'Orphan Black' actress part of EW's Women Who Kick Ass panel at Comic-Con

By Marc Snetiker
July 23, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

“The fear is what makes me excited.” — Tatiana Maslany

“I want to be James Bond. And the Bond girl.” — Morena Baccarin

“I don’t apologize or say that I regret having done any of my roles, because part of what it takes to be an actress is to survive it.” — Ming-Na Wen

Inspiration is part of the deal you get when you assemble seven of television and film’s most fearless, ferocious actresses for one panel. The Wonder Woman trailer may have stopped the show at San Diego Comic-Con early Saturday, but it was the wonder women of Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass panel who dominated Hall H on Saturday.

EW senior writer Nicole Sperling moderated the panel, which brought together Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman), Ming-Na Wen (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Morena Baccarin (Gotham), Melissa Benoist (Supergirl), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), and Lucy Lawless (Ash vs. Evil Dead) for one deep conversation about the strength of women in the industry and beyond.

Sperling kicked off the panel with some light fun, though, asking the women to name the kick-ass moment they were most proud of from their current roles. “The moment I finished killing my ninth German on the beach,” joked Nielsen, whose new trailer for Wonder Woman betrays just such an action-packed scene. Lawless said it was when she shut up the Six Million Dollar Man himself, in a confrontation with Lee Majors on Ash vs. Evil Dead. “I jammed my fingers up his nostrils,” Lawless said, demonstrating the gesture. “I want to say that I threw him across the room, but that would be a lie.” Wen and Emmanuel both cited their bad-assery in quotes from their shows — Wen chose a line Agent May quipped to three thugs she’s just conquered (“She beats the crap out of all three and then says, ‘How about I do you a favor and not tell anyone that a tiny little Asian woman just kicked your ass?’”), while Emmanuel threw it to a Tyrion talk-back: “My bad-ass moment was telling Tyrion about himself when he thought he knew about slavery. He likes to talk and thinks he knows everything. He drinks and he knows things. But he doesn’t know everything, as Missandei very pointedly told him.”

For those who played combat roles like Nielsen, Wen, and Lawless, the notion of wearing high heels while crime-fighting was quickly brought up. “The hardest thing is fighting and running and kicking in high heels,” says Wen. “I always wish I was a little bit taller, but since I’m not, I had to adjust. But actually, I loved fighting in my lingerie. When I first read it in the script, I was terrified that I had to fight in lingerie, but it turned out to be the best thing because I was bare-footed.”

The women also joked about their most memorable fan encounters, including Maslany’s frequent experiences being recognized in bathrooms, Baccarin’s receipt of a gift of a chocolate peanut butter penis, Emmanuel being asked to send a pair of underwear to a fan in prison, and one of Wen’s favorite run-ins with a fan: “I was in a store and this big black dude came up to me and said, ‘Ming-Na Wen! I loved you in that movie!’ And I’m thinking, it’s either got to be Chun-Li for Street Fighter or one of those action movies. And instead he said, ‘You were so good in Joy Luck Club!’ It made me realize that you just cannot judge anyone for what they love. I’ll never forget it.”

The conversation then shifted to the challenges the women faced in overcoming fear of physical and emotional challenges of particular roles. Maslany said, “The fear is what makes me excited about a part. Whether it’s an accent challenge or with Orphan Black, trying to differentiate this many roles. I just did a film called Stronger where I had to go to quite a deep, emotional place and wasn’t sure I had that capacity in me and wasn’t sure how I could express that. For me, the fear is what guides me. If I’m not afraid, I’m not interested.” Lawless added, “All my roles have scared me. Xena was really scary. I freaked out the night before. And Lucretia (Spartacus) was without a doubt the scariest role I ever had.” 

Sperling asked whether the panelists felt roles have generally expanded for women, or if they still had to sift through endless supplies of generic ‘girlfriend’ parts, so to speak. In other words, are things getting better?

Maslany quickly launched into a powerful monologue: “I feel like we’re very politicized right now. The presence of women on TV or film is very political. I watch things with a real critical eye right now and I’m very aware of the ramifications of our presence alone. Do you know what I mean? That whether our role is empowering or whether it’s unempowering, that there’s a real pressure on those things to be upheld. That because we’re at such a politicized time, there’s so much change happening right now, there’s so much influence. What we do has a bizarrely huge influence on how young women see their future, how they define themselves. I just feel like at least there’s an awareness and I feel like regardless of whether the parts are changing… I think they are, because of things like Transparent, because of Jill Soloway and Lena Dunham, these people who have a strong voice and vision for different kinds of femininity and gender expression. We’re opening up in a big way, but there’s also a lot of criticism. There’s a lot of backlash and all of that. I don’t know if the roles are getting better or worse or whatever, but I think there’s a very exciting change happening right now. Whether it’s in motion or it’s just crackling. I feel very excited by it.”

Nielsen earned a huge cheer from the crowd with her response, citing the ‘70s and ‘80s as once-progressive times before a dip in the ‘90s and the ‘00s. “It’s nice now we can finally talk about it and not feel as if we’re these horrible shrews who are demanding the same as men… There are so many things that are unconsciously still in screenwriters’ and producers’ minds, and even in audiences’ minds, about what really is it to be a woman and a man? What values do these things carry with them? And until we really ask, again and again, why we expect one thing from a female or a male character and why we accept that, we’ll still see eight men and one woman as a line-up. Until we really ask why is that acceptable, and why is it that you don’t want a much more real experience? Because the reality is, we are all here at the same time in these real numbers, and we need to be able to see that when we talk about who we are.” Nielsen later suggested women are often turning to producing or finding producing partners in order to procure those real roles themselves.

Baccarin brought up a similar point with age: “I feel like we’re finally getting to a time where you see more age-appropriate casting and relationships. There was a time when all you were seeing were 40 or 50-year-old men with 20-year-old girls, which is fine, but that was all that you were seeing in movies and representations of relationships. And unless you were under the age of 30 or even 28, you were seen as a whole other category. And it wasn’t about who the character was or who the woman was, it was just about being young, which did a huge disservice at the misrepresentation of what a relationship is actually like.”

Wen addressed the joy of tackling dual role-model roles like Melinda May and Mulan (as per an audience member’s question), and Benoist gushed about her well-chronicled inspirational gig as Supergirl, which can occasionally get overshadowed: “I did get to meet these Girl Scouts that came to set and they had just been to the White House. They’re amazing girls. They make these inventions and had won this national science fair and they got to meet Obama. And then they met me right after that, and I was old hat to them. I had my dog on set with me and they were very enthusiastic about the dog. It didn’t matter that there was a person in a cape standing next to them.”

In discussing gender-less dream roles, Benoist said, “I’m loving playing a Kryptonian, and I love what she stands for. I love her positivity and the hope and the light that I think is just intrinsic to her.” But the other panelists had certain wish-list parts in mind. Maslany said she wants to be Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “I want to be Lucy Lawless,” said Wen (and Benoist seconded). Emmanuel said, “I quite like the Iron Man films. There seems to be this issue of women in technology and science, and I think the idea of playing some sort of science whiz that also kicks butt like Iron Man would be fun.” Baccarin summed up strength, femininity, and the industry’s double standard quite nicely: “I want to be James Bond and the Bond girl. Is that allowed?”

Entertainment Weekly is on the scene at San Diego Comic-Con. Go inside with all our coverage, available here.

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