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Nicole Pacent and Shannan Leigh Reeve Together in 'I Hate Tommy Finch': Exclusive

Nicole Pacent and Shannan Leigh Reeve Together in 'I Hate Tommy Finch': Exclusive

Tello Films’ latest project I Hate Tommy Finch ingeniously weds one of the world’s oldest, most revered art forms with 21st century media, not to mention bringing together two of the brightest stars of the lesbian web series oeuvre. Anyone But Me’s Nicole Pacent and Cowgirl Up and Diary of a Black Widow star Shannan Leigh Reeve pair up in I Hate Tommy Finch, an original stage play inspired by Rajiv Joseph’s wildly imaginative Gruesome Playground Injuries.


Tello Films’ latest project I Hate Tommy Finch ingeniously weds one of the world’s oldest, most revered art forms with 21st century media, not to mention bringing together two of the brightest stars of the lesbian web series oeuvre.

Anyone But Me’s Nicole Pacent and Cowgirl Up and Diary of a Black Widow star Shannan Leigh Reeve pair up in I Hate Tommy Finch, an original stage play inspired by Rajiv Joseph’s wildly imaginative Gruesome Playground Injuries, which will be filmed as a feature for the web. While Gruesome follows the evolution of the relationship between a girl and boy from elementary school to adulthood and beyond, Tommy Finch, co-written by Jessica King and Julie Keck, turns the tables with a queer perspective focusing on best girl friends whose mutable friendship becomes so much more over the years.

With its mission to deliver high-quality original content primarily by and for the lesbian community, Tello Films is on the cutting edge with Tommy Finch, which will run on stage in Chicago Oct. 14-16, but will be shot in HD with multiple cameras to then be made into a feature for the web.

If melding together theater with technology and two of the most sought-after actors of the web generation weren’t enough, Tommy Finch also boasts original music by Sami Grisafe and Shannon Nicole, further enhancing the show’s emotional resonance.

The stars of the two-woman show, Pacent and Reeve, chatted with SheWired recently about the collaborative process of creating Tommy Finch, blocking a love scene or “sensual interlude” for the stage, working with Tello and just whether or not fans can look forward to future seasons of Anyone But Me and Cowgirl Up.

This is a photo from OITNB.

SheWired: What can you tell me about I Hate Tommy Finch?

Nicole Pacent: Tommy Finch, in terms of the format, is a meeting of mediums in that it is actually written as a play and will be performed as a play live, but a couple of the performances will be filmed in HD and made into a web feature. So, it’s not a web series as we are used to seeing, but a web feature.

And that brings up another element. Not only is it a play but also it incorporates amazing original music by the two musicians that I think that people are going to absolutely freak out over, not quite like in a musical. I love the idea of a soundtrack like you would see in a movie verses it being that we just burst out into song cause our emotions take us there.

Shannan Leigh Reeve: (laughs) No show tunes. 

Nicole: No, it’s definitely girl with the guitar folkie rock music. It’s really great.

I’m a show tune girl and I know you are too Nicole, so a musical would be welcome too.

Nicole: (Laughs) Shannan and I both have musical theater backgrounds. It was one of the things we first connected over. That was part of the reason why they decided to incorporate music, because Christin (Mell of Tello Films) our producer, knew we both had musical theater background, and said, "We don’t want to waste this, so let’s have them sing at some point.”


What can you tell me about the plot?

Nicole: In terms of the story, it’s two girls who are childhood friends who meet when they are eight and are absolute best buddies. We see them at ten different stages of their life. It takes them from eight to 35 years old, and it’s just kind of the ins and outs of them figuring themselves out, dealing with family issues, dealing with their friendships and what life throws at them. And then being torn apart and being brought back together and eventually dealing with, is this a friendship or is this more than that?

Tell me a little bit about your characters in Tommy Finch.

Shannan: I play Alyssa.  She is everyone’s best friend, for lack of a better way of explaining it. She has older brothers and she loves life and loves taking care of her best friend Stephanie.  The best friends meet when  [Alyssa] is in the principal’s office because she punched someone, and she’s in the principal’s office because she’s sick. And it’s just instant.

I think that Alyssa is a bit of a hopeless romantic, and for most of the play she doesn’t know what she loves. She loves the idea of being with her best friend. Alyssa comes to terms with her sexuality much earlier than Stephanie.

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Nicole, can you tell me a little about Stephanie?

Nicole: When I first read the script I actually thought that I was playing Alyssa, because, if you're going to compare, she’s much more of an Aster character (Nicole’s character on Anyone But Me) than Stephanie. But Stephanie developed and I became very excited to explore that. I think in a lot ways she looks up to Alyssa and feels very taken care of by her.

She has a pretty tough family situation in that her father drank heavily, and you find out a little bit more about that dynamic and history, and what’s happened and the scars that are left from that. Alyssa picks up on that pretty early and they never talk about it, but in a way, she’s Stephanie’s angel.

Shannan mentioned that Alyssa comes to terms with her sexuality before Stephanie does. What do you think it is that holds her back despite their incredibly close relationship?

Nicole: Stephanie has a much stronger drive to be normal. She ends up going to a small-town college. She did the sorority thing, the boyfriends and all of that. It’s definitely always a sensitive subject whenever brought up, because everyone has those friends who go with the flow when the rest of us are branching out and feeling like, “I need to find something new.” So it creates a lot of tension between them. But as time goes on I think Stephanie realizes more and more that she’s not fulfilled by following that path.

I think it’s one of the most interesting things about her character and about her journey because it’s such a relatable story line. Alyssa is relatable in that, if we didn’t want to ourselves, we knew somebody who was like, “I need to get out of this small town. I need to do my own thing. I don’t fit in here, I never have.” On the other side of it is the person who goes with the flow and then somewhere down the line realizes that’s not enough.

You both have to age about 25 years during the course of the play. Was that challenging?

Shannan: My mom was asking me the same question. She’s like, “It’s 8 to 35.  What are they going to do? Are they going age you?” I said, “Mom, it’s theater. It’s little bit different. It’s not film. So, the biggest thing for us has been physical manifestation.  One of the things Pacent and I are having to do, because the show is in Chicago, the directors are in Chicago and we are here in LA, is we’ve been Skyping with the directors. They Skype in for rehearsal, and for one particular one with just us, we just watched kids. We watched their mannerisms and their breathing and what happens when they get excited.

The older Alyssa for me is not a problem. I have always been pegged as older -- old soul I guess. But the younger has been so fun. Because, even at 18, are you comfortable with your body? If something hits you how do you react to it? We don’t put on any voices. We don’t act like we are three. We are asking you to walk in to the theater and accept that it’s a suspension of belief.

You touched on the rehearsal process a little bit. Can you expound on that?

Nicole: We went to Chicago in July and it was work, work, work, but in a great way. I feel like I slept like four hours the nights that we were there it was so much work. We went through the play several times. We did it with some of the music that’s going to be in it. That weekend was like a crash course in working with each other, with all of us.

Not all of us had ever worked with each other in this dynamic with the musicians and everybody, and it was really exciting.


Tell me about this sensual interlude I read about on the website.

(they both laugh)

Shannan: Christin I think said it best -- so many times in movies, they jump to it and it’s all about how long they kissed, or how long they make out, or how long you have sex, or how much boob is showing, blah blah blah. They miss that key point. It’s a key point in the difference largely between women and women, and men and women, or men and men. There is that moment of passion, that space in time, where two women -- women tend to be nurturing. That’s what the sensual interlude is about. It’s not about the actual act, it’s about that connection these two not only shared since being kids but that they finally come to terms with and embrace.

Nicole: I piggyback on everything that your saying. How funny is the title “sensual interlude,” for a scene? If I do say so myself, Shannan and I have very good chemistry and it’s only been getting better and better. And no, I wouldn’t say that about everybody. I don’t feel that with every actor. As an actor you fake it till you make it, or it’s just there.

What’s been your process for rehearsing a “sensual interlude?”

Nicole: We blocked it all out, and talking with Christin and talking with Jessica (co-director Jessica King), so that we got the, I want to say, choreography down. Exactly what happens where, when shirts are coming off…

So we had the mechanics down in our head, and then we did it the first time. We didn’t want to go through it really, except mechanically, until we were running the whole thing, because there is something that gets locked when you’re over thinking it. It was like, “Okay, we know our blocking now. We’re going to forget about that and we are just going to go with it.” We were doing a full run-through of the show, we had the music in the background, and it’s the sexiest song… I mean, man-oh-man, it’s unbelievable and a little bit dirty it’s so sexy.

So we were doing this, and it went so well that our other musician, Sami, literally couldn’t look up. She was like, “If I looked up, I would have completely lost my place in the music.” It really truly has something with the music and the energy. It’s everything it should be and more. That’s all I’m going to say. (laughs)

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So, to summarize, your lesbian fans are going to be really happy with the ‘sensual interlude!’

Nicole: I’m pretty sure they're going to be ok with it. (laughs) So long as I stay in shape between now and then.

I saw you in a bikini at The Dinah. I’m sure you’ll be fine. This may seem like an obvious question but who is Tommy Finch?

Shannan: Tommy Finch is the nemesis of all elementary/middle school kids, who is the pain in the butt. He’s just the boy that harasses all of the girls, probably because he likes them all.

Nicole: He definitely picks his nose. That’s how I feel about Tommy Finch. It’s funny because I Hate Tommy Finch was just a working title at first, then it kind of grew on everyone and ended up being the name of the project.

It’s actually the first moment of the play where they really connect. It’s the first time they share something in common. During the first scene, when Tommy Finch is brought up, they both are like, “Oh! I hate him!” It becomes this moment of connection between the two of them bonding over how they hate this guy. His name comes up a couple more times in the play. It’s not like a giant focus, but I always liked that, plays and movies - even songs - where it’s sort of an after-thought, there is a mention of something that ends up being the title, because for whatever reason, it holds some significance.

And it’s essentially a two-woman show?

Shannon: Yes, it’s a two-person play. I woke up one morning with this nagging thought in my head because I had seen Gruesome Playground Injuries and I was like, “that would be such a beautiful play with two women. It would change the dynamic.” So I called Christin and told her I had this idea. She was like, “Ok. Well, if Nicole’s on board we can do it.” Then it grew, and we could get the rights in Chicago, but we could not get them in LA, which is how Chicago came about, and then we could not blind gender cast. That broke my heart for several different reasons.

Nicole: It was really stupid. You can blind gender cast Shakespeare. These people need to get off their high horses.

I’m sorry ladies but being a non-actor type I need you to educate me on the term blind gender casting.

Shannan: In the process of securing rights for theater, you have to first get the rights to perform the piece, and it’s very specific down to how many seats, how many runs, how long, where… It’s all the copyright stuff. But with that, also, the integrity of the play is intact. It’s why Rent is what Rent is – Mimi is Hispanic or black, Mark and Roger are white and Maureen is a lesbian from Jersey. It’s the integrity of that piece. In any kind of trying to change the roles, you have to write a letter for approval saying “I want to cast this as two women,” or “I want to cast this as two men.” It (the request for Gruesome Playground Injuries) was at first ignored, then completely denied. But by that point, Christin and I had this idea to just do something ourselves. It’s Rent to La Boheme, it’s Billie Holiday to Sara Bareilles. It was definitely something that spawned the idea, but what has come out of it is something that is so much more beautiful.

There is so much depth, and like Shannon Nicole our musician said, “This is not a gay play. It’s about love, it’s about relationships.”  And anyone can find some moment throughout this project that they completely understand and have been through. That’s my goal, that someone just goes, “Yeah, I was there, you did it justice.”

Shannan, you came from Cowgirl Up, a tent-pole series for Tello. What has your experience working with Tello been like?

Shannan: Well, Tello blew me away. I was actually brought on to Cowgirl Up through Nancylee Myatt (Cowgirl Up’s creator), so I actually met them the first night there. I met Nancylee working on We Have to Stop Now.

This is a photo from OITNB.

Right off the bat, there was an instant connection with Christin and Nicole Valentine, and it was two women who were very passionate about what they were doing. I knew that there was a third, but it wasn’t until recently when I was in Chicago that I got to meet Shannon Ennis. They were the ones that started it.

Cowgirl Up blew me away, just the sheer quality of it. We were out on location and things would have to get tossed – because that’s just what you have to do when you have a set amount of time and a set budget – and everyone made everything work. Everyone jumped in, and I think that’s where Christin and I really kind of took off because she saw that I was willing to do anything for the betterment of the project. We stayed in touch and I had told her that I worked on the web series Diary of a Black Widow. One of their (Tello’s) stipulations is that it’s for gays, by gays, about gays. There has to be a gay character or actress, or a bisexual… I told her, “I don’t know that this is really your cup of tea, but if you’re interested in checking it out, there are definitely elements you require.” So they did. We got to do an awesome episode where Pacent stepped in, and it was unreal.

Nicole: [laughs] That’s another interview!

Shannan: And Bridget McManus jumped in there as well. So, the biggest difference is that they (Tello) are trying to unite web-based media, and now they are branching out and doing theater and stuff as well. They’re not worried about distribution or sales or DVDs or anything like that. They just want to make open content that’s available internationally. Nicole Valentine was instrumental in making sure Diary of a Black Widow was available across different mediums like the iPad – making sure it was available and accessible to as many people as they can. It’s about reaching people that don’t have a community of their own. Tello is very passionate about it.

They are so committed to bringing quality – not just content, not just throwing it up there – but quality storylines. I think that what they are doing is phenomenal; otherwise I wouldn’t be a part of it.

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Nicole did you have anything to add to that?

Nicole: I agree that they are so committed to quality, just so committed. It’s unbelievable the amount of time and effort that is being put in by everybody on this project. It feels like a gift, because all of us have been on projects where that is not the case. It’s been wonderful to feel really taken care of in this whole thing.

What other projects do the two of you have coming up? Nicole, I must ask you if that’s the end of Anyone But Me.

Nicole: You know what? Nobody knows. That is the million-dollar question, and the one that the fans keep asking me. I have nothing to say other than that I have been asking and they are like, “We’re exploring our options, and that it isn’t necessarily the end.” That last episode was written specifically so that it could be the end if it needed to be, but it didn’t have to be. They did a very good job of leaving that open-ended, so kudos to Tina (Cesa-Ward) and Susan (Miller).

About my other project – and I’m very excited about this – I have a new web series coming out. It’s called Space Guys in Space. It’s through Epic Level Entertainment. Actually, the producer saw me on Anyone But Me and contacted me to ask me to audition for this role. I read the script and I loved it. Its hilarious and brilliant.


There is literally nothing I could think of that would be more different than Anyone But Me than Space Guys in Space. It shows a completely different side of me as an actor.

Can you give us a synopsis?

Nicole: The Earth has already blown up (it takes place in the future). The colony ship holding the rest of the humans has also blown up, and only two people have escaped. One is a brilliant astrophysicist; the other one is essentially like the village idiot. So you have the classic comic duo stuck in this shoddy escape pod in the middle of the universe. I play their one female companion who is a holographic AI.  So I look a little like a Jetsons character, and I bounce around and I say ridiculous things. It’s brilliant – so fun.

We are looking forward to that! How about you Shannan?

Shannan: I am actually on my way to the airport to head up to Anchorage, Alaska to start a 10-day shoot for the horror film Into the Equinox. It’s awesome. We will have three or four shoot days here in LA when we get back. I play a country music singer, and my hair is ridiculous. Its blond and its huge. But yeah, it’s based on Inuit folklore The Origin of Light.

On top of that, we are currently in talks for distribution for the film Crossroads. I play an assassin; it’s a great story about Leo Stags Diego. He was so committed to his country that he ended up losing his family in a horrific way, and it’s the testament of “how strong are you?” and what you go through. Those are my two focuses right now. There are a couple other things in the works but I can’t say them yet because they’re not solidified [laughs].

Any word on if there will be more Cowgirl Up?

Shannan: Oh my goodness! Anyone who is a Cowgirl Up fan -- go subscribe, tell your friends, tell your friends’ friends, because we all definitely want to do it! Nancylee has very great ideas for whatever might come about. They are just hysterical. I know that we all would definitely be game, but it all comes down to funding. We need support. We are doing it for you.

We know you’re out there, and if you continue to want quality content, we’re not doing it for any other reason than because we love it. There are great stories to tell, and they’re not being told in mainstream.  So please support them. I have nothing to do with it, but as an actor I hope there’s more to come!



Read SheWired's interview with Tello Fims founders here.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.