Through the magic of television, Quantum Leap is once again jumping into the past to bounce back into the futureand in a recent episode, "The Family Trasure," non-binary artist and performer Wilder Yuri and writer Shakina Nayfack are along for the very wild ride.
The episode, which aired on NBC Feb. 6 and is now available on the streamer Peacock, focuses on a treasure hunt in Mexico in 1953, and introduces a character named Dean portrayed by Yari.
Yari was born in Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles a few years ago to pursue acting and directing. They have appeared on The CW's 4400 in the past and are currently on ABC's Grownish; Yari will also be on Netflix's The Lincoln Lawyer for the third season.
Nayfack, executive story editor for season two of Quantum Leap, uses she and they pronouns and was born in southern California. She recently moved back to Los Angeles after living in New York for 12 years, where she worked as a playwright and developed musical theater.
Nayfack was also a series regular for two seasons of Hulu's Difficult People and was the first trans person to star in a major network comedy show with NBC's Connecting. She previously wrote, directed and starred in episode 12 of the new Quantum Leap's first season, "Let Them Play," which also had a trans-focused storyline.
She admitted that the Quantum Leap production team approached "Let Them Play" with a good deal of intention.
"The first episode we were so precious and careful about because it was the first time we were telling a trans-centered storyline on Quantum Leap," she explained. "It went well and we received a lot of input from the community."
As such, by the time "The Family Treasure" came around, "We knew what we were doing and that was very freeing," Nayfack added. "I wasn't directing this episode, which I love to do, but Jude Weng was an incredible director for my writing. What we learned from round one is that everyone wants this to work and everyone was onboard to tell a trans story."
"The Family Treasure" follows a character on a family treasure hunt who cannot yet explain their true self to their family.
"They eventually learn how to come out and it's so empowering," Nayfack said. "It is full of trans joy, and I think that is what resonated with people for ["Let Them Play"]. It's a trans story that is not coded in trauma and dripping with pain, like some stories in the past. It was a fun way to use tropes of my favorite stories and have the trans person be everyone's hero."
"The Family Treasure" was launched when the producers tasked Nayfack with preparing a story and script with an accelerated production schedule following the end of the WGA strike.
Nayfack recalled, "They wanted something like the movie Romancing the Stone with a non-binary character. Indiana Jones and Goonies were reference points for me and also Adventures in Babysitting with the sibling dynamic. I just made the story trans and bam, there it was!"
Yari said the episode "was a dream come true and that is not a coached answer. This was one of the best sets I have ever been on. Right away everyone was incredibly lovely and warm."
Yari loved the dynamic that play out with their character. They explained, "If someone chooses to come out to family and loved ones, it should be a joyous moment, as opposed to asking for permission or acceptance. My character of Dean did not need approval and we can all learn from that."
Yari met Nayfack at their first costume fitting. They recalled, "when I walked into the room there was a stunning, six-foot-tall Amazon. I felt safe right away. Everyone took care of me, but especially Shakina, who was on the set, and made sure my lighting was adjusted properly. This allowed me to give a good performance and reminded me of why trans representation in front and behind the camera is so important."
Nayfack praised series regular Mason Alexander Pack and noted that "the crew is used to working with a non-binary actor," adding, "We created a culture where people could be forgiving when someone messes up a pronoun. I encouraged them to apologize for the mistake and then move on, which is more comfortable than an over-policed environment. It was a graceful place to work in for trans and cis people, but sometimes new territory for everyone."
Yari advises non-binary performers to search for their tribe in the entertainment industry.
"I am very lucky that there is a strong network of queer performers out in Los Angeles who support me," they explained. "There are not a huge amount of roles written for us, so it creates a competition where there doesn't need to be. I have lost roles to friends of mine, but I am happy for them instead of thinking there is something wrong with me or being jealous."
Nayfack added, "If you are a trans or non-binary performer, think about creating work and opportunity everywhere you go, not just for yourself, but for others. It is within our power to stop this scarcity of roles and set a new bar for inclusion."
There are many more LGBQT+ stories to be told within the Quantum Leap universe, she added. "I am bursting with ideas for myself as an actor, writer and director. I can't wait for more opportunities in the future!"