Interview: MH Alumni Alicia Malone talks new book Backwards and in Heels

In her time writing for this site, Alicia Malone scored a hug from Ryan Gosling, had an awkward stare off with Emma Stone, made Tom Hanks laugh with an IMDB joke, and discovered what Denzel Washington finds when he walks in his characters shoes (spoiler: often rats).

Now an Aussie expat in L.A., Alicia has used her access to delve into Hollywood history, and specifically, how women have helped shape it. One of the first people to ever pick up a motion picture camera was a woman, as was the first screenwriter to win two Academy Awards, the inventor of the boom microphone, and the first person to be credited with the title Film Editor. Yet their stories are rarely shared.

We chatted with Alicia about her new book “Backwards and in Heels”, favourite interview moments, future talent to look out for, and whether or not she has hope that things will improve for females in the film industry.

Besides frequently rubbing shoulders with Jake Gyllenhaal, is this book your proudest career achievement to date?

Well, I am VERY proud of the cumulative 32 minutes I’ve spent with future husband Jake Gyllenhaal over the past seven years… but seriously, yes, just writing a book, let alone a book about women in film, is definitely my proudest achievement. Ever since I was young, I had the secret dream of one day getting to see my name on the cover of a book. I’ve always written, but have been shy of calling myself a “writer”, that to me seemed like a goal so far removed of what little Alicia from Canberra, Australia could ever get to do! As a teenager I was a voracious reader of film history books, but I hardly came across the stories of the women who helped to shape American cinema. I can’t believe I got the opportunity to write a book about these great women!

You scored some great interviews for this book – Geena Davis, J.J. Abrams, Ava DuVernay, Paul Feig and more. How did it feel to have so many big names supportive of this project?

It was so surreal. Even though I get to interview big stars as part of my job, it was a completely different feeling when they agreed to talk to me exclusively for my book. Suddenly it was all up to me about what I wanted to ask them, instead of having to be mindful of the types of topics my outlet needs me to cover. And it wasn’t for any type of film promotion, so I could focus on their career. I pinch myself that I got to talk to some of my HEROES! And just having them participate made me feel like I had their support for my project.

Can you share with us one awesome thing you learned while writing this book?

I honestly learnt so much, but the biggest thing was how many women were instrumental at the very birth of cinema. Before women were able to vote! I remember how shocked I was the first time I read the fact that at the beginning of movie-making there were more opportunities extended to women than there have been since. That was written in the book “Early Women Filmmakers” by Karen Ward Maher, and again in “Movie Made America” by Robert Sklar. That small but surprising fact led me down a rabbit hole of fascinating stories of women I had never heard of. And after asking around in my industry, I realized nobody else really knew either!

I love that in your career you’ve worked hard to support your passion areas – independent cinema and females in film. There’s surprisingly few voices in both of those areas, and even the film criticism space is overwhelmingly male dominated (as recent studies have shown). Did you ever feel a little alone in the wilderness?

I’m lucky that I have really great, supportive women in my life, and particularly in my area of work. Because it’s such a small group, we all make sure we support each other as much as possible. We organize dinners, cheer on everyone’s work, talk about how we can help usher in change, and be a sounding board when things get tough. It’s as if, because we’re expected to compete with each other for limited work, we have defiantly decided to do the opposite – try to help each other be successful. I recently read a fantastic book of poems, “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur and I loved this one, “We all move forward when we recognize how resilient and striking the women around us are.” Every woman’s success is a win for all.

After all your research, are you optimistic about the future of film for women? Do you think the tide is turning and there are more opportunities out there, or is there still a long way to go?

As I write in the book, I was really worried when I was writing that the final chapter would be just ALL CAPS YELLING, because I was so frustrated during the research. When you step back you can see quite clearly that ever since women were pushed out in the 1930’s, there have been ebbs and flows but it’s really as if history is just repeating itself. When I spoke to Geena Davis she said how after the success of “Thelma and Louise”, everyone said “now everything will be different!” And it wasn’t. The same for “A League of Their Own”. But I ended up having so much optimism and hope. Because I realized how many incredible women and men are in Hollywood actively campaigning for a change. Between them and the level of conversation in the world, aided by social media, it seems as if it would be virtually impossible for Hollywood not to change. People won’t let them get away with it again!

You’ve interviewed every major movie star in the world, reported live from the Oscars, done a TEDx Talk and now written a book…have you ticked off everything on your bucket list now? Is there anything left?

Honestly I have ticked off everything on my original goal list! It’s insane, and hard to believe I made it all happen. Now I just want to be able to enjoy my success a bit, have some free time, read a lot of books, work more on my writing and maybe find some hobbies outside of film! There’s just one big, ultimate goal I have on my list… and that’s to open a one-screen cinema which plays classic films. Malone’s Movie Palace. One day! Oh and also if Martin Scorsese would lend me his film prints, that would be awesome.

And stealing your Quick Question format, last few quick ones! 

I love this!

Emerging female director we should look up immediately:

Janicza Bravo! Her indie feature “Lemon” just came out in theaters in the US, and she has a really unique, singular voice. It’s always exciting to see someone who is so original, and she has a huge future.

Emerging actress to watch out for:

I love Florence Pugh, who stars in “Lady Macbeth”. As a woman locked in an unhappy marriage she is fierce, vulnerable and sexy all at once.

Heroine you wanted to be as a child? (mine was Stephanie Zenoni from “Grease 2” and I stand by that…):

I also love “Grease 2”!! But for me, it was (and still is) Hildy Johnson from “His Girl Friday”! A sassy reporter who stands up for herself. Originally the role was written for a man, but Rosalind Russell really made it her own.

Most memorable interview experience:

Oprah Winfrey! Another experience I never thought I would ever get to do! It was only a four minute interview for her film “The Butler”, but she was so gracious. I was terribly nervous, but as soon as I walked in, and the publicist announced me as “Alicia Malone from Australia,” she sung, “Austraaaaliaaaaa!” and I felt instantly comfortable. Plus her hugs are the best!

Favourite Moviehole-related memory:

It’s hard to choose! Moviehole was so good to me when I first moved to the US, giving me access to interviews I normally wouldn’t have got. My favorite though is a set visit to “Gangster Squad” in LA. It was a nighttime shoot, long hours, but the cast was great, the fellow press were cool, and it introduced me to one of my best friends, Amirose Eisenbach! She has been such a support in my life, she vouched for me to get a job with AMC Movie Talk, a super popular YouTube movie show, and because she also champions women in film, we can lean on each other when times are tough!

Favourite film of the year so far:

Out of the films I’ve seen in festivals (but not out yet) it’s “Call Me By Your Name”, directed by Luca Guadagnino. It’s based on a book of the same name, and tells the story of a European summer romance between a young boy and a young man,- very elegant, gorgeous and sensual!

“Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film” is now available for purchase.



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