Actress Marianna Palka has already established herself as a major talent behind the camera with films like Good Dick and last year’s Bitch. Vibrant and funny, her visuals often turn tough material into a truly enjoyable viewing experience. Directing her new film Egg, written by Risa Mickenberg, is much the same; the story of two art school friends now married and expecting children but following very different paths. Christina Hendricks plays pregnant Karen who is expecting her first child with husband Don (David Alan Basche), Alysia Reiner plays Tina, a Brooklyn artist having a child through surrogacy with husband Wayne (Gbenga Akinnagbe), and Anna Camp plays their friend, Kiki. Reiner also produced the film, a decision she initially resisted.
Lesley Coffin: I know you’ve produced a couple of movies, including the previous Tribeca film Equity. Was this one of the projects you had in development when you first formed your production company?
Alysia Reiner: After Equity I was kind of like, I never want to do this again. When Equity came out I literally said to my producing partner “never again.” It’s so exhausting. But then I ran into the writer. And I’d done a workshop of the script 10 years ago. And she gave me a new draft of the script and I just thought, how has this not been produced yet? And we agreed to produce it, thinking it would be easier to get made because it only has five characters and most of it is in one location. And of course that wasn’t the case. But it came together much faster than Equity. In October the election happened and by January I met Christina and just thought, she’s so perfect for the part. And I sent it to her and she agreed to do it right away, and then we brought on a producing partner, and suddenly we were making it. And then we thought, “We need to find a director.” And I knew her work and loved her films, and then I did a deep dive and saw her interviews and realized what an amazing human being she is and the level of compassion she could bring to this project I felt it really needed.
Marianna Palka: And I freaked out, because I’d been wanting to do something this good for so long, and suddenly the project landed at my feet fully formed. And I just jumped on the opportunity, I was telling my team “tell them yes, right away.” And they’d never seen me this excited about a project. But I felt destined to do it. And then we got the cast we ended up with, and it felt like there was so much interest, we were able to pick and choose the best people. I literally told the producers, don’t send the script to too many people because we don’t want to have to turn people down. The roles are so well written, I had the pleasure of seeing so many actors just giving their all and crafting brilliant performances.
Lesley Coffin: It’s interesting you mention the need for a certain personality behind the camera that would have empathy for these characters, because the film is very acidic and you could easily see a film like this becoming mean-spirited or really unpleasant to sit through. After reading the script, what did you feel needed to happen to keep the film right on that tight-rope?
Marianna Palka: Well, I think of someone like John Cassavetes who said, “no one can be a good person all the time.” That’s what makes us human beings and presenting some kind of saccharine image wouldn’t be as interesting. And I strongly feel my life’s works should be about presenting real, complex people, especially real women. I thinking showing many sides of women is vital and will ultimately make us better people. I mean, I love French films and the women in those films are allowed to be so much more complicated and flawed, and real, and yet they are all the more beautiful because of that. And I believe that women are more appealing, more beautiful, as they get more experience. And Christina and Alysia are so beautiful on camera because you can see the breadth of experience flowing out of them.
Alysia Reiner: And I’ll admit, when I first read the script I didn’t know what I know now. But I have absolutely felt or said the things these characters say. And I love the fact that I’m playing a woman who says things that a lot of people would be afraid to say. I don’t think there’s a single thing in this movie that audience members haven’t thought at one time or another. And we might be afraid to say it, but it’s honest because we do think it. And we wanted to bring that shit out, talk about the things we’re afraid to put out in the open. Because that’s what filmmaking is about, putting that stuff out there. Because then it’s a tool that allows us to discuss and debate real issues.
Lesley Coffin: Were you always planning to play Tina?
Alysia Reiner: Yeah. I don’t think I was ever considered for the other roles.
Marianna Palka: Which is funny, because Alysia is the opposite of this kind of character. She’s such a people pleaser and constantly apologizing. It’s incredible to see her ability to illuminate the character. I loved it because so many of my friends have that quality that I really admire. I love women who won’t say “I’m sorry” for saying or doing something against the norm.
Alysia Reiner: And I’m the opposite. I’m constantly apologizing and worrying what others think of me.
Lesley Coffin: What about our times now that wasn’t true 10 years ago made this so relevant and easier to push through the development process? I guess I’m asking what makes this film timely that 10 years ago it wasn’t so obvious.
Marianna Palka: I think right now, our country needs healing. We need open and calm debate that isn’t about bullying. I think we need time to be together, because that’s what makes a great country. And that doesn’t mean people have the same ideas, it’s the right to have different ideas. I’d like all Republicans and Trump voters to see our movie. I think this movie will motivate people to have conversations and debates, at least I hope.
Alysia Reiner: And as I said, I never wanted to produce this, until the election happened. And for me, I produce to create opportunities for women, but I also produce to create art and tell stories which have the potential to heal. And that’s the point of this movie. I wanted to tell a story about the willingness to love someone, even if you don’t agree with them. The core message is about saying “I can love you, even if I don’t agree with you.” And I needed to tell that story right now, because that’s what our world needs right now.
Lesley Coffin: The film has a very clear three act structure and in the second act, when the women are alone together, the tone is so different from when the guys are around. They are more civil, they are more honest and open with their emotions.
Marianna Palka: I’m so glad you noticed that!
Lesley Coffin: Was the tonal shift written into the script or was that something decided during production?
Marianna Palka: It was in the script, but it was also motivated by Christina and Alysia’s relationship on set. They bonded so easily and quickly, they became so trusting and supportive, that it made perfect sense that the second act would make that shift.
Alysia Reiner: I am a strong believer that a film is made three times, when it’s written, when it’s filmed, and when it’s edited. And you could easily see this as a movie about relationships or marriage, but I think it’s really about female friendship. And Marianna really understood and embraced that.
© Lesley Coffin (4/25/18) FF2 Media
Featured photo: Egg (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
Bottom Photo: Marianna Palka, Alysia Reiner, Christina Hendricks and David Alan Basche attend the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival afterparty for 'Egg' hosted by the IMDbPro App at TAO Downtown on April 21, 2018 in New York City.