Actress Alysia Reiner is a passionate environmental mentor. Alysia is best known as “Fig,” the intense assistant warden in the Emmy-winning TV series Orange is the New Black. She’s also mom to 7 year-old daughter, Livia.
I first met Alysia in Beverly Hills, CA at the premiere of the film The Human Experiment. This film, starring actor Sean Penn, showcased the serious health impacts from toxic chemical exposure. After viewing her latest a movie, Equity, a film about the powerful depiction of the stereotypes and challenges women working on Wall Street face, I caught up with Alysia again. Here’s my interview with her:
Moms Clean Air Force: Alysia, you play very strong-willed women in Equity and Orange Is the New Black. But sometimes in real life that can be challenging. What words of encouragement can you give to our members?
Alysia Reiner: Gandhi’s quote comes to mind: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’m a huge fan of not complaining about things. Just change them! My attitude has always been, “What can I do about it?” It’s so important for us to use our power as women in every arena. There can be no such thing as, “I can’t do it.” In regard to environmental advocacy, many little changes can make a huge difference. Like using the power of your big green purse! Our purchases do affect the economy – every time you buy something that doesn’t contain toxic chemicals. And I educate my child, as another future consumer, with every choice I make.
Give us an example of how you’re teaching Livia to take action?
We’re on Fire Island (in New York). We love to go out for ice cream here. Last summer, sort of out of the blue, Livia said, “Mom, what’s in these sprinkles?” She saw my face go sad. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I really didn’t want to tell her, because going out for ice cream is a wonderful tradition and I didn’t want to ruin it for her. But I decided she should know. We had a conversation about the crap that’s in sprinkles. Then I asked her, “How would you feel if we went shopping for a natural alternative?” That was fine with her, and we did. Now we bring our own sprinkles.
I think parents have tremendous power – it’s about harnessing your power and using your power in small and mighty ways.
It’s a very political year, with a presidential election, all of the House of Representatives up for grabs, and one third of U.S. Senators facing re-election. Do you have advice for our members about the political climate?
If you’re not aware of what’s happening politically, you can’t change it. Remember these three R’s: awareness, acceptance, action. Be aware of problems, accept that they exist, and take action that will make a difference.
In this election in particular, with a woman running for president, we need to be aware of the unconscious bias we subject women to.
As for being a responsible voter, educate yourself and others by learning the facts.
In many ways, fighting for toxic chemical reform for children is seen as a women’s problem. But boys are as vulnerable as girls, especially the consequences of in vitro exposure to dangerous chemicals in the womb. Have you talked to your family about what they can do to limit exposure to toxics?
I have. I’m at my mother’s house right now – just in the laundry room, the amount of toxic stuff she uses blows my mind. I do think it’s harder for the older generation to get it. One of the biggest problems is that some people feel it’s too scary to think about the terrible possibilities.
Moms Clean Air Force is especially concerned about clean air and climate change. You jet around a lot – do you buy carbon offsets? Use solar or wind power?
We bought an old house in Harlem and gutted it. During the renovation, we tried to make it as environmentally friendly as possible. We looked into putting solar on our house in New York City. But sadly, given fire department regulations, we couldn’t make it work. We try to do other things, like buy carbon offsets to compensate for our travel. (Here’s a peek at Alysia’s environmentally friendly house.)
What about for the movie?
On Equity, everyone got their own reusable water bottle so we wouldn’t be using disposable bottles or plastic cups. Indie filmmaking is by nature less impactful because you just can’t afford to buy a lot of stuff and throw it away. So for Equity, for example, we didn’t buy new art for my character’s house, we used my own art from my house. When the movie was finished, we resold as much as we could.
As an actress, fashion is part of your public persona. But fashion’s negative environmental impact is massive, given how clothing is produced and how much gets thrown away. How do you deal with the waste?
I’m really aware of this! I borrow things to wear on the red carpet and give them back. I love swap shops and do clothing swaps with my girlfriends. For my daughter, I take advantage of the great online clothing swaps that have been set up for kids. The other thing I’m working on now is a “cradle to cradle” fashion positive initiative. The idea behind “fashion positive” is to reduce the amount of waste associated with the fashion industry.
Any last words of wisdom for the moms at Moms Clean Air Force?
As a producer I try to hire, invest and mentor women who care about women’s issues and the environment.