By Neil Woulfe - Radar Senior News Director
Alysia Reiner plays many roles in life: she’s an award-winning actress, producer, mother, humanitarian and environmentalist -- and that’s why she’s on Radar’s One To Watch list.
It’s been a busy year for the native of Gainesville, Florida. In addition to her stage and TV work, she’ll soon be seen on the big screen in the feature film Backwards.
RadarOnline.com had the pleasure of chatting with the lovely Alysia about her hectic schedule, being married to a fellow actor (David Alan Basche of TVLand’s The Exes), how the loss of her father moved her to make the award winning short Speed Grieving, and how her own personal health scare helped inspire her to follow her passion to the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood.
Radar: When did you first get bitten by the acting bug? What was the first play you were in
Alysia: My aunt says I was on a Manhattan cross-town bus at around 3-years-old and a stranger asked me what I wanted to do and I said, "I want to act, paint, dance, you know...Dabble. The first play I did was called "Go-Go's Travels" and I played an Amoeba. This was my first line ever and I will never forget it: "I am an Amoeba/ Life is only me/ It is very boring/ To hear myself snoring."
Radar: It’s one thing to act for fun in school, but at what age did you know you wanted to make yourliving as an actress?
Alysia: I wrote my college essays about how psycho-neuro-biochemistry and acting were the same thing, and I still believe that: they are both just ways of trying to explore why and who we are. I was a bio-psych major at Vassar and loved looking at brains and behavior, but deep down I really wanted to be an actress from the beginning. I overloaded my courses in science and took a junior year abroad and studied theatre in London. It was HEAVEN. Then, the summer between junior and senior year, I had a major health scare -- a tumor. Very long story short...I am fine, and it was a gift, a wake up call to go do what fills my heart beyond words.
Radar: We all know the life of a working actor can be extremely difficult. Did your family encourage or support your dream?
Alysia: I'm so lucky, my family has always been very supportive, even when it breaks their hearts when I have to miss things for work, or even when it means being in Los Angeles, far from home in New York City; they understand that you go where the work is. I think my dad always secretly wanted to be a performer, and his enthusiasm for my career was unbridled. I have a friend who's family literally cut her off when she decided to give up a career in business and be an actor, so I never forget how lucky I am to have my family's love and support.
Radar: In 2002, you lost your father suddenly to cancer, which inspired you to produce the award winning short film Speed Grieving. Tell me about the film and how it helped you heal from your loss.
Alysia: My Dad went into the hospital and was dead 10 days later. Needless to say, I was devastated, and found that people were so reluctant to talk about death and grief - like it was a contagious virus. I remembered feeling the same way, so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I set out to change that, not really knowing it would help me heal too. Of course the miracle is that it did and still does. I was at a screening recently and a woman said that seeing the film, she understood and was able to process her grief in a way she never had before. That made my heart explode with gratitude and made me feel like I went thru what I did for a reason. Which I guess was a big part of my healing. Speed Grieving premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival, went on to over a dozen more festivals and awards, but more importantly, it got people talking and sharing about their loss and grief. Now it's in every CSC (Cancer Support Community) center, over 50, in the country. Mission accomplished.
Radar: On a happy note, how did you meet your now husband David Alan Basche, who hilariously plays Stuart on TVLand’s The Exes?
Alysia: Yeah he's kinda funny, I guess, if you like that whole "handsome and sweet and funny and studly" kind of thing. He told me to write that. No really, he did. We met when I was still in school but doing summer theatre in Vermont. We played opposite each other in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, I was Olivia and he was Sebastian. When The Bard says fall in love, you don't argue.
Radar: How challenging is it for you and David to split your time between New York and L.A., especially now that you have a young daughter, 4-year-old Livia?
Alysia: Well now it's just a big adventure. When we were truly living a bicoastal life, we used to get on a plane without as much as a toothbrush. Now we get on a plane almost as often, but we happen to have a bumblebee backpack, a pink stuffed elephant, every snack imaginable, and oh yeah, a jet-setting toddler.
Radar: Like David, you’re one of those rare actors who move effortlessly between stage and screen. What have been some of your favorite roles – either on the stage, television, or on film?
Alysia: I think when you're working, you fall madly in love with whatever character you are working on at that moment. Hopefully they all grow you, stretch you, and teach you something. It's been a huge challenge and thrill playing historical figures like Tina Modotti in Modotti. She was such an amazing being, such a force of nature, and if you don't know who she is GOOGLE HER. Playing Virginia Woolf was amazing and also very scary, delving into mental illness as she did, I had to be very careful with that one. And this summer, I also played my first alien in my first 3D movie! That was beyond fun.
Radar: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever been asked to do for an acting role?
Alysia: Umm, have you seen The Vicious Kind? My agent called and said, "It's a great script but you have to play a prostitute and take it from behind." Thank God Adam Scott is such a gentleman. Well, as much as one can be in that situation, of course.
Radar: You had the good fortune of appearing in the independent film Sideways, directed and written by Alexander Payne – a small film which took on a life of its own and had critics and audiences raving. When you were filming Sideways, did the cast know they were involved in something really special, or did its success take everyone by surprise?
Alysia: We had no clue, we just had a blast making it. But I will say that because Alexander is Alexander, with his inimitable mix of talent and deep authentic kindness and humility, every member of cast and crew is just so happy to be there and wants to do their absolute best. I definitely dream of being in one of his films again.
Radar: You recently appeared on an episode of The Exes, opposite your husband David. How fun was that to guest on his sitcom and to play a scene with each other?
Alysia: It was a blast, we love to work together! The producers just offered me the role, which was SO nice and I was in amazing company...they had such great guest stars this season! I read, "She comes to the door in a short robe," so I assumed I'd play one of Phil's (Donald Faison) many one-night stands. Then we found out that instead I'd play Diedrich Bader's ex-wife and had a scene with David and we were thrilled. It's my dream to be the one woman who sleeps with all the EXES. Just kidding, honey!
Radar: Your new film Backwards, starring Sarah Megan Thomas and James Ver Der Beek, opens this month. Tell me about it.
Alysia: Backwards opens in theaters nationwide on September 20, it's a great "Sports-Romantic comedy" with great actors, and I was asked to be a producer on the film after being cast, my first feature producing credit! The movie is about the fiercely competitive world of Olympic rowing and is an inspiring story. It has a very family friendly positive message about following dreams and going for what makes us happy, and I love that it’s a FEMALE sports film...PLEASE GO SEE IT!
Radar: Tell me about the online campaign to make you the next Bond Girl!
Alysia: I had no idea! Imagine my surprise to see my name at number three on the list, right up there with Mila Kunis, Rooney Mara, Michelle Rodriguez and others. Pretty cool. I'm a huge fan of the James Bond movies, and getting to be a Bond Girl, especially a badass one, would totally rock. But I'll need a great name, even better than Pussy Galore or Honey Ryder. Any ideas? Tweet me folks!
Radar: You and David are champions of an eco-friendly environment. When and where did that commitment come from, and what simple things can people do to go green?
Alysia: I've always been conscious of conserving resources, I remember seeing all the water go down the toilet as a kid and thinking, "What a waste." I feel we have a responsibility, an obligation to be more aware of what we consume, to consume less, and to be good to the earth. David and I rebuilt an abandoned 1909 brownstone in Harlem with environmentally-friendly building materials, eco-resins, recycled wall plasters, bamboo floors, etc. We did all that to show what was possible, to inspire people. I'd recommend that people start with the little things: Carry a cloth bag instead of taking plastic bags at stores; print on both sides of paper and recycle old documents for scrap paper (our daughter loves to crayon over the printing!); maybe get a kitchen composter or commit to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for fruits and veggies. We can all do our part.
Radar: Finally, what’s next for you? Any other projects in the works you can talk about?
Alysia: I just wrapped a wonderful psychological thriller called Primrose Lane. It’s like Paranormal Activity meets Downton Abbey, and I play a 1910 spiritualist. It's the first of a trilogy, so I'm excited for the nextinstallment in 2013. I'm attached to an incredible film, Wonder Drug, about the first drug disaster DES, and am hoping to do some New York theater before having to be all over the place again for those movies. I also have a TV project in development that I've created with writer Abby Sher (Amen Amen Amen, Kissing Snow Flakes) that I'm really excited about, so we shall see!
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