Anna Gunn, Alysia Reiner and Meera Menon of 'Equity' Talk Women on Wall Street, in Hollywood
The KCET Cinema Series continued on June 28 with a screening of "Equity." Produced by Broad Street Pictures and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, the film is a Wall Street drama where the stakes are high and the intrigue is deep. The film was produced, written and directed by women and features Emmy Award-winner Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad") in the lead role, as an ambitious and self-sufficient investment banker in the midst of a deal that could change the course of her career. Sarah Megan Thomas plays her equally ambitious protogê while Alysia Reiner plays a tough investigator. Thomas and Reiner are the co-founders of Broad Street. "Equity" features a screenplay by Amy Fox and was directed by Nora Ephron Prize-winner Meera Menon. The film premiered at Sundance and will be in theaters at the end of July.
Following Tuesday night's screening of "Equity," KCET Cinema Series host Pete Hammond led a discussion with Gunn, Reiner and Menon, an edited portion of which you can read below.
Sponsored by the James and Paula Coburn Foundation and the E. Hofert Dailey Trust, the KCET Cinema Series brings advance screenings and Q&A sessions to audiences. The summer season launched on June 7 at Santa Monica's Aero Theatre and will continue through August 2.
Anna Gunn on researching her role
I was very lucky in terms of talking to Alysia and Sarah, working with Meera in a really detailed way on the script and then hearing the experiences and stories of these women who made it to the top echelon of Wall Street and what they had to do, the sacrifices, the psychological navigation -- all of it. It was really fascinating. Research is one of my favorite parts of the job, and we really had to dig into it and dig into it fast and I was so grateful for all of the really personal experiences that women shared with me because one of the things about Naomi, when she says that thing about money, that it shouldn't be a dirty word and women shouldn't be afraid to go after that because men aren't afraid to and it never seems like it's a bad thing for them to say it, to have that open ambition, but also to really want to go after money.
What I found interesting was that so many women came from backgrounds where they didn't have a lot or they felt that they needed to help support their families and they never wanted to find themselves in a position of being without [a salary]. And her naked, almost brazen, statement about the fact that we don't have to make it about, we don't have to pretend that it's not this. We don't have to couch it in something that's more soft or gentle, that it really can be that open. Those were a lot of the stories I heard.
Alysia Reiner on the development of the script and her character
I have to give our screenwriter, Amy Fox, a lot of credit for that part of the storyline because Anna was talking about how fun research is and how delicious it is as an actor to delve in. For me, for the first time developing a story with Sarah and Amy, it's like that. You do all that research and you're creating it and it's so incredibly exciting. It's this really collaborative process.
We had things that we brought to the table, but Amy read this book and I'm embarrassed that I can't remember the name of it, but she's usually sitting here with us to say the book is called 'blah blah blah,' it's about this woman who falls in love with money. It was one of the influences on the script when she was writing it and she came and brought us these pages at one point with that speech. At first it was Anna's speech. We were like, 'oh, this is perfect.' It really embodies so much of what we wanted to talk about about ambition and about money and about these issues that we really wanted to bring up.
I would say that it was maybe two months later that she made the decision to have my character echo it. I love that. One thing that we talked about a lot was how I was so influenced by Naomi. One of our secrets that we talked about in rehearsal: Anna was talking about rehearsal earlier and what a joy it was to rehearse for this and we got to really develop our relationship, one of our secrets that Meera and I talked about was that I had a crush on Naomi for years. I was dating her little brother and she was the cool girl and I had this big crush on her. I think that comes out for me. I want what she has, not in an envious way, but in an I'm a little in love with her way. I want to be her in that girl crush way of your youth. It was an interesting journey coming to that last moment for that character. In my family, I am the breadwinner, in that character's life, and there's nothing wrong with wanting money, truly, truly, truly. I think Sam believes that she will do good at the bank, that she will still be able to wear the white hat at the bank. We all know that you can rationalize anything, right. I'm curious what her future will be at the bank.
On the possibility of bringing "Equity" to television
AR: Yeah, when we were writing it, that was our dream was that it would be sort of a back door pilot. So, we'll see what happens.
Meera Menon on directing "Equity"
When you're working with actors that are this kind of deep and just intelligent and understand their characters inside and out, my job is just to kind of control the environment such so they can sit there and express that in a way that is as kind of pure, in sync with the intent that you're hearing from them, how deep their intention was with the way their characters were going. I feel like my job was simply to facilitate that and not allow things to get in the way of that.
When I walked into it, the script was pretty far along. I was kind of immediately in synch with them about the themes that they were interested in exploring with this and the tone they were setting with it. It was just, like, a really nice first date.
Meera Menon on Anne Marie Slaughter's 2012 article for The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," which is referenced in the film
That was something that came to us in post when we were editing it. A lot of those iPhone shots are VFXed onto the screen. That was just an article. I'm sure many of you are aware of that article by Anne-Marie Slaughter that had gone around. Especially among my female friends, it was an article that became a really big talking point and speaks to everything Erin is going through in her mind, so much more than the many scenes we could have shot would have. Just being specific about those inserts is good storytelling.
Anna Gunn on boxing in the film
I wouldn't say I'm a boxer per say, but I boxed with a trainer and I like it. It's a very good way to get out aggression and it's something that Meera and I talked about again in both what Naomi does to decompress at the end of her day, because she is such an isolated person, and I loved those details that Amy put into the story about the fish. When we meet in the bar, you're [Reiner's character] talking about kids and showing pictures of her kids and I say, I have a veda. You get the sense, without weighing too heavily on it, that she has been an isolated person because she's been so laser focused, because she's put her eye on the prize so heavily. So, she sacrificed a lot personally in her life. She has a boyfriend, but there's a sense, always, between the two of them of how much will I trust you... and there's the wall that is a thing we talked about a lot in this world. What you can and cannot say when you're working on two different sides, two different areas, in the bank.
Anna Gunn on how her character reflects attitudes toward women on Wall Street
She has had win after win after win and they bring it up a couple times where she says, "I wanted to be a rainmaker," and that's her goal. She's got, again, she's going straight for that. She has her first loss, but it's a fairly epic loss and she's got such steel within her that she's determined to get back on her feet and to win big again. Once you start falling down that ladder, it's harder to climb back up that ladder again and there are people waiting in the wings to take that position. Her boss says to her, 'you're perceived as difficult.' You're perceived as -- what exactly does he say -- basically that she comes across as abrasive.
That was another thing that a lot of women told me when I started research is that you have to walk a fine line in that position, in those kinds of positions between not being too tough, or being perceived as bitchy, or too soft and being perceived as a pushover. It's a really fine line that you have to walk that men don't have to think about. When she's given that information by her boss, that gives her pause and her mentor says, once doubt starts to creep in, you're in trouble and that kind of business. In, probably, a lot of businesses.
On the importance of going to see movies made by women
Pete Hammond: I've always heard, with directors, for every female director, if the movie is not a hit, that it hurts others getting the job, which is incredible.
MM: That's correct, so please tell your friends about this movie. It's tenuous.
AR: It's really true. It's incredibly important that people go out and see this movie because that is how we get more movies made by women.
Alysia Reiner on what the cast learned about women in their research for the film
And just to touch up on what Anna was saying, in our research, not only were women put on a different playing field, in reference to if they do mess up once, they're much more likely to be let go. Additionally, the research we did about women and how they feel about their failures, women and men handle failure differently. It's something that, as the mother of a seven year old, I'm really working on how do I bring up my child to say, 'Hey, I failed, awesome! Let's do it again.' Because men let go of their failures much more easily, statistically speaking. Teaching my daughter and hopefully teaching through this movie -- let go of your failures, don't let it play in your head, is a really big piece of one of the lessons of life that I have looked to learn for myself. And I think part of the reason we make art is to teach ourselves these lessons.
On the Bechdel test
AR: We've passed it with flying colors. We've been invited to the Bechdel hall of fame.
MM: I think it's really important to have stories out there for women where the drama is drawn out of their professional lives and we see them engaging and living impassioned lives related to the choice they made in their profession.
AR: For those of you who don't know what the Bechdel test is, it's in media, is there two women talking about something other than men for more than thirty seconds.
MM: At all. It's astonishing how few films pass that very low bar.
On "Equity" coming out in a year when Hillary Clinton is running for president
AR: I will share that, when we first came up with this idea was almost two years, it will be two years when we release. Our fantasy was that it would come out the September before the election and that in that election a woman would run and that woman would be Hillary. The stars aligned in a magical way for Hillary and for a lot of things. I will also give outrageous props to my producing partner because she was so, she's a very driven human being, and she made sure that we were ready for Sundance so that we could sell it. She drove that in a massive way to make sure that we would be on time for that magical moment.