AVC: We do see Tiff start to find a community of her own, one that she’s comfortable with. That comes, in part, through her mentor, Mistress Mira, played by Nana Mensah. What was your experience like working with Nana?

ZL: Nana is such a calming force. When I was around her, I just felt so grounded. She’s so powerful, and it was so interesting watching [the season] back, because I think—for the first time—we see Tiff in kind of a submissive role. Rightor is, I would say, pretty good at casting [Laughs.]. He brought in Nana, and I thought she was so perfect for the role because she has this power, this authority, that makes you want to listen. I think Tiff is a tricky one to silence, and she comes back to [Mistress Mira’s] dungeon with her tail between her legs, having to work her way back into [her] good graces. With the power that Nana brought to the character, it just worked—it felt so natural. As an actress, sometimes it’s hard to separate yourself from the character on set, and I was like [In a hushed voice.], “Does she like me? What does she think about me?” I found myself thinking that, and I was like, “Well, that’s probably a good feeling to have.”

AVC: Nana is credited for co-writing some of the episodes as well.

ZL: Right! Rightor is all ears. He’s just truly amazing about that. Instead of reacting to the criticism from the sex work community, I think he really took the opportunity to shut up and listen. And Brendan and I really followed suit because we really trust Rightor, and because it was such a collaborative experience to begin with. And I think that was such a big theme of this whole year—just like, “If you don’t know, maybe just shut up and listen.” So there was a lot to learn.

When I got the scripts, I was like, “Whoa, this is different and cool and really interesting.” And then getting to set, having Troy there, having real doms there—getting to talk to them about their life, their work, and the restrictions that the law puts on them—it was so interesting. And I’m just really grateful that Rightor really took the opportunity to shine a light on things that are really unknown [to the general population] about the sex work industry.

AVC: The second season also further interrogates the not-always-symbiotic relationship between Tiff and Pete. You and Brendan first met on the set of season one, but you’ve become such close friends in the interim—how did that affect what you brought to these characters?

ZL: Brendan and I were talking the other day about the first time that we met on set and our impressions of each other. It’s funny because I think everyone expected me to show up and be kind of cold and standoffish and… dominant. Brendan’s character is a little bit more warm, friendly, and loving. But I think we’re pretty much the opposite. Brendan walked in [on the first day of shooting], I see him, and I’m like, “Oh, my god!” I gave him a huge hug, and he was like, “I don’t know you—what’s going on?” So that was interesting to me, that we were so different in real life from our characters.

But Brendan is one of my best friends—I have his sewing machine under my table right now—like, I see him most days, I talk to him every day. And it was hard because—I don’t want to ruin anything, but we had more time in the season and more storylines to explore, which meant that Brendan and I didn’t get to spend as much time on camera with each other. Whenever Brendan and I work together on set, we just get each other. We work so well together. We lift each other up. And that’s really all you can ask for in a costar. So it was also cool because I wasn’t there on the days when he shot all of his stuff, so for me, I got to watch this whole new show. It was all new to me.

But season one we were there together every single day. We didn’t have trailers. We were sitting on the cold ground in a shitty apartment where we were shooting in the next room. So, yeah, getting to shoot through Netflix was a little different.

AVC: The first season of Bonding was produced independently, so this time around, it feels a bit bigger. There’s definitely a Netflix budget.

ZL: The whole thing is crazy. It’s just crazy how, even six or seven years ago when I did Red Band Society, I think it was only House Of Cards on Netflix. There is just so much more opportunity now, so many more platforms to make content. I always had a feeling it would get picked up because Rightor’s so freaking talented, and Nate [Hurtsellers], the DP, is amazing. I walked into this set, and we had no money for season one, but Rightor made it look so beautiful. And the costumes—Lucy [Hawkins] was amazing. It was just incredible, we all worked so well together, and it was just such a fun, thrilling experience that I had a feeling something was going to happen. Luckily, it did. And, luckily, we got to do it again

AVC: For someone who might come to this show with only a surface-level understanding of BDSM culture, what do you hope they take away from the second season?

ZL: For me, the hope is that they see BDSM and sex work and bondage in a different light than they normally do. Because, what we have seen in TV and film is the very stereotypical version of what we only think BDSM is. But there’s really a whole world and community that I certainly knew nothing about, and I’m hoping that people open up their ears and listen. Because these pro doms and sex workers are working and struggling to fight for their rights just to promote themselves—to have a Twitter account, to have an Instagram account! Things we take for granted that they don’t have access to. And we just need to listen. You know, I still don’t know everything—I’m not a professional dominatrix. So we just need to listen to what the sex work community is saying.

AVC: Not to get too optimistic, but I’d hope that, with the new administration, there can be room for a more nuanced and informed discussion about sex work, to decriminalize it.

ZL: One thing that really struck me about the SESTA/FOSTA bill—that I previously knew nothing about, that was passed a year before Bonding came out —I didn’t understand what was happening at first when the sex work community was so irritated by the fact that Mistress May had a Twitter account. But now I really understand that these pro doms and sex workers didn’t have that right. It’s that a TV show—that is about what their life is about—was able to do that and not deal with the consequences. So that really opened up my mind. Like, “What are they fighting for? And how can I help? How can I be a voice? How can I lend a hand?” So it’s about trying to educate the general public about their struggles.

Zoe Levin in Bonding (Photo: Netflix), at a Bonding screening event in Beverly Hills (Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images), and in Bonding (Photo: Netflix); Graphic: Natalie Peeples