Alexandra Barreto has been working on sets for over 18 years, but it was only recently that she felt comfortable enough to take her place in the director’s chair.
“I avoided moving into directing for a long time,’ Alexandra told Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge ahead of the premiere of her debut short film, Lady Hater, at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival later this week. She continued: ‘Working as an actress, I saw distinct differences of how male and female directors were treated. I saw how hard a female director had to work to get the same respect as a man.’
Yet, despite being on the wrong end of these gender disparities, it is not toxic masculinity or patriarchal forces that are the focus of Alexandra’s film. Rather, she puts up a fun house mirror to an all-female, goddess seminar to explore womanhood and how we perceive it in our current political climate.
Q: I read that your inspiration for ‘Lady Hater’ came from the watching the 2016 Women’s March. Can you expand on that?
A: I considered myself a “guy’s girl” growing up. I surrounded myself with dudes. I swore off groups of girlfriends. I made it a point to wear things that wouldn’t make me look like a girlie girl. I pretended to like sports.
But when Trump was elected, I had to look at things a little closer, as we all did. And I realised that by calling myself a “guy’s girl” I was basically saying that it’s better to be like a guy than a girl. So, when there was a march, I flew to DC and attended because I felt it was my responsibility to support the women I turned my back on for years.
And I wrote Lady Hater because I wanted to explore the idea even further and finally admit that I actually hate sports and I love rosé. There I said it.
Q: Can you tell us more about the themes of the film? What does it say about the pressures society puts on women?
A: One of the themes of Lady Hater is that as a woman you are sometimes your own worst enemy. Society has put expectations on us, and then we in turn have put them on each other and ourselves.
Well into my twenties, I would avoid spending time with groups of women because I didn’t think I fit in — I couldn’t walk in heels, the idea of a dream wedding was my nightmare, I’d rather wear sweatpants than a dress. These are pretty shallow examples of womanhood, but growing up as a little girl, these are the images I was bombarded with and these were the standards I thought I had to uphold.
We’ve come a long way, but I still get strange looks when I wear boots to a wedding as if I’m breaking the sacred code women have with each other to wear heels even when they feel like their toes are going to fall off.
Q: Why did you want to use comedy to explore these themes?
A: Comedy was a way to unify all women.
There are so many important women’s issues out there that we’re dealing with on a daily basis that have real consequences — to our health, career, lives. Lady Hater isn’t that. It’s more of an observation of another small fallout of a male dominated society. One that we can laugh at — guy’s girl vs the girlie girl. The woman whose insecurity pushed women away because she didn’t know how to be one and the woman whose insecurity pulled them in closer by writing the book on how to be one.
I’m making fun of both at the same time, which was important to say we’re ultimately all on the same page and should support one another.
Q: ‘Lady Hater’ has an incredibly talented female cast featuring Allyn Rachel, Natalie Zea and many others. What was it like getting to direct and collaborate with this team?
A: Natalie Zea and I are good friends, first meeting in an acting class years ago. We’ve always had a playfully combative relationship as women. Natalie believes you can never be overdressed for a party. I believe that’s a lie women tell themselves to justify wearing Gucci to brunch. Natalie adores Gwyneth Paltrow. I mock the whole concept of a Gwyneth Paltrow-like figure in the short. So we were perfect partners making this film.
Having a friend who is one of the most talented people on television makes your day on set pretty relaxing. She’s completely open-minded when she’s taking a note. So as a director it was easy to play and find the right version of the character.
Allyn Rachel had the difficult job of essentially playing me…in front of me. Working with her was a great lesson in letting go of pre-conceived notions of how you think a role should be played. I mean, I had ME in my head the whole time. She brought her own energy and subtlety to the role, which brought levels I didn’t even see. She’s amazing and hilarious.
All the other women in the cast came from varying backgrounds — improv, stand up, film, TV. We had one day to complete a seven page scene, in one room. They all gave 100% and it was so fun seeing how they all worked together to create the energy in the room. We ended up with way more material than I was able to use in the film.
Q: Given your extensive acting background and experience as a producer, I imagine this was a fairly easy transition into directing for you. How did you find the experience of directing your first short film?
A: I avoided moving into directing for a long time. Working as an actress, I saw distinct differences of how male and female directors were treated. I saw how hard a female director had to work to get the same respect as a man. If she stopped to think for one second, the crew would jump on her. It scared me, and I think it led me to the decision to try producing before directing.
When I wrote the feature version of Lady Hater, everyone who read it encouraged me to direct it. The recent shift in the industry to support female directors, gave me the courage to give it a try so I wrote the short version of the script to direct first. I was completely terrified leading up to it, but on the day, I felt more in control than I’ve ever felt on set. I knew what I wanted, and I felt confident enough to collaborate with others without giving up any of my vision. I can’t wait to do it again.
Q: You’ve had success at Tribeca in the past with ‘The Dungeon Master’. What does it mean to you to return to this festival with your own film?
A: My first short film I produced won Best (online) Short here. Tribeca started my entire career behind the camera. So it feels extra special that I’m able to bring my directorial debut here. Plus it’s in New York! Where I still claim to have “grown up” even though I left at twelve.
Q: I also have to ask about your role in Phil Leirness’ film ‘The Lady Killers’ – which we will hopefully have a review up for soon. Any memories to share from your time on the project?
A: I’ve known Phil for a long time. I believe one of my first auditions in LA was for one of his films. He didn’t hire me. And yet I still continued to talk to him. When The Lady Killers came about almost 20 years later, he had no choice. He had to hire me. Plus, it had the word, “lady,” in it and apparently, that’s my thing.
Q: What is next for you? What type of films do you hope to make in the future?
A: I’ve already written the feature version of Lady Hater and am currently seeking finance to direct that in the fall or next Spring. I have another feature I’m producing for a writer/director team that has had success at both Sundance and SXSW this year.
They’re both comedies with a bit of an edge and a message. I tend to veer in that direction when I write and choose a project.