Women have played an intricate role in the success of film and television from their inception, but are afforded very little opportunities in Hollywood. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University women comprised only 9 percent of directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films. Furthermore women make up only 11 percent of writers, 20 percent of executive producers, 22 percent of editors and a dismal 6 percent of cinematographers. These statistics become even bleaker when the lens is shifted to women of color.
Suffice it to say, Hollywood in it’s current state is very much a man’s world. Actress Alysia Reiner is working towards changing these numbers. Alysia Reiner, like most women wears many hats. Actress, writer, producer, mother, the list goes on. No matter what role she is in, she is always an advocate for women. From her strong yet vulnerable characters in Orange is the New Black and How to Get Away With Murder to her latest film project Equity, Alysia Reiner strives to bring multidimensional women to the forefront.
In a recent phone interview, Her Agenda was able to speak with Alysia Reiner about the her production company, Broad Street productions and the all female team behind it, her biggest fears she had as a twenty something and the challenges she is working to overcome today.
Her Agenda: You recently starred in and produced the film Equity which included very dynamic women in roles both behind and in front of the camera. How did this group come together?
Alysia Reiner: My producing partner and I had been talking about an idea for a while. She came to me with the idea of a woman on Wall street. At first I wasn’t interested in that. It’s not a world that really spoke to my heart. It’s seen as a very materialistic and misogynistic world but then I started doing research and learning about what it is to work in a man’s world. I learned about how few women work in this world and the inequities that exist. Then I thought, what if we could make this super exciting financial thriller that happens to be a stealth [bomb] social issues movie, which ends up improving the workplace for women, which was really my goal.
The three of us collaborated beautifully. Sarah Thomas [my producing partner] and I wrote the treatment and helped develop the script. Amy Fox wrote the script. Amy is an extraordinary writer. We had a real mandate to hire a female director. We started asking around and found Meera Menon through a man actually. We had a lot of women on the creative team.
Her Agenda: You have your own production company called Broad Street Pictures, what voids are you hoping to fill with it?
Alysia Reiner: One of our big goals is to employ more women. That’s a really big piece of it. We are now developing the television series for Equity and so far it is an all women team. That’s really exciting. We want tell complex nuanced stories about women. We want to break stereotypes about women. We want to help incite change in that way.
Her Agenda: What is the inspiration behind the name Broad Street?
Alysia Reiner: I actually thought of the name because I love double entendres, well actually it is triple entendre. We want to make the world broader for women. We are two broads, also Broad Street is caddy-corner to Wall Street downtown in New York City. I wanted to tip the hat to the broad collective, which was a group I was a part of many years ago. It was a group of women who all supported each other. The point of the group was co-mentorship. I am still friends with a lot of those women and we still support each other.
Her Agenda: You have played many strong female characters in very male dominated fields. These women are tough, leaders, but what are some of the nuances you bring to these characters that women who may not have a similar personality or profession can learn from these characters to feel empowered?
Alysia Reiner: In the case of OITNB or Better Things which I am doing now or How to Get Away with Murder I didn’t write the characters. I am not the creator. I try to create [as] nuanced and complex a characterization as possible. I make sure these characters are not just one note. You see different sides of her given the parameters of what’s on the page. If a character is written very strong I find places as an actress to show vulnerability. As a [producer] when I created the character of Samantha [in the movie Equity] it was really important for me to create a woman who is very strong and is out to get the bad guys but also is a mother and is married to an African American woman. I wanted to show as complex and interesting and as real a woman as we can. After being on OITNB and playing someone who wasn’t as open to the LGBTQ community and had biases against Latinas and African American women, I wanted to go against that character and create a much more accepting soul.
Her Agenda: Thinking back to your late 20s what was your biggest fear or concern? How were you able to overcome it?
Alysia Reiner: One of my biggest fears was not making a mark in the world, not being important and not being seen. I have definitely overcome that. What I’ve learned is just take the action that you can in a day and let go of the rest. Another thing that was really important to me to was achieve a certain level of success before I had a child. I waited until I was in my thirties to have my daughter. Were I to do it all over again, I wish I had been less fearful of my ability to balance it all. My truth is once I had [my daughter], I was just as productive as I ever was. She brings so much joy and meaning into my life. I wish I hadn’t limited myself in having her. [And] perhaps had her earlier to enjoy that earlier.
Her Agenda: Wearing so many hats, how do you practice self-care and stay productive?
Alysia Reiner: Self-care is the place I could work on the most. It is one of my biggest challenges. The place where I lose it is sleep. I am not willing to loose time with my daughter. Then there’s a lot of work so I stay up to 2 am to catch up with it all. I don’t think that’s a great choice or a healthy choice. I think self care is incredibly important. You do it one minute at a time. I try to find moments of gratitude everyday. I do a 5 minute yoga set with my daughter. It’s very easy to get caught up in all things that you have to do. Then I remember the words of my SoulCycle teacher which is “I get to,” then I think how blessed am I that I get to do all these things.
Her Agenda: You are a trailblazer in some many ways, what advice do you have for millennial age women about blazing their own trails?
Alysia Reiner: The most important thing is [to] keep checking in with your heart and what your heart wants and take massive action from that. Make sure you are really doing things from your heart and not your head, and not Instagram and what people may think of you. Also dreams are really beautiful and amazing but you have to take massive action in order for them to happen.
[Editor’s note: This feature was published on October 31st, 2016. It has been edited for length and clarity.]