Actress Alysia Reiner of Orange Is The New Black: “Why You Shouldn't Have Conversations With People That Are Not There”

Yitzi Weiner
Jul 14 · 10 min read
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“DON’T HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE THAT ARE NOT THERE.” Yes in business its important to think about a conversation before you have it — maybe take notes for yourself, practice with someone etc — but how often do we waste our time thinking about things that never happen, or having imaginary conversations that never happen??? When you catch yourself doing it, go back to #1 and ask yourself “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO CREATE?” Think about the good stuff, not the bad.

Award winning actress and producer Alysia Reiner is best known as Natalie “Fig” Figueroa on NETFLIX’s hit ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, for which she won an ensemble SAG award and you can see her in all 6 binge-worthy seasons ( Season 7 coming July 26th). Reiner joined the cast of HBO’s THE DEUCE for season 2, returned for season 3, and you can see her in all 3 seasons of FX’s critically acclaimed Peabody Award winning BETTER THINGS, season 4 coming soon. Additionally she has guest starred and recurred on some cult favorite shows like DA Parks on HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, BROAD CITY ( Emmy award winning episode), ODD MOM OUT & MASTERS OF SEX.

Her motherhood dark-comedic feature EGG, which she produced and stars in with Christina Hendricks and Anna Camp, premiered Tribeca film festival and is 100% FRESH on Rotten tomatoes and on iTunes & Amazon & VOD Now. Additionally, Alysia produced and starred in EQUITY, bought/distributed by Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance 2016. You may also know her from the feature films Sideways, 5 Flights up, Kelly and Cal, Shine, Fort Tilden, Kissing Jessica Stein, or countless other indie films and TV shows (and yes she has been on all of the Law & Orders multiple times).

Alysia loves working as a change maker for women, just received the Acclaimed Collaborator Award from Women in Arts and Media, is an ambassador for the Geena Davis Institute for Gender Equality, a member of TIMES UP, recently received a MUSE “MADE IN NY” AWARD from The Mayor’s office and New York Women in Film and Television, and has been invited to THE WHITE HOUSE, THE UNITED NATIONS, S.H.E. SUMMIT, GOOGLE, and CANNES LION to speak about breaking barriers for women in all fields. Additionally, she was awarded the SARAH POWELL HUNTINGTON LEADERSHIP AWARD by the Women’s Prison Association, and in 2016 will be honored with the VOICE OF A WOMAN AWARD, the PIONEER IN FILMMAKING AWARD, and the FOUNDERS AWARD FOR SUPPORT. And is passionately committed to protecting the environment (see livariclothing.com!)

As a mother, she was featured as a parenting expert on KIDS IN THE HOUSE, and well as featured on Hallmark Home and Family TV, Celebrity Baby Scoop, Stroller Traffic, People.com, Healthy Child Healthy World, Family Focus Blog, Today I ate a Rainbow, MINI Magazine, Your Green Baby, and others. She is a celebrity green momma spokesperson for Healthy Child Healthy World, as well as Best For Babes, an organization that works to change how we view and support breast feeding, and gives moms the solutions they need to make it work.

Alysia is a champion of all things eco-friendly, and she and her husband used their own home as a way to share information about building green. Their brownstone eco-renovation in Harlem was featured on television’s “World’s Greenest Homes” and “Renovation Nation”; in various magazines like Dwell, Gotham, Origin and The Nest; and they allowed the environmentally friendly construction process to be chronicled on Web sites such as Dwell.com and Kohler.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Alysia ! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Art as activism. We can tell stories that speak to the injustices on our planet, we can shine a light on them and then use that as platform to help make change. That’s why I became an actress, and it’s the biggest gift there is.

In season 7 when Fig goes into an ICE courtroom full of children, Fig is shaken by what she sees but holds it together, but I, Alysia, just couldn’t keep it together. After a few takes, I got so upset I was hyperventilating and couldn’t stop crying… I will never forget that scene and how it effected me. Just like being on the show got me so active with women in prison (I work with The Women’s Prison Association, Still She Rise, The Bard Prison Initiative, etc) doing that ICE scene inspired me to go to the border and visit a shelter; to bring supplies and educate myself more; and to “double down” on my work with Families Belong Together, Kids in need of Defense, etc.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leaders are people who stand up for what they believe in with grace and kindness, goodness and hope, inspiring others. The leaders I admire are those who lead by example, who show us what it means to make change and grow, and who walk the walk. Ava Duvernay is a perfect example. Not only does she make transformative art like “When They See Us” and “13th,” but she also makes change by employing and amplifying voices of people of color and women with her company ARRAY. She is a true leader to me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“MAKE A DIFFERENCE, HAVE FUN”

That was my Dad’s motto, and I put it on his tombstone, and it is my truth. We are here to help others and make a difference — how are you positively impacting the planet? But we must also ENJOY LIFE — go play, go laugh, and celebrate everything!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“DON’T WAIT, CREATE” — This is an expression I made up and tell all young artists now. We are our own heroes, never wait for anyone to give you an opportunity — create them for yourself. For years I was afraid to make my own work, afraid that people would call it just a “vanity production” (which never happens to men of course, but does happen much of the time to women). Now with two successful feature films made and distributed, and a few TV shows in development under my belt as a producer, F#ck that!

“It’s Show BUSINESS.” Yes, it’s a business! Business is business is business! That means: don’t take it personally, and learn your business. You can be an amazing actor, but if you don’t understand the business, it’s hard to be successful.

“IF YOU DON’T ASK, THE ANSWER WILL ALWAYS BE NO” — This is directly from my Mom, and words to live by. ASK ASK ASK — especially for women. Ask for the raise, ask for help, ask for what you need in relationships! And I am always asking “how I can do it differently?” “How can I change my story?” Just because something has not been done yet, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I’m a great producer because I think in ways that people don’t usually think. I’m great at using my network in unconventional ways, and not being afraid to ask! For example, for the ICE shelter I asked my friend who started HINT Water if she would donate some water. She was thrilled to help.

“PEOPLE DON’T DO THINGS TO YOU, THEY DO THINGS FOR THEMSELVES” — Back to don’t take it personally! Most people are not out to get you, they are just focused on themselves and may not be thinking of you. Don’t waste your time thinking about it. Assume positive intent, as my producing partner Michele Ganeless on “Egg” taught me. I live by this, and I will also add: “DON’T HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE THAT ARE NOT THERE.” Yes in business its important to think about a conversation before you have it — maybe take notes for yourself, practice with someone etc — but how often do we waste our time thinking about things that never happen, or having imaginary conversations that never happen??? When you catch yourself doing it, go back to #1 and ask yourself “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO CREATE?” Think about the good stuff, not the bad.

“EVERYONE HAS BAD DAYS, AND EVERYONE FAILS” — Everyone gets rejected. Everyone has bad days. No one’s perfect all the time. Especially in our insane era of social media (shout out to the awesome book #UNFILTERED to help with this!) It can look like everyone is perfect all the time (when really we’re all imperfect), and it’s just not true. I swear the hardest moments have made me better, stronger, and happier. I made my first film because I was heartbroken after season 2 of OITNB! I thought Fig would never come back, and I felt like such a failure as an actress that they “wrote me off.” I never would have made a film that went to Sundance and sold to Sony Pictures Classics if that “failure” hadn’t happened. The irony of course is that the character came back! They didn’t hate me!! I wasn’t bad (refer to #4 and #2 above about that: it’s not personal and don’t have conversations with people who aren’t there!) But the great news is that I listened to #1 and #3 and I made a movie! Which leads me to my bonus piece of advice:

“THE STORY IS NEVER OVER TILL IT’S OVER” — You never know how the story is going to end, so be willing to WONDER INSTEAD OF WORRY. Hey I just made that up, I like it!

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You are involved with the organization Families Belong Together. Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As I mentioned, I went with Amber Tamblyn and Elsa Collins of This Is About Humanity to the Jewish Family Services shelter on the San Diego border. We brought supplies, listened to stories of undocumented immigrants, and learned more about how we can help.

We heard the story of a woman and her family (her daughter is my daughter’s age) fleeing threats of kidnapping and gang violence with the hope of asylum, coming to the horrific ICEBOX where her husband got a flesh eating disease (and may not make it), and the fact that she is now at this shelter means she is one of the luckiest ones.

I had trouble putting this all down, I shed many tears and I’m crying as I type this, my heart is so broken. I only write because it is my hope, in the form of action, that we all can incite change together.

So here are 3 things you can do:

DONATE — @jfssd provides beds for 200–350 people a night! THEY DONT TURN PEOPLE AWAY, and ICE drops families there every single night. They need donations in many forms — go to their social media to learn how to donate clothes, give to their amazon wish list, etc.

VOLUNTEER — THE BIGGEST NEED IS FOR LAWYERS — If you’re a lawyer, you can learn quickly and easily how to help in the immigration system, and even taking JUST ONE pro bono case helps. If you know any lawyers, urge them to help. Additionally, translators are deeply needed.

BE HEARD — stand up and protest! Join me and The Resistance Revival Chorus at a protest: Call your reps, talk about it, write about it, make art about it. This is not acceptable human behavior. #familiesbelongtogether

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Hmmmm….I like WONDER INSTEAD OF WORRY! Maybe the movement is about wondering how you can help change things that concern you and take action on them instead of worrying about them. For me, taking positive action is one of the most powerful tools I have to stop myself from worrying. How can I help another human or the world in the maximum amount of ways, instead of worrying about the problem or about my own neurotic B.S.?

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Oh my goodness….So many!!!! BEYONCE. Anne LaMott (reading right now). Michele Obama ( listening right now). Meryl (who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times, but wow, a private lunch?!) As I mentioned earlier, Ava… And I don’t want to be bias to women, so throw in Julian Schnabel, Spielberg, Almodovar…so many brilliant wise souls and artists to chose from! But if I have to pick one, I think: Oprah. She might be the wisest human I know of. and also the MOST FUN. She is so full of wisdom, wonder and curiosity. And she has sat down with or is BFF’s with all the other humans I would want to meet! She is my dream mentor. And her mentor was Maya Angelou, so she is wise to the 1000th power.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@alysiareiner

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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