Alysia Reiner is most recognizable to LGBT viewers as the fashionable hard ass Fig from Orange is the New Black and TMI’s homophobic mother on Rosewood, but now she’s playing a power lesbian in the new film Equity, opening in select theaters this Friday.
As Sam, Alysia is a prosecutor for the U.S. attorney’s office, secretly investigating a former college friend, now successful investment banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn). Throughout her investigation, Sam becomes more entrenched in the world of high-flying finance and finds herself attracted to the very thing Naomi eventually seeks to distance herself from.
Sam is also a married mother of two, and her wife is played by Rent alum, Tracie Thoms. Sam’s home life isn’t a huge topic of conversation, and the focus is largely on her work life, as is the case for Naomi and her young colleague, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), whose star is rising right as she finds out she’s pregnant with her first child.
Alysia and Sarah came up with the concept for the film and employed playwright Amy Fox to pen the screenplay, bringing on filmmaker Meera Menon to direct. Equity is all about the women who are hungry for money and power, which is something we never see in Wall Street films, despite the popularity of their themes on screen. We spoke with Alysia about creating her own character for the film and how she was able to find romance with her on-screen wife.
AfterEllen.com: I love how in the film you’re really left wondering who is “the bad guy.”
Alysia Reiner: I think what’s most important for us to express is when we had the idea for this—Sarah and I were batting around all these ideas and one of the most important things we talked about was shades of grey, and that you actually—that we want everyone to ask that question and have that conversation at the end of this movie. And that’s what the movie is about, these moral decisions that we make on a daily basis. Those tiny choices that we have that have deep impact.
AE: The film also poses the film if wanting money is immoral, in general, which is something we never really see in the context of women in powerful positions on Wall Street.
AR: I think that’s actually something Amy, our writer, brought to the table. We were talking about a lot of other things, and she read a book, and it’s all about this woman who falls in love with money. The book is essentially a biography that’s this love story between her and money. She read this book while we were doing the research and she said, “I really want to explore this with these characters.” Specifically with my character in that I’m the “good guy” and she gets a little seduced by money and is that a bad thing?
AE: Can you talk a little bit about the beginnings of the project and how it came to be?
AR: So Sarah came to me with the idea—she said, “You know, what about a woman on Wall Street?” And at first I wasn’t really that excited about it because I love Wall Street movies but a) they’re so misogynistic and b) they don’t speak to my heart. You know, I don’t leave feeling open-hearted, and I was talking to a girlfriend of mine who consults with women in the workplace, specifically women on Wall Street, and she started telling me all these stories. And I said, “Oh my god, what if we could make this movie that incites change?” And that excited me massively.
Also, we’ve never seen a Wall Street movie that tells a more realistic [story] of today. We’ve looked at the past when there was so much money flowing, and we’ve looked at a lot of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll on Wall Street, but not the day to day and what that experience is like. And also an IPO, so we explored that and social media. That was something I was really interested in—how do we value social media? Because when you’re taking something public, it’s not sugar, it’s not oil, it’s not gold—it’s this intangible, and how do we value that?
AE: I know you helped shape your character being a gay woman and having a family, so I’d love to hear about that.
AR: Sure. For me, it was outrageously exciting to be able to say, “Wow, I get to create someone however I want.” Like, I can do whatever I want with this human being and to be able to say, “I specifically want her to be married to a woman, and I definitely want her to be married to a diverse woman.” Because as we were looking at this piece, we were saying, how can we create as many roles for women? Particularly in this world that we wanted to portray authentically, which means a lot of men, so every doctor, every lawyer, how can we make them a woman? And then it was really important to me that she be diverse because, again, there isn’t a lot of diversity in that world, so it was so much fun being able to paint whatever color I wanted. As an actor, I’m not allowed to do that. But as a producer, I get to choose the palate and I get to make my own choices, and that’s incredibly empowering. And then to be a mom and say yeah, they have two kids.
And Tracie Thoms was a spectacular wife. I fell madly in love with her. We did something beautiful, actually. Our director had us write vows to each other. We had a little wedding! I had the story of how we met—it really makes you invest in the character and the relationship in a really beautiful way. So that was so, so fun. We’re developing the TV series now, and we’re really hoping—I’m really excited to see more about that relationship.
AE: It would be based on the same characters in the film?
AR: Yeah, there’s a lot that we shot with our characters and our spouses that didn’t make it into the film because it was a thriller and so there’s so much juicy stuff that we want to be able to explore more in the TV series.
AE: Do you see your character as feminist?
AR: Speaking for [my character] Sam, I love that she uses every tool in her arsenal to get what she needs, and she’s not afraid to use her sexuality to get what she needs and I actually deeply love that about her, that it’s a real reversal. There’s a lot of men who would do something like that, and it’s a real role reversal.
AE: There are a lot of lines crossed in the film, but some moments were you could have taken them further if you really wanted to. So how did you decide where to draw those lines?
AR: We kept on exploring. Every decision was an exploration and looking at how far do we want to go? How far would we go? And that’s the fun of it. And keeping it real. And not just going there because other Wall Streets movies have gone there too.
AE: What kind of feedback have you been getting from people who have seen it?
AR: That’s been the most exciting thing. For example, at Sundance, my favorite thing is a bunch of women who had just graduated college who came up to me and said, “We love this movie! We’re hashtagging ‘Three mother fucking chips.'” And that made me so happy because not only were we talking to the women who are Anna’s age, which was really important to us, and make movies for that generation, but also that a 20-year-old woman totally relates and [feels] inspired. And as a mother of a daughter, making this movie—I always call it the stealth bomb social issue piece because my daughter doesn’t know what’s possible unless she sees it in the media. Sadly, just the truth. And I am so excited to make a movie where these three bad ass women are really pulling out all the stops and showing her, “Wow, that’s possible.” And it’s OK to like money, and it’s OK to have ambition.
AE: Was there anything you were careful not to include just because they were women; something that might be a stereotype of a woman on Wall Street that you didn’t want to perpetuate?
AR: One thing we actually put in is a lot of women on Wall Street get their hair blown out on a regular basis, and their closets have these gorgeous things in them. And we put it in the script and we took it out. Because even though it’s really true and they do get their hair blown out, and they have phenomenal closets, it created a stereotype of these women and that they care so much about their hair, and they care so much about their clothes and that’s not where we wanted to go.
AE: I also wanted to ask a quick Rosewood question: Do you think you’ll be coming back to the show at any point?
AR: I would love to. I’m really grateful that I’m recurring on a bunch of different shows right now. I just did the new Louis CK show, which I’m really excited about, which comes out in September. And I’m doing an arc on another show that I’m not allowed to talk about yet. I would love to do more Rosewood, and I loved that storyline.
AE: It’s totally antithetical to what you’re doing in this movie! The total opposite.
AR: That’s the fun of it. That’s the fun is being inspired when you get to make the choices, you get to be who you really are.
Similar to Orange, it’s always fun to play someone who you on the page [think], “Oh my God, that person’s evil!” And then you have to find a way to love them and relate to them. And I had to, with that character, in particular—it’s not that big a role, but I had to do more work than I normally have to do to really figure out who she was and why. Like I had to write so much backstory about her and her youth and how she was ostracized and why she’s so afraid of her daughter being ostracized. Like that’s her fear. For me, whenever someone’s being evil, I always try and look at—I don’t want to say she’s “evil,” but that’s kind of how I see it—what’s their fear? What fear is pushing them forward and is motivating them? And that helps me have compassion for them.
Equity opens in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, July 29.