Actress and Producer Alysia Reiner On "Equity," Mentors, and More
Is there anything Alysia Reiner can't do? From producing, to acting, to being a mother, her résumé is impressive to say the least.
MAKERS recently talked with the "Orange Is The New Black" and "How to Get Away with Murder" star to ask her about her new film "Equity," her philosophy on mentorship, the project she's most proud to have made, and more.
Read her exclusive interview below and learn more about her from her MAKERS Stories video here.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background; what first sparked your interest in producing?
A: I'm a consummate science geek and just fascinated by human beings. And I think as an artist — as an actress — I've always loved telling stories that other people are afraid to tell, and telling stories that help make the world a better place by illuminating things that might be a little bit more complex or hard to understand.
The first movie that I produced was a short about grief and loss, called "Speed Grieving," and I made it after I lost my dad very suddenly to cancer — he was gone in 10 days. I was quite shell shocked but also so deeply surprised by people’s inability to talk about grief, loss, and death — basically people's fear of death. We obviously live in a society that's not a big fan of aging and doesn't embrace that, particularly for women. So the thing that I know how to do best is to create art about things. When I feel like people have trouble talking about something, that’s when I’m most inspired to tell a story.
Q: What sparked your interest in creating a film like "Equity"?
A: Sarah, my producing partner on this, came to me and we talked about a lot of topics. She came to me with the idea of a woman on Wall Street. And at first I was like, 'Meh,' because I don’t love that world. It's not a world that I felt connected to on a heart level. Every Wall Street movie has been so misogynistic that I just had no desire. I’m a big researcher. I believe so deeply in educating yourself about everything.
Before I said 'no' straight out to this project, I reached out to a friend who consults with women in the workplace — with Fortune 50 companies — and I asked her to educate me. And she started telling me these stories about what it means to be a woman on Wall Street. She shared with me some shocking statistics, and I thought to myself, ‘What if we could make a movie that’s not just an entertaining thriller, but is a stealth bomb social issue movie that really helps move the needle forward for women in the workforce, and talks about these things that no one’s talked about before.'
Q: What was one of the most shocking statistics you learned about women in today’s workforce?
A: The fact that there’s never been a woman as the head of a big bank, and then the fact that only 4 percent of CFOs are women, and 8 percent of CEOs are women, is shocking to me. Some of the stories of overt sexism that I really thought were just in the movies — that I didn’t think could be true — are so true. And one thing that I’ve been talking about recently, particularly with the forced resignation with the head of Saatchi is how he said that, 'women don’t want to be leaders.' And yet, there’s a Deloitte study that talks about how 2/3 of millennial women will leave the workforce by 2020 because they’re not being considered for leadership positions. And that disconnect of him saying they don't want it and the study saying they want it but they’re not being considered, is exactly why we made this movie.
Q: The trailer shows that in the corporate world it is "every woman for herself." Do you feel this is the case in real life?
A: One of the things that we really talk about in the film is that in arenas like this one, where there are so few spots at all for women, it creates this pressure cooker that sort of encourages competition, as opposed to collaboration. One of the hardest things about this film is that I set out to make a movie to help women, and I set out to make a movie to portray women helping each other — to portray women in a positive light. In my research, I found that women didn’t always help other women, and that was outrageously sad to find out — that was heartbreaking. I had to mourn the loss of wanting to make a movie about women helping each other. But it's a truth. And sometimes we have to tell truths about unattractive parts of our world for it to change them. The other piece of that though was a lot of times in Q&As after the screening, someone would say, ‘Do you think this is a really good portrayal to show women backstabbing each other?’ And I’ll say it's interesting because this happens in pretty much every Wall Street movie and I don't think that if this movie was about two men, it'd even be a point of discussion. It would just be a movie. And that's important to point out because it's important to really acknowledge that we hold women under different standards and different scrutiny than we do men. And that’s not really fair.
Q: Were you nervous to release a potentially controversial, yet truthful, film?
A: I think that because the entire process was new, I felt uncomfortable. Whenever you do something new, you feel uncomfortable. And in reference to the story that we told, there was this one moment when we really changed the edit to tell the story. I think me, my director, and my co-producer all mourned that weekend because we really had set out to tell a happier story. I had to mourn the movie that I thought I was making, and to embrace the movie that we made, and to embrace the fact that that’s art. As I said, I really believe in telling stories that need to be told, so in the end I embraced that.
Q: What has been the most meaningful project you've done so far?
A: Creating my daughter. I have to say parenting is by far the most meaningful project I’ve ever done. It’s the project that I do with the most consciousness, and it’s the most important thing that I think I’ll ever do.
Q: Are you more hopeful or more fearful for her future as a woman?
A: She gives me so much hope for the future for a lot of reasons. She gets it. I love that I’m raising a future woman who thinks God is a woman and I love that — fan-f***ing-tastic!
I think she also really gets what I’m doing which is exciting. I’ll never forget about maybe six months ago, I said to her that I haven’t been able to spend as much time with her recently because I’ve been working so hard on this movie, and I asked her, ‘How do you feel about that?’ And she said, ‘I’m so proud of you because you’re making a movie to make the world a better place for women,’ which made me so outrageously happy. I opened the door for her to say, ‘Mom, I’m pissed at you because you haven’t been around.’ And that would have been okay, too, because that’s the truth. I want to write a book someday about how parenting and producing are really the same skillset. And in that case, you want to create an opportunity, as parent or a producer, for people to tell the truth.
Q: Who is your favorite female mentor?
A: I've never had a real mentor until this project doing “Equity.” I feel like my mentor on this project is Candy Straight, executive producer, because she really showed me what being a mentor is. She put her money where her mouth is. She invested and got so many other women to invest in this project and she’s just a fantastic businesswoman. There are so many things about her that I’ve found so deeply impressive and inspiring. As an actress, I’ve always wanted a mentor and I've actually asked women in the past but they’re too busy. So that’s led me to want to mentor. I want to be the change I want to see, so I probably ‘over mentor’ by saying yes whenever someone asks me to be their mentor. I do believe that the 'the Lena Dunhams' of the world — who have made their own way and have been super courageous — are an inspiration to all and hence in a way a mentor to all. Even if you don’t have an actual mentor, you can have a virtual mentor. I think sometimes we can use social media to hurt ourselves, but we can also use it as inspiration.
Q: What other projects are you currently working on or are most excited about?
A: In reference to 'be the change you want to see,' I'm currently doing the new FX show "Better Things" with Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon who wrote, directed, and stars, and it's so outrageously inspiring. I also just did Whitney Cummings' movie, “The Female Brain,” which she wrote, directed, and starred in. And the fact that both of these women wanted me to be in their projects and are my peers, is incredible. You do find your people and you do rise together and help each other.
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