Dreams from the top

Leaders, achievers tell Variety about mountains they still want to climb

This year’s highly accomplished Women in Film honorees have their minds set on some pretty grand and glorious dreams — some of which are in the throes of being realized, some are hoping to be realized and some are out there just for the hell of it.

Tonight they’ll be lauded for what they’re already achieved.

The powerhouses are actresses Annette Bening and Katie Holmes, CBS Entertainment’s Nina Tassler, “How I Met Your Mother” director Pamela Fryman and “Frozen River” cinemato-grapher Reed Morano.

They will be feted at the WIF fund-raising gala hosted by the org’s recently appointed president, Cathy Schulman. But they are still all irrepressible dreamers.

Putting the constraints of reality aside, what would be their dream project? Their answers ranged from the doable to the amazingly fantastical.

“I’d love to do a period piece,” says Tassler, the honcho behind such top contemporary dramas as “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Good Wife” and “Mike and Molly.”

“My dream project would be set at a time when cataclysmic cultural and political changes were taking place,” explains the Lucy Award recipient for excellence in television. “And it would feature a female character going through a metamorphosis. I love historical pieces. Always have.”

The talent-centric Tassler points out that she will always lean toward character-driven shows.

One period in American history that especially appeals to the network exec is WWII and the FDR years. “Because so many servicemen were at war, more and more women were entering the workplace. Women were going through a significant change in asserting themselves into leadership roles.

“Then in the 1970s, there was the evolution of the women’s movement,” she continues. “And going back to the days of Anne Boleyn, you had a very strong female character — a figurehead in Elizabethan England. I do find period pieces very interesting, and maybe sometime in the future we will do that.”

The wish to play a femme fatale from the 1940s or 1950s is surprising for Max Mara’s Face of the Future honoree Holmes. The star of the recent miniseries “The Kennedys” longs to do another period piece for either television or film and play “someone glamorous, a combination of Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe.”

“They’re very different but bring together in one character that ladylike feeling and that pain and also the strength. It’s something I’m interested in exploring,” she says.

Her dream director is one that got away, the legendary Billy Wilder.

‘ “Some Like It Hot’ and ‘The Apartment’ are brilliant,” the actress enthuses. “I would have loved to have worked with Wilder.”

This year, Holmes co-stars in three pics: the thriller “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” with Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison; the comedy “Jack and Jill,” with Adam Sandler and Al Pacino (“It can’t be anything but wet-your-pants funny”); and action drama “The Son of No One,” with Channing Tatum and Pacino.

Despite all the film activity, Holmes still aspires to return to the boards.

“Broadway wasn’t a one-time thing for me,” says the star of the 2008 revival of “All My Sons.” “I am constantly reading plays, and I want to go back if they’ll have me.”

Cinematographer Morano, this year’s Kodak Vision Award winner, has four pics she’s shot upcoming: “For Ellen,” “Free Samples,” “Yelling to the Sky” and “Little Birds.” She is shooting Rob Reiner’s “Summer at Dog Dave’s” with Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen.

Shooting a Coen brothers film is her dream.

“The Coens obviously have Roger Deakins, but still I would love to work with them,” she says wistfully. “They cover such a wide variety of subject matter from serious to comical. I just love dramas and slightly off characters, and they come up with some really interesting ones. It would be fun to shoot for the Coens.”

Morano adds that someday she would also like to shoot a film directed by her husband, cinematographer Matt Walker. She especially respects his instinct for storytelling and visuals.

“He’s spent the last several years lighting and shooting, but he has scripts that he’s writing. I would love to shoot for him.”

Fryman, the Dorothy Arzner honoree, says she is already living her fantasy project. Continuing to direct “How I Met Your Mother” is her fantasy realized. Period.

“It turned into my dream,” Fryman says. The hit show starts shooting its seventh season in August, “and we know we’ll go through season eight. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot! I wasn’t supposed to be a director. Early on in my career I studied fashion merchandising. This was so not the plan.”

The CBS comedy is known for its unorthodox multicamera shooting style and highly demanding production schedule. Different scenes call for a different number of cameras: one, two, three, sometimes four for one show.

“We use all of them. Sometimes it can look strange,” Fryman notes. “And sometimes it ruins the flow. But we figured out a way to make it just a part of what we do every week. Whatever the script calls for, that’s what you do. You don’t know what’s coming next. That’s the fun of it.”

Bening, the 2011 recipient of WIF’s Crystal Award for excellence in film, would love to do another Broadway play. In fact, for more than 20 years, she has been dying to go back onstage in New York.

“But Broadway’s tough for me because of living in L.A. and having kids,” says the 1987 Tony-nommed star of Tina Howe’s “Coastal Disturbances.”

“The kind of commitment Broadway generally needs — just to do the minimum — is really one that would so turn upside down the lives of so many people here. But my kids are bigger. And I will go back! I will! I really look forward to it because I would just love to do that again. I just have to wait.”

For Bening, making it back to the Great White Way really isn’t a dream. It’s just a matter of time. It’s doable.

But then Bening unleashes her fertile imagination to imagine a fantasia.

“My project would either be a play or a movie. I want to say a play,” she decides. “And I would cast my favorites: Fran McDormand, Vanessa Redgrave, Laurie Metcalf, Ernest Borgnine and James Earl Jones. And I guess I’ll throw in Al Pacino. Because he’s one of the greatest living actors, and I’d also like to watch his process.”

The ensemble players, including Bening, would shine in this love story and “a bit of everything else — because it would be that good.”

And the imaginary show with its magnificent cast would be written by Elaine May.

“And it would be directed by my theater mentor and the founder of the American Conservatory Theater, Bill Ball, who has passed away,” adds Bening. “Most people don’t know who he was, but I don’t care.”

Wild stuff. But as Freud once lectured, “Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”

Bening, Holmes, Tassler, Morano and Fryman are dynamic entertainment superachievers who have made it.

But for many women the dream is just to break into the business and have a solid career. They need a dream maker.

And WIF’s Cathy Schulman fits that bill.

One of her many dreams for WIF is an initiative that would focus on career activism for its members tackling the real hard issues: diversity, ageism, lack of salary parity, maternity leave, harassment, downsizing and the boys’ club attitude.

The exec would like the org to become the go-to place for statistical data in order to identify and understand trends — not just in movies and TV but across all other media with women.

“Discussions are already under way with various industry-based and private partners to help us grow our ability to collect data and utilize it to make a strong impact,” Schulman explains. “If we reach out to these entertainment partners, we’ll find many open arms. I really do believe that.”

WIF’s recently developed shadowing program gives members the opportunity to observe the major players in real time — directors, writers and producers — to learn from the best firsthand.

“I want to see a Hollywood of equal opportunity,” concludes Schulman. “I want to see a Hollywood where women support each other through the ranks and where men aren’t frightened to support women. It takes a lot of fortitude. And it will never be easy. But it shouldn’t be so hard to make it through your day.”

And those are Schulman’s dreams for WIF. They’re all dreamers. That’s where reality begins.

• Nina Tassler — Lucy Award
• Katie Holmes — Face of the Future
• Annette Bening — Crystal Award
• Reed Morano — Kodak Vision Award
• Pamela Fryman — Dorothy Arzner Award

WIF honors a Hollywood legend