she’s come.
“My husband said to me, ‘you know, you’re living your dream,’” Shaw says. “And I am. The dream I didn’t know I could dream. And I cry. When I first had Isaac, I only owned a mattress. Now I have a show?”
In August 2016, Shaw married writer–producer Zach Strauss.
Frankie Shaw has a son, Isaac Love, from a prior relationship with director and actor Mark Webber. Shaw and Webber share joint custody of Isaac. Webber started dating his now-wife, actress Teresa Palmer, in 2012—Shaw brought Palmer, step-mother to Isaac, onto the cast of her 2016 short film Too Legit.
Grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Has a son, Isaac Love Shaw (b.2008), with her ex-boyfriend Mark Webber.