Alison Pill discusses Miss Sloane, Females in Film, and Becoming a Mom.
Before the AFI Premiere of Miss Sloane, I was lucky enough to attend an early screening, press conference, and partake in a few 1:1 interviews. Jessica Chastain and Gugu Mbatha-Raw briefly discussed their roles and career with me, while director John Madden and I discussed why he wanted Chastain for the lead role as well as the trouble the studio had with marketing to the public. In between my conversation with Chastain and Mbatha-Raw, I got to sit down with Alison Pill to discuss her 20 years as an actress, becoming a mom, politics, and an array of other topics. It is always fun to just sit down and talk to a celebrity. In fact, I would almost label this article as a candid conversation with Alison Pill.
S.Menzel: Hi Alison, Thank you so much for taking some time to talk with me today. I have been a fan of your work for quite some time now.
A. Pill: Cool
S. Menzel: Do you get tired of doing these things? It’s okay you can be honest.
A. Pill: Yes, it’s why I do movies that are interesting. There are more unpleasant things than talking about something you enjoy and that you think is important. It’s the times when you don’t have something to say that I just can’t imagine. That’s why you have to do good movies. You’re sitting for two days going like, uh …
S. Menzel: And someone asks you to tell them why you did Hookers Versus Vampires?
A. Pill: Right. Exactly. You’re just like, no I have to picture myself being able to talk about this for hours at a time and still be thinking about it on my drive home because I will be. I was just saying, I just got a text from Every Town to remind me when there’s ever any legislation happening or any action to be taken. Oh no, this is still a present thing in our lives.
S. Menzel: I feel like I’ve watched you almost grow up on screen.
A. Pill: I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I can see that.
S. Menzel: Like going back to Scott Pilgrim, and I’m still mourning the loss of Newsroom. That was a show I loved. I don’t binge-watch shows, but when I saw Newsroom I was like, oh my god. This is amazing, and I still can’t believe it only got three seasons. I wish there was a petition to bring it back. Anyway, you were great in this film. Did you see Michael Moore’s latest documentary?
A. Pill: I haven’t seen it yet.
S. Menzel: Okay. So he does this little thing … I hate to bring this up, but it’s interesting because it kind of plays into this movie. One of the things he says is that we live in a world now where the old white man is slowly going away and the females are becoming much more dominant, having a more active role in society, politics and all that stuff. Watching this movie is exactly like what he said. It’s like you and Jessica and Gugu represent strong females in important roles. So, as for my actual question, what is it that drives you to movies or tv shows about politics or with important messages like that?
A. Pill: There is the overtly political side of this movie and that it’s about Washington politics. Then there is this kind of a radical side of it that’s just because it is from the female perspective. Seeing the shifts that have started to happen towards making women as complicated as they are and just in terms of seeing the world from their point of view without the expectation that everything will be tied up in a neat little bow and she’ll get the guy in the end, is really exciting. I also think it’s fascinating that our screenwriter and director are both white dudes.
The fact that this perspective shift is also from the top down. Then there’s something to the element of that collaboration. That this is not something that has to be feared as a replacement of the white man doing … There is a way to collaborate and to see things from interesting new perspectives if you are open to it as John Madden and Johnny Perera have shown. I think that’s also important in the movie and Mark Strong’s character being one of those men who invites this in. It’s less about the specific identity of these men as it is the old guard versus the new guard. This comfort of hearing many voices and many perspectives and exploring that in a way where they’re all valid and they’re not threatening necessarily versus the Lithgow and Sam Waterston … Big tall dudes in suits staring down at the little lady and eating steaks.
S. Menzel: Smoking their cigars.
A. Pill: Exactly, exactly. Maybe that part we need to say goodbye to but it’s not … It doesn’t have to be a tragedy or we can mourn the loss of that sure, but it’s only a very small percentage of the population that will actually be mourning that because we were never invited.
S. Menzel: It’s crazy. In this movie too it was like your role, I feel like this was much different than any other role you’ve tackled. I feel like we saw the dark side of Allison in here a little bit. I felt like your character was not as clean cut as some of your other roles? That’s what I can say about every single female role in this movie which is why it’s so important for people to see this movie.
A. Pill: Yeah.
S. Menzel: Was that challenging for you at all? To kind of play the more secretive kind of role? That isn’t what you see on the surface.
A. Pill: No, I mean I’ve had the opportunity to play … It’s interesting because I felt freedom that seems to be happening in film more and theater. Plays that I’ve done have offered me the opportunity to play terrible, angry women in the past. It’s not something that feels new necessarily. It is super … It’s a super fun challenge to mess with people’s expectations and I also just think the exploration of different kinds of ambition and thinking about the ways that women back out of conflict and the ways in which the women in this do and don’t. Sort of with Jane saying like she would prefer to be in academia.
S. Menzel: Yeah.
A. Pill: This is not the world, and it’s understandable living in this corporate, terrible, cutthroat winning culture is not necessarily the place to be if you are idealistic.
S. Menzel: Yes.
A. Pill: Then, on the other hand, there’s Esme whose power comes from this different emotional vulnerable side. Just watching as we learn more about these statistics regarding the Lean In / Sheryl Sandberg philosophy of how much you should lean in because you can’t lean in too much because you’ll get fired, but if you don’t lean in enough, you’ll get fired. Watching these three women navigate that world of when do you … When are you excused for your ambition? When does it look ugly? When is it complicated and allowed to be? That seems really unique, and I like it.
S. Menzel: How excited were you when you heard the news that this was premiering at AFI Fest?
A. Pill: Very? I don’t know.
S. Menzel: No, no.
A. Pill: I mean it’s great.
S. Menzel: Okay.
A. Pill: My baby is due in a month. I just care about a lot of things.
S. Menzel: Okay.
A. Pill: I’m like it’s great, it’s awesome. Whatever. I’ll be there next Friday. I heard, and it’s like great. I mean it’s one of the wonderful perspective shifts that happen where I’m like it is great. It is all awesome. Somebody was asking me about the award buzz about this movie which is fantastic and again I must say … I’m like what are you talking about that’s great, cool. Do you have a bottle warmer?
S. Menzel: I’m sorry, prior I said are you having a boy or girl or you don’t know?
A. Pill: Girl.
S. Menzel: Okay.
A. Pill: Yeah.
S. Menzel: This then must be very important for you. Not only with this election but …
A. Pill: Yeah with being part of this movie. Yes. No, it’s … This perspective shift feels more and more and more important, and this summer has been so full of strange gender discussions that have really opened my eyes to … I’ve of course experienced sexism and misogyny and Hollywood isn’t known for necessarily all of it’s progressive feelings towards females. At the same time, I don’t think I was prepared for just how deep an undercurrent of misogyny there is and remains. It was a weird summer to be pregnant with another female. Watching this movie, there is this … John brought it up in the panel today that moment when Jessica laughs in the face of those men … I didn’t realize how … And speaking to other women about it too, you’re like I didn’t know I’d never seen and needed that moment before. To just fully guffaw in the face of that silliness.
S. Menzel: Yes.
A. Pill: Just the catharsis of watching this woman know more and be better. It were necessary and made me feel great, and I think after this whole summer, this election, you know, whatever happens, these discussions have to continue. It’s nice to be part of something that I hope will be fostering discussions like that.
S. Menzel: Do you think that’s going to actually happen? That seems to always be the troublesome thing about the world is that once something ends, it’s just kind of like, okay we’re done. If Clinton gets in, it’s like okay we’re done. We won. Then let’s forget about it for four more years.
A. Pill: I know and I think that’s been … I think we’ve seen the effects of a black president on race discussions in this country. Both for good and ill. That there is movement forward, there’s rare movement back. There’s the bubbling up of things that we … David Duke is hosting press conferences and on national media so there’s also … There is weird progress in that because now we know … It’s not … We don’t get to sit on our laurels. There’s a great Malcolm Gladwell podcast about tokenism and about how female leaders are often put into unwinnable situations, and then 20 or 30 years go by before they’re given another chance to lead or do anything. You look at it in corporate culture. You look at it in countries, Canada. Kim Campbell came in to lead the conservative party and was our Prime Minister, and she was in for about six months and got blamed for literally everything that had ever gone wrong in Canada, and then promptly we decided that, well we tried it and it didn’t work out. What I think is interesting and different is we’ve had a two-term president who is a minority.
S. Menzel: Yep.
A. Pill: We’ve seen change as incremental as it may be and as two steps forward, one step back as that can be. It still feels inevitable to me that we’ll see shifts in how we view people who can have power.
S. Menzel: I hope so.
A. Pill: I hope so too. I really hope so.
S. Menzel: Well thank you, it was wonderful talking to you.
A. Pill: Thank you so much.
S. Menzel: Thank you so much. Congratulations on the baby.
A. Pill: Thank you.
S. Menzel: You’re right. Just go prepare after this. Turn off your phone. Stop working for a year. Enjoy motherhood.
A. Pill: Exactly.
S. Menzel: That’s what you need to do. Have a good one.
A. Pill: Thank you.