WFilm founder, Scarlett Shepard, talked to Alysia Reiner, actress /producer who currently stars in Orange is the New Black as Fig, the tough-as-nails assistant warden everyone loves to hate. Season 6 of Orange is the New Black is now out on Netflix, and it is renewed for season 7.
She also produced and starred in Equity, the first ever female driven Wall Street film, with two-time Emmy Award Winner Anna Gunn. Equity premiered at Sundance in January 2016 and sold to Sony Pictures Classics for a Summer 2016 release. It was Alysia’s 7th independent feature as an actress in 2015, but the first in her life as actress and producer.
Alysia created, produced, and starred in “Speed Grieving,” the award-winning short film that premiered at The Hamptons International Film Festival and screened at over a dozen more festivals. It is used as a grief counseling tool in every Cancer Support Community center in the country.
Scarlett: We’re celebrating 14 years of supporting filmmakers. We want to highlight our alumni and our success stories, so I reached out to you. I wanted to talk a little bit about “Speed Grieving,” because that is a short film we screened at our film festival in 2009. You starred in it, produced it, and created it. What led you to create it?
Alysia: I lost my Dad quite suddenly. He was 55 and he was gone in 10 days. I was shocked at people’s inability to talk about grief and loss. I never wanted to produce anything in my life, but I knew that I had to. It felt like I had to do something as an activist to help people talk about grief and loss more. Unless we embrace it, we can’t grow or heal. I feel like we are such a youth-based culture here in America, and there is a fear of death, dying, aging, and loss. That’s where it came from and I actually had the idea for the story in the middle of the night: it was a dream and I wrote the dream down. Then I hired a writer and a director, and had a great producing partner. We just got such an outpouring of love and support both financially and with sponsorships, and we were able to make the film on a zero-dollar budget. It was amazing.
Scarlett:. Let’s talk about one of my favorite shows, Orange is the New Black. I love your character, and you won a SAG award for this!
Alysia: We are about to premiere season 6, which blows my mind! We are about to start shooting season 7, which is just so exciting. Fig (Alysia’s character, Natalie Figueroa) has had such a journey! I didn’t know after season 2 if we’d ever see her again. The writing has such incredible things in store for her, and season 6 is deeply surprising and awesome. I think people will really enjoy it.
Scarlett: Was there a time you almost gave up acting, and can you share what kept you going?
Alysia: So many times! Even right before I got Orange is the New Black. It’s a great question, what kept me going. I kept on praying and saying “Ok God. If you want me to keep on doing this then you gotta send me a sign.” I kept saying “Universe, if you want me to do something else then just tell me.” And then I didn’t have to do something else haha!
Scarlett: Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Alysia: Einstein. He blows my mind in the best way. Everyone thought he was absolutely crazy, and he was so scientific and spiritual at the same time.
Scarlett: Why do you think representation in the film industry is important?
Alysia: Right now 77% of characters we see on television – be it cartoons, be it extras in a movie, no matter what kind – 77% are male. Every time every female human watches a film or a tv show or a cartoon they feel like a minority. That is simply not the case. We are sharing with both our youth and all of us this grave error that our entertainment does not represent us, similar to diversity. We don’t represent our world appropriately. I think we need to start by representing our world as it is. I think the only way to do that is to have more women behind the camera who are interested in doing that. It’s fantastic that there are some amazing men like the Ryan Murphys of the world who are doing that, but most of them are not. (Ryan Murphy launched the Half initiative aiming to make Hollywood more inclusive by creating equal opportunities for women and minorities behind the camera)
Scarlett: It’s really important to have the access and the tools to participate fully in the entertainment industry and removing those barriers. So in the meantime as we are waiting for Orange is the New Black to come out again, what are you currently working on?
Alysia: Right now you can catch up on seasons 1-3 of Better Things on FX. My character’s name is Sunny. I’m also shooting the second season of the tv show The Deuce which is really fun. You can also watch Equity on iTunes now! The story of how that came to be is similar to my journey with Speed Grieving, I had an idea and I met another producer. Together we came up with a story, and we hired a writer and director. We produced it and I starred in it with Anna Gunn and James Purefoy.
Scarlett: Thank you so much for doing this! It’s great to talk with you.
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