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Finding Belonging in Spite of Ourselves with Actor Alysia Reiner

Alysia: [00:00:00] I have to still remind myself that I belong and that I am part of, like to the extent of you open my medicine cabinet and there's a little letter I wrote to myself on some retreat that says, from a year ago, by the way, this wasn't, this isn't like from a decade ago. And it says, you belong, you think you don't, but you do, I promise you, you belong, you belong, you belong. And I might start to cry right now because I still, I still feel like I don't belong.

Erin: Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, where we uncover the unconscious rules we've been following, we break those rules, and we find a new path to being freer, happier, [00:01:00] sexier. and more self expressed. I'm your host, Erin Keating. This conversation with actor and producer Alysia Reiner is so much fun. We talk about playing the long game in our careers by embracing our uniqueness.

About feeling like an outsider who has not felt like an outsider and building projects and communities that can enhance our sense of belonging. We talk about doing service and giving back as well as how to keep communication and sex alive inside of a long marriage, which as you know, is one of my favorite topics. Here is my conversation with Alysia Reiner.

My guest today is an actor, producer, activist, eco mom, and we will get to this, firefighter. You have probably seen Alicia Reiner on TV. She recently joined the Marvel Universe as DODC Agent Deaver on the new Disney Plus series, Ms. Marvel. You might also know her as Warden Natalie Fig Figueroa from Orange is the New Black, for which she and the rest of the cast won a SAG [00:02:00] award.

She also played Sunny on Pamela Adlin's amazing series, Better Things on FX, and she can be seen in the Starz horror comedy series, Shining Veil. As a producer, she's produced and starred in the movies Equity, about women in finance, and Egg, about motherhood. And she advocates tirelessly for women working with the Gina Davis Institute on gender and media, and she works on behalf of the environment as part of the Earth Day initiative and the founder of an eco fashion, uh, operation called Livari. She does so much stuff. I don't know if she sleeps.

Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, Alysia.

Alysia: I don't, in fact, sleep, but I do drink a lot of coffee and I have great sex. So, you know,

Erin: Thank you so much for being here. There's so much for us to talk about. I feel like we could start anywhere, but, but maybe we start with that insane [00:03:00] list of credits and what, what your career has looked like in the past decade, because you've been an actor for a long time and you've really hit your stride. in the past decade or so. And what I see is a woman who has been playing the long game and adding layer upon layer to her life in the arts.

Alysia: Oh, that's such a beautiful introduction. And I really started this career. Out of college. Um, and my sweet, sweet husband had a lot of success early on

Erin: And your very handsome husband, David.

Alysia: My very handsome husband, David Allen Bayes, who was on show after show after show. And I used to tell a story for a very long time that I had nothing and he had [00:04:00] everything. And Now I would turn to that girl and be like, you're lying. That's just not true. You were doing different things. But you were always working towards your craft and your creativity. I was always... on stage. It may have been off, off, off, off Broadway, but I was always creating.

I was always creating creative communities, you know, like I think because I felt not part of, I was always really curious about creating belonging for others. I was Was so craving mentorship and belonging. And I so didn't feel it that I was like, okay, if I can create it for others, then. Maybe that will fulfill that need, you know, through my twenties and [00:05:00] early thirties, it was a lot of creating my own work and a lot of creating my own joy. And I think most importantly, creating my own mental health to have this stamina to live through a life in the arts for the rest of my life.

Erin: When you say you didn't feel part of, from the outside. You're on magazine covers, you know, you have walked in runway shows, I assume, I always see you on the red carpet.

You seem like an insider. And I think we all, you know, we judge from our insides, we judge other people's outsides. But to hear you say that you didn't feel part of I'd like to hear more of that, because I think a lot of us feel that way and have felt that way. Thank you. And at different moments in our lives.

Alysia: So I will say I have to still [00:06:00] remind myself that I belong and that I am part of, like to the extent of you open my medicine cabinet and there's a little letter I wrote to myself on some retreat that says, from a year ago, by the way, this was, this isn't like from a decade ago. This was from last year.

This is a year ago and I sent it to myself and it's in my medicine cabinet and it says, you belong. You think you don't, but you do. I promise you, you belong. You belong. You belong. And I might start to cry right now because I still, I still feel like I don't belong. I still feel like An outsider. And I do think that might be part of being an artist.

I've heard so many artists who I see as such belongers, you know, and such part of the in crowd say things like this, and I never believe them. [00:07:00] So, you know, maybe it's because I was teased mercilessly as a child. You know, I was like, I was the fat kid and I was, it was not pretty. And I was, Um. Now we call it bullying, then we called it teething.

And it's a fascinating thing being a parent of a girl. And one of the most empowering parts of my life is when my daughter is going through stuff, pausing. Postpone action until sanity emerges. Pause.

Erin: Very good. Say that again. Say that again for us. Pause. Ready?

Alysia: Pause. Postpone action until sanity emerges. If I could heal just a couple degrees of her belonging at 14, [00:08:00] maybe that'll continue To grow, and by the time she's my age, she will truly feel like she belongs.

Erin: Or she will have the tools to talk to herself in a different way about, about belonging.

Alysia: Yes. Yes.

Erin: Yeah, parenting girls is such an intense thing. I mean, parenting boys and girls, but having been a girl and having been a girl who felt alienated myself to, like, trying to, Do it differently to use the tools that I've picked up along the way and then what what can we pass along so funny I always think I don't want to talk about parenting in this podcast I want to compartmentalize the fuck out of my life I really do and then what I realize is everything is infinitely interconnected.

I'd love to return to that question and the long game because we're all playing a long game. Once we get into what used to be known as middle [00:09:00] age, which I'm going to work on some language for that.

Alysia: Thank you. Please.

Erin: Yeah. But you know, the long game is a really long fucking game. My mom is about to be 80 this year and she is. She's got a longevity gene. Her sister's 93.

Alysia: My great grandpa's 99.

Erin: Yeah. You know, if we're lucky enough to sort of have the cards fall that way, this is what some people's genetics are looking like. And so the long game, I'm 51. If I've got another 40 years... I got a lot of do overs. Yeah, still left. So good.

So you were an actor, you were off off Broadway, you were making your own projects and making your own work and working in new plays, and really involved in the script and really involved in the creative development of things. And Were you ever an ingenue?

Alysia: Never. Never, never, never. [00:10:00] I looked like I was 30 from the time I was 13.

I really did. I auditioned for Dead Poets Society when I was, yup, when I was in high school. And Peter Weir, like came to our high school, and I'll never forget this. One of my favorite stories of all time, and I did my little thing for him. And he was like, right. Very good. You're really excellent. I'm not going to hire you because you look 30 and you're 13.

But I just want to say something to you. Can you hear something? And I was like, uh, sure. He's like, never get a nose job, said people will tell you too. Cause you know, America, but there are a couple of angles to bit off, you know, he was very honest, but a good cinematographer can handle anything. And [00:11:00] he's like, it makes you very unique and you have.

You're beautiful just the way you are. Please never do that. And I was like, okay. And there have been other times. Um, when I was in my twenties again, and David was like on TV and I hadn't even gotten like a big commercial and all I want, like, I just wanted someone to say you belong.

Erin: You're okay. You're legitimate.

Alysia: Yeah. I had trouble getting an agent. Yeah. or a manager for years. Like I, I felt invisible really. And to this day I still do this. What's wrong with me and how can I fix it? You know, like what can I fix? How can I fix something? Thank God. Thank God I am done doing that. Like about my body or my face, that feels like a miracle because for a long time there was a lot of that.

And at this particular junction, I was just, I was [00:12:00] truly praying to God. I was like, I need a sign or I'm going to get a nose job. I thought about getting a boob job too at a certain point. Like I thought about liposuction. I thought about it all at times. Didn't do any of it. And I auditioned for this Bud Light commercial.

And I was supposed to play the waitress and I go to the audition and the director's like, no, I think you should be the hero girl. Long story short, I ended up booking this commercial and as the hero girl. And I was like, okay, I'm the hero girl in a national network beer commercial. I guess I'm not that hideously ugly that, um, I can, I can stick with this space.

Erin: And then you grew into all of it. Yeah. Right? Like, I, I think sometimes we grow into ourselves. I had the same thing. People always said I was 40 since I was [00:13:00] 12. And it's no wonder I've been happier since I was 40. Yeah. You know, because I, because I aged into myself, I aged into my, my power and my voice and, and all of it. Do you think that's what's happened for you as well?

Alysia: I do. I feel so grateful that I am not afraid of getting old. I think because of my trajectory, because I didn't have that early success, this was exactly on time. And It allowed me to really figure out who I was and who I want to be in the world and the art that I really want to make.

And then life happened and the career happened in a, in a beautiful way. And when I think [00:14:00] about Orange is the New Black or Better Things or Ms. Marvel, in all cases, I did not orchestrate. Any of those. Those came to me. I got really fortunate to be part of those. You know, those in particular, I think, in reference to storytelling, I feel so outrageously grateful to tell those stories that evolve culture.

You know, that's, that's my dream. And I had a lot of time being unemployed, asking myself, what is my dream? And my dream was really to tell stories that help evolve culture, that help us wake up, that help us really see our lives and who we want to be and entertain. But I were. I do wonder, like, on the, I don't want to say law of attraction, but on the psychic [00:15:00] realms, having made the decision, like, oh, this is what I want to do.

Is there a part that magnetizes? I don't know.

Erin: Or does the clarity...and knowing what you want and being able to say that out loud in a really efficient and clear way, does that just help tell the world how it is that you need to be used in your work?

Alysia: Yeah. Yeah. I love that.

Erin: If the purpose of us being here, which is something I believe is, is to find and fully use our gifts. Hmm. The clearer we get about the ways in which we think we should best be used, then other people see that and they understand that and and whether it, you know, whether it voodoo magnetizes, you know, that stuff to you, or whether your clarity radiates from you in such a [00:16:00] way, and you are able to act more purposefully Like, it's got to be a combination of some woo woo factors and some practical magic.

There is some sort of something that coalesces around a vision and that, and that allows the right people to step into your life or the right, you know, apartment if you're apartment hunting to step into your life or the right job or the right guy or the right whatever. I mean, I think one thing that you did along the way.

Was you took things into your own hands and learn to produce instead of being the receptive role of actor only you also said, Hmm, I wonder where I could get a little bit more agency. Yeah, I wonder if I made things for myself to be in. I'd love to hear a little bit about equity and a little bit about egg and any other projects you want to talk about that you've [00:17:00] produced, because I think that is one way to sort of tell people how to think of you.

Alysia: You know, when I think about both of those projects, it really is back to that feeling of not belonging, which I never talk about. Like, it's kind of scary and refreshing to talk about that here. Good. And saying to myself, well, I want to create more spaces where women feel like they belong. So I felt like that in industry and what if it's possible that I can create space in the industry for, for more women to have more opportunity, including me, but when I think about equity, it was, let's tell stories by women.

and for women and hire more women [00:18:00] and hire women and pay them more than the men, which was really exciting and awesome to do. And I came up with the idea with a friend. We wrote a treatment. It was so exciting. And it was. huge feeling of agency to create a character for myself and to say, you know what?

I'm going to be married to a woman. I'm going to be married to a black woman in this movie and we're never going to talk about it, but it just will create more. representation. And like, why not? And we ended up funding most of the film from Women on Wall Street. It's a, you know, a Wall Street thriller about what it means to be a woman on Wall Street.

And we went to Sundance and sold Sony Picture Classics, and we made those women 115 percent back within a [00:19:00] year, which was so incredibly exciting and rewarding.

Erin: I just have to say, this is a magic trick. This is a brilliant thing. So you made a movie about these women who are underrepresented in their field, but they're high status, high finance people who have a ton of money. You made a movie about them that they paid for, which enabled you to tell their stories, but also the stories that you wanted to tell. And then they made money. Who doesn't win in that scenario? It's pretty cool.

Alysia: And, and all of which to say like, Oh, look, I did have acumen producing, but I felt like I had no acumen producing when I went and did this movie. And it was deeply uncomfortable and the more I'm on this planet, and this is back to the long game, [00:20:00] the more I'm really interested in things that make me deeply uncomfortable because they grow me, hence why I became a firefighter. I became a firefighter because I wanted to give back to my community.

Erin: You could have just donated. Like , what the fuck? Okay. Explain.

Alysia: To me like, you know, like, yes, I could have just donated. That doesn't feel true to, to this little soul.

Erin: Well, you have an impulse to service. I do. And I think that's something to talk about here, because I think when we think about ourselves, You know, we live in a culture where it's very, we're wrapped up in ourselves, right?

We're wrapped up in our own ambition, our own aspirations, our own interpersonal dynamics, but we are all part of a larger community. And I just see you. always stepping forward to be part of the community, [00:21:00] to speak for a community, to speak for a cause, to, to put yourself in the line of fire. And now you are literally putting yourself in the line of fire. So what kind of, uh, Hollywood, you know, TV star are you, that you just went through fucking firefighting training?

Alysia: You know, it's funny you talk about service in the way that you do, I don't understand. It's like when people say to me, so what made you decide to be an environmentalist? I don't understand people who don't want to be an environmentalist, that it's just who I am.

It is cellular to me. I feel like, like, I truly don't understand why service is not. integral to our societal structures. I think our society would be so much better off if we all had [00:22:00] to do service. If it was instead of just paying taxes, we had to actually show up more. I think it would connect us all to our communities in ways better.

Thank you. that are deeply, deeply powerful. And I do it because it's my, it's part of my soul's calling. But I also do it because I know it serves my heart and soul. It makes my heart and soul sing to serve. And. I wish more people understood that feeling and created space for that feeling in their lives. Having said that, maybe not everybody feels that way.

Erin: Well, and also people are just preoccupied by getting by, you know, and trying to go to work and trying to raise their kids and trying to do Zumba, like, you know, like, you know, self [00:23:00] care is so hard, let alone sort of looking after. Our community. And when the way that the structure of the society is evolving because of technology being such a distancing element, we just think it's real hard to make room for that stuff. And then you throw yourself into a burning building. So like, why firefighting?

Alysia: Well, so we spent all of COVID or the first eight months of COVID in Fire Island, and I felt so grateful because I felt that place saved my life physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and we had a really extraordinarily beautiful time there.

And coming out of that time, I really, really, really felt the need to give back to that community. And that community, they're... is one little store that wasn't open for most of the time we were [00:24:00] there. There is no police in, it's a, technically a village. There is no hospital. Most of the time there is not a doctor and all there is, is volunteer fire.

You know, we have an ambulance, so you, there are no cars on the island for those of you who have never been there. There's just bikes and walking and you have to take a ferry to get there. And so in an emergency, in a fire, obviously. Firefighters are key, but also if someone is unwell or has an accident, it's volunteer fire who gets them to the hospital.

Um, so I'm technically, I guess, an ambulance driver as well now. And, uh, and thank God there aren't that many fires. It is a, a fire hazard of a place because there's a lot of wood and fires happen. [00:25:00] So, I felt called to give back to the community in that way. And when I first said yes to it. I didn't realize that I would have to be trained the way FDNY is trained and as my very white, very male, very old fashioned, older, patriarchal, I'm imagining mostly Republican instructors would say, fire doesn't care if you're a volunteer and it's true.

So I did it thinking, Oh, it's volunteer work. Not realizing I would have to train the exact same way FDNY trains and at the academy. Like it's not like, Oh, Fire Island has its own academy. No, you go to the academy where all firefighters train. And my first day I was hysterically crying. Um, I was so bruised emotionally and [00:26:00] physically, I couldn't stop crying.

And I called one of my best friends and I said to her, I can't do this. Like I, I can't, I can't do this is, and she said the wisest thing. Like I get the chills just thinking about it. She said, go do your best, do your absolute best, try your hardest. And if you fail, you will teach your daughter the best lesson on the planet, which is you can do your best and try your hardest and still fail and still get back up. She said this thing and I was like, fuck no, I have to do this.

And I, I mean, I practiced so hard in your test, you're carrying 80 pounds of equipment, you're blindfolded and you're going through a maze and you're blindfolded because in a [00:27:00] smoky building.

You can't see. You have no visibility. And you have air. You're on, what's called on air. You have a SCBA, which is, you know, imagine you like air tanks on your back and you're wearing a mask and, and you have to learn how to go under things and take off your equipment and then you have to, uh, Go up a ladder and, like, open a window.

The test is pretty intense. And that's not even talking about the written material, which is a three hour exam and all the weekly tests. And I am not a standardized test taker. I failed the first test, like, full on failed the first quiz. So it was challenging spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I did end up passing and I'm a firefighter. I'm a horrible mother, but I am a firefighter.

Erin: Oh, I think you still get mom credits if you succeed.

Alysia: Okay, good. [00:28:00] Jesus. Liv is a junior firefighter now. She's been taking the junior firefighting classes.

Erin: Oh my god. I don't even know what to say. It's so hardcore. It's so, I would have run screaming. If I realized there was like a physical part of it that I would have to do that would challenge me physically, I would, I'm not that person.

I would just be like, can I show up and help in some other way? It's amazing. It's amazing. But I love that it comes from a place that you love and wanting to give back to that place and be of service to that place that, you know, was so meaningful to you across your life, but especially during a time like the pandemic when everything was so messed up. Yeah. It feels good. Yeah. Let's pivot a little bit. You have been in a [00:29:00] long marriage. How long have you been married?

Alysia: Oh my God, I don't count anymore. I, we met when I was 19. Okay. I was still in school. I was at Vassar and he's a couple years older than me. And long story short, I've been with him more than half my life now.

Erin: Unbelievable. And just to get like, Real about it, like, you have both been actors, you've both had ups and downs. You've been through all kinds of life events together. As a person who could not stay in a long marriage, I was married for 16 years and with my ex for 18 years, I have no idea how people make it work. In the long run. I feel like I was fighting a battle for most of the time I was married. And I'm not going to do that again. Yeah. And I think I may have like really worked through a lot of my daddy issues, which [00:30:00] is great.

Alysia: Um, but one of my favorite things that a therapist once said to me is like, congratulations, you didn't marry either of your parents.

Erin: God bless you. How did you do that?

Alysia: I don't know. I don't know.

Erin: So you like each other. You and David.

Alysia: I really, oh, I love him. I think, you know, when people, when people are planning a wedding, I say this actually about both weddings and births, wedding one day, marriage forever, birth one day, parenting forever.

I think there's such a focus on finding the right person and planning the perfect wedding. I was always, I think because I came from two divorces, much more interested, what is this person, the right person for the long game?

Erin: How do you know that at [00:31:00] 19? How do you fucking know anything at 19?

Alysia: I didn't, we didn't get married for five years. Like he says he knew the minute he saw me and it took me a while and therapy, like lots of free therapy, therapy before I could say yes. And before, you know, we got married and, and because I come from two divorces early on in our relationship, we saw a couple's therapist together before there were any problems, there were no problems.

It was just like, I want to have someone on call in case there's a problem. Like I want to have someone that I go to for a 10, 000 mile checkup who knows us and knows our patterns and who can help us when things go down. And that was a really great tool that I highly recommend to new people getting married, like before there's a problem.

Erin: But that's a particular kind of man, a particular kind of partner, whether you, you know, are [00:32:00] with men or not, like, who are willing to do that a partner.

Alysia: So for me, I am a girl who believes that. There is joy in the work and that like just like I want to tell stories that evolve culture. I want to be Evolution, you know when you talk about your mom, I when I think about aging and living to a hundred and six My biggest desire is to keep an open mind to keep wondering to stay Curious to keep evolving myself and I've always been that human.

So I knew I needed a, a human who wanted to do that too, and in fact, the thing I fell in love with David first, yeah, he was hot, like, we had a very hot summer affair, and I, I'll never forget when I first [00:33:00] saw his picture on the wall, I was like, who's that? Like, he was a little hottie. Mhm. And then I decided immediately in the first rehearsal, like, Oh, he's obnoxious.

And he thinks he's so cool. I'm not really interested. But then he was reading F. Scott Peck's A Road Less Traveled. And he quoted like the first line. And I so, I so grilled him. I was like, are you really reading that? Are you just, I was like, tell me what happens in Chapter 7, you know, I was like, is this a prop dude? And like, the first line is life is. difficult. And it's really all about what you make of it. And he was down for the adventure. And the reason I am madly in love with him to this day is he is down for the [00:34:00] adventure and If I say, we need to go to therapy, or whatever it is, I've never gotten resistance from him for any of that, and I really want to acknowledge, I have so many friends who, that is not the case.

So, did I just get lucky? I did. I have a good picker. I think, you know, that's is who the fuck knows. All I know is I'm really grateful to have a partner who I think is my soulmate because he's so deeply interested in continuing to evolve. He evolves very differently than I, he evolves at a different pace than I, I always tease.

We. We have very different metronomes. I am a very fast person. We had a fight in our twenties where he's like, why can't you just take a nap? I don't rest. And he's taught me a lot about rest and [00:35:00] I've taught him a lot about pace, you know, and that's a gift of ours. And the other thing I will say. For me, is the difference between longterm marriage and a friendship is sex.

And we started with a very hot, sexy relationship. And it is really important for me to continue to have sex and to continue to enjoy sex and find ways to make sex fun and enjoyable, which should not be a problem except we have really busy lives, but to make it a priority on a at least weekly basis is still incredibly important to me and on a daily basis to appreciate each other on an r o o erotic basis.

So like the way we do that right now is whenever we, we have a game going where it's like, we wake up in the morning, we, before we get [00:36:00] dressed, we have to have a naked hug. And if one of us forgets and gets dressed, we're like, Nope, take this off. We need a naked hug. And it's this beautiful. 30 second way or 60 second way to connect as two sexual beings and to remember we're not just friends, we're partners.

Erin: And you have a sense of play together.

Alysia: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Laughter is everything and he's really fucking funny.

Erin: It's so huge. I mean, and I think if the things that you put your attention on grow and the things that you ignore, go away. And, you know, or fester. Yep. And it seems to me like you keep the channels open across the board.

And I know that it can't be easy for you to have the ebbs and flows [00:37:00] of your individual lives and then be doing this team project together of life and, and raising your daughter and, and all of the other things that you do, but putting each other kind of at the top of the hierarchy. Even if it means, you know, getting back into bed to have your naked hug. Yeah. That's a big commitment to the partnership.

Alysia: Well, and I think that's a piece of it is we get really busy and we think, Oh, that next job will make me feel fulfilled and like I belong, you know, for that's the theme of this for whatever random reason. Someone needs to hear it today. Or. My kid really needs me, or being of service, whatever it is, it's so easy to not prioritize our partner.

It's [00:38:00] too easy. It's just too easy. The world is too big. My truth is I have to continue to remember and take action to prioritize my partner to make my partner feel valued and special and appreciated for all they do to make my life possible, which is a million things on a daily basis and to appreciate that they appreciate me. And allow them in and make the space and the time to listen to them. Look, some days I feel like it's easier to pet my dog and love on my dog than my husband.

Erin: Sure. Less complicated.

Alysia: But it's, it's a priority and it's a choice. And it's one that I have to make daily. If I'm really interested in the long game of this relationship and being in a great relationship for [00:39:00] the next 50 something years because I really want to be with him for that long.

Erin: That's really beautiful.

Alysia: And I'm really curious what like sex in your 80s is like, like that's, I'm curious.

Erin: The people are fucking all over the nursing homes. There is hope for all of us. Exactly. Alicia Reiner, thank you for taking the time to talk today. You are the definition of Hotter Than Ever.

Alysia: Right back at ya.

Erin: Thanks for listening to Hotter Than Ever. If something in this conversation resonated with you personally, and you want to share something with us, please DM us on social media and share your reaction, your story or any questions it might have brought up for you. We're @hotterthaneverpod on Instagram, Facebook, or wherever else you feed your social media obsession. We may even share your message on the show.

Hotter Than Ever is produced by Erica Gerard and PodKit productions. Our associate producer is Lena [00:40:00] Reibstein. Music is by Chris Keating with vocals by Issa Fernandez.

Come back next week for more thought provoking conversations.


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