Exclusive! Hollywood star Alysia Reiner opens up about her film Motherhood & her own views on parenting

It doesn’t happen every day to get an immediately strong connection with someone after a quick chat, let alone when that person is the Hollywood actress and producer like Alysia Reiner, best known for playing Natalie “Fig” Figueroa in the comedy series Orange Is the New Black. I admire her not just for her acting but also for her non-profit, charitable and humanitarian campaigns. I was honoured to chat about her film Motherhood and her own views on parenting. Read the full interview to see our connection unfold question after question.

Monica Costa (MC):  I watched your latest movie Motherhood and I really enjoyed it.

Alysia Reiner (Alysia):  Thank you so much.

MC:  It’s a cool film with a lot of good conversations. I enjoy these kinds of movies and I’m sure my audience will too. I have a couple of questions for you. What did you like the most about the script for Motherhood when you read it the first time?

Alysia:  I loved that people said things that we … some people are really afraid to say. I like that it handles sensitive and controversial issues. I read it almost 10 years ago. It’s odd to me that we’re still not talking about some of these things, particularly in this moment as we’re, as a culture, redefining how we see gender and how we see sexuality, and yet we’re tied very deeply to these very antiquated role structures around parenting, for the most part.

MC:  You’re very right, actually, it’s so true. There’s so much talk about gender fluidity these days. Teenagers say that, and it’s a big taboo still, but I certainly talk about this with my friends who have teenagers and say ‘ we’re like gender-fluid’, which is a concept that for our generation – in fact, me and you, we are the same age – is very strange and maybe difficult to accept, to a certain extent. But we have to, because times are changing, inevitably. What is about your character that you find similar or very dissimilar to your own personality?

Alysia:  That’s such a good question. Similar I would say, Tina (my character) is trying to navigate, what it means to be an artist, and be in relationship, and relationship with friends, relationship with a partner, and then she is also explaining a different way than me what it means to be a parent. Dissimilar, I would say there’s a lot more, just because I have chosen to be a parent. However, interestingly enough, for both Tina and I, one of the ways we really agree is that she doesn’t want to be a parent because she doesn’t want to do it wrong. She doesn’t want to make a mistake. She doesn’t want to do it in a way that’s imperfect and not giving her child everything, and it’s interesting some people see the movie and see her as selfish and I sort of see it as the opposite. I think she doesn’t want to do it unless she can do it in a way that she thinks is fulfilling to the child and the parent, and, so she’s found this way of doing that, and is like okay, I can’t fulfil all the needs of this child, so we’re going to change the role structure.

MC:  I like Tina a lot. I find some similarities to myself. And many women will, too. She’s a universally appealing character. It will resonate with mothers.

Alysia:  I’m glad. I hope so.

MC:  Tina fights for equality and social justice, essentially. She channels this passion through her art and motherhood is somehow like penalising women who want a career, as well as a family. How realistic, or how feasible is for women in this society to reach true equality?

Alysia:  As Gloria Steinem says the “personal is political”. We have to do it one human at a time, and one situation at a time. I can’t speak to changing the world for women or making massive change for our society because I feel deeply powerless over that. But in my own life, as a woman, I can hire a woman and pay her as much, not more than the men. That’s one of the biggest things I could do. I, as a woman, can choose an amazing partner who believes the same things I believe and doesn’t fall into traditional role structures, and is a true equal partner. Those are the two things I can do to create that kind of equality we speak of in the world. Of course, I am a huge social justice advocate and I do impact through a lot of work, making legal change. There are so many laws here in America that I would like to change but I am not a lawmaker. That is not what I was called to do so I truly believe, one of the best things I can do is to live that change in my own life.

MC:  Yeah, right. Not everybody is cut for motherhood, but that does not make you less of a woman, right?

Alysia:  That’s why I made this movie.

MC:  Is motherhood over-stated?

Alysia:  I think we idolise it. Again, I can only speak to my experience in this culture. I think in America it has idolised it quite a bit and it’s also a business. I do feel it’s really important that we let women have the courage and curiosity to make their own choices about whether it’s something they actually want.

MC:  Absolutely. I agree. What did you enjoy the most during filming Motherhood?

Alysia:  Having so many women on the set and such an incredible group of women. Collaborating with women. We had 78% of crew and female heads of every department and it was ironically a very womb-like warm space, loving, hilarious environment.

MC:  It actually comes across. It’s a lovely film. At the end of the movie, we see Tina left there doing her brilliant exhibition, watching over her ex-boyfriend holding a baby in the sling. How difficult is for women to have a second chance in love after 40 or 50, after the fertile years are over?

Alysia:  Well, in the story we’re telling I imagine Tina to be younger than Alysia. Tina is maybe 40 and the magic part is that you can place people who are not exactly your age. It’s amazing that in our culture today there is a potential to have children later and later and I’ve read articles about a woman who had a baby at 64. So there’s a beauty in that and that is the age when a lot of women become grandmothers so, again, it’s about what’s right for you and finding what’s right for you, and what’s the right dynamic in your life.   A lot of women I know can have 4 children and a thriving career but I didn’t think that I could do that. I felt like that would be too much for me. I didn’t necessarily have the energy but simply the time in the day, the hours, to be the kind of mother I wanted to be, and have the career that I wanted, to have four children so I have one beautiful, spectacular child. Sometimes, I can feel less than because people will say to me, ‘oh, just the one … just the one child’, like they are grieving these three children that I didn’t have. That can feel really uncomfortable and again, it comes back to this point of that we each get to make our own choices and it is very important that we give our friends, and give our fellow women, in our culture, the space to make their own choices.

 

MC:  It’s funny you say that because I have been asked the same uncomfortable question about the only one child. I have one child, I’m as old as you are and I get the same question all over again. For me that is enough and I’m fine with it. Other people have the problem, I don’t have it.  That’s perfect for me, but that question pops up all the time: ‘Why don’t you have other children?’ Why should I? You’re totally spot on, on this Alysia.

Alysia:  Environmentally … if you pay attention to the environment, we are depleting our resources.

MC:  Good point. I’ll, make sure I’ll say that the next time I get asked the awkward question.

Alysia:  Environmentally responsible choice.

MC:  I love that, Alysia.

Alysia:  The minute I say that … I don’t want to judge other people.

 

MC:  Brilliant answer! Breastfeeding is also a topic discussed in the movie. I  personally breastfed for 20 months which is quite a lot.

Alysia:  Me too. I breastfed for two and half years.

MC:  Oh God. Yeah, we seem to have a very similar background, maybe it’s the age, the same age (48).

Alysia:  Yeah.

MC:  Is breastfeeding one of life’s greatest experiences or a tough task? I mean, we’ve done it but, it was tough.

Alysia:  Yeah, you know what I truly love about this movie. It really speaks to all of the realities that are both true. I think breastfeeding was one of my favourite things I’ve ever done in my entire life, truly. It’s magical that food comes out of your body. It is a magically bonding experience and, if you were committed to it, it is imprisoning truly for women, I remember so many times that I would run home to make sure that I was there in time for my daughter and then I remember being on the road at times and not having a pump. Oh my God, getting engorged and the pain of it … it is beautiful, and magical and imprisoning, all at the same time. And that’s life and that is one of the most exciting things about this movie: it really talks to the realities that sometimes we forget about.

MC:  I  love this movie because it makes you think about many things and whether you experienced that or not, it doesn’t matter because it’s the thoughts behind that really drive the conversation. All three leading ladies in this movie are seriously sexy and confident but with different and clashing views on motherhood.  What’s Alysia Reiner’s personal view on motherhood?

Alysia:  It’s so funny, as you said that, my puppy jumped into my lap. Alysia Reiner’s personal views on Motherhood? Motherhood is such a big word that I almost don’t know where to go with that. I believe parenthood feels for me, personally, like my biggest job, which involves creating a safe, loving, nurturing environment where there are also boundaries. Safe means that there are a lot of boundaries in which there are rules and consequences. I like to say yes as much as possible. Say yes, whenever I can. If it’s safe, say yes. Unless it’s an issue of safety, say yes, or health and your job. One of the things that we all have to be careful as parents is our children’s job is not to do all the things that we wish we had done, and be the people that we wish we had been and watched, particularly as an actress, watching stage mums. There are many who I’ll meet, who will be like, “I always wanted to be an actress so, my kid was going to be an actress.” There’s a danger in trying to make our child our playmate or our best friend, or our confidant, trying to make our child do the things that we wish we had always done and one of my biggest goals is to let my child be who she really wants to be and to nurture who she really wants to be and encourage and nurture that and keep my stuff out of the way. And, interestingly enough, that is a place where Tina and I agree and how we sort of end up with the movie.

MC:  Alysia, this was such a great interview. Your words really struck a chord. The film will strike a chord with all my audiences.You’ve have just said out loud so many of the things that I’ve always thought and only said to my close friends. It’s nice to get a confirmation from someone else, someone I respect, like you.

Alysia:  I think part of it is you. I feel very connected to you.

MC:  I know what you mean. We belong to the same generation, we have lived through the 70’s, 80’s 90’s. We’ve seen the world go through great transformation. Greater than ever before …

Alysia:  Absolutely.

MC:  … and this probably forged our thinking. I’m from Italy, and I moved to the UK, but again you’re an American and we seem to have similar views on life.

Alysia:  I love that, yeah …

MC:  Overarching countries and cultural differences, I would say. So, I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much Alysia.

Alysia:  Thank you. Let’s stay in touch!

Film Review: Motherhood starring Christina Hendricks, Alysia Reiner & Anna Camp

About Monica Costa

Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums

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