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Q&A: ‘Equity’ Star Anna Gunn Isn’t Afraid to Play Complex Women

Anna Gunn
Courtesy: REX/Shutterstock

Anna Gunn has played her share of powerful women, be it on stage or screen. Now the two-time Emmy winner is headlining “Equity,” a film about a steely Wall Street investment banker trying to manage an IPO while unsure who around her she can trust. Gunn isn’t afraid to tackle complex women; she famously penned a piece for the NY Times about the response to her “Breaking Bad” character, Skyler White.

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, has a team of strong women behind the camera as well. Actors Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas produced the film and worked on the story with screenwriter Amy Fox. And it’s directed by Meera Menon, whose feature debut “Farah Goes Bang” earned her the Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“Equity” is playing in limited release in Los Angeles and will be expanding to other theaters this week before a nationwide rollout in September.

What was it like to receive a script that has not one, but several powerful female characters?
It was incredible. I feel like I’ve been waiting for most of my career to get a feature film role this complex and meaty and rich. There are so many layers to her. Is she a shark? What are her intentions? Will she do anything to succeed? As the story progresses, it’s a woman really coming to terms with what’s at her core and what she’s sacrificed and given up in order to rise to the top of her profession.

And the script overall deals with some very timely issues.
I thought the writing was so strong and nuanced and detailed. I loved that it brought up very important issues but didn’t lean too heavily on them ever. I really liked the fact that Naomi was a career driven woman and that was the primary focus. We weren’t watching her be a wife or a girlfriend, she was the driving force of the story.

Did you find yourself relating to Naomi?
Even though this world is different, the experience is universal in some ways. When I was 15 and had the light bulb moment I wanted to be an actor, it was my sole focus and goal and I went after it with determination. I certainly had times when I thought this wasn’t going to work out but just being a working actor felt like a victory. And Naomi is a fighter. She wants the same respect and promotions and positions and pay she sees her male colleagues getting. And she’ll get knocked down over and over again and keep getting back up.

Was it refreshing to play someone so nuanced and not worry about whether she was likable or not?
Well, I’ve already been through the whole likeable situation. (Laughs) But that was going through a ring of fire and I certainly learned so much about how far we have to go in terms of gender politics and the perception of what it is to be a woman, how we are represented in the media. So I liked the fact she was an openly ambitious person. She has a speech, so brilliantly written, that opens with: “I like money.” And she goes on to say it comes from a background of scarcity, of need. And that was a common refrain I heard when doing my research.

Can you talk more about the research process? Because you didn’t really know this world at all, did you?
No. As soon as we talked through the script, I got on the phone with Sarah and Alysia. They’d spent a couple of years gathering stories and experiences of women on Wall Street. They put me in touch with Barbara Byrne, who is the vice chairman of investment banking at Barclay’s. She and I connected right away; she’s very open about her experiences in the business. She got into it in the 1980s and it was a very different world at that time. Of course things have changed, but we still have a way to go. To hear her talk about her challenges, her struggles, her victories. And how she learned to negotiate. So much of the movie is about negotiating and reading people, reading perceptions, what is said, what is unsaid.

What was it like to be the lead in the movie, first on the call sheet?
I was definitely very, very nervous and felt a lot of responsibility. The very first shot we did was an establishing shot of me walking down the hallway in some sort of fantastic power dress. As soon as we got that done, Meera and I looked at each other and there was just this nod and a sense I knew we were going to have a fantastic time. It was just such a fluid, easy, fulfilling experience.

Still, you shot it in 24 days, that couldn’t have been easy.
The pace was a lot. The complicating factor is after the first week of filming, we came back to do these establishing shots and I walked past the camera and slipped on the floor and it was like slipping on a banana peel. I heard a crack in my ankle, I was sure it was broken. Miraculously, it was a sprain. But for 10-12 days out of the 24-day shoot, I was shot knees up.