OITNB’s Alysia Reiner Gets Real (& Funny!)

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About halfway through my conversation with actress Alysia Reiner, I realize she does have something in common with assistant prison warden Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, her bad-ass character on Netflix’s hit Orange Is The New Black. No, she’s not morally corrupt, manipulative or cruel. But underneath her sweet demeanor lies a similar tough-as-nails attitude. Add a smile that lights up a room like a magic trick, and you have a woman that is not only beautiful but also opinionated, intelligent and funny. The kind that goes after her dreams no matter what. The kind we want to have in our corner. And that’s why Alysia Reiner is this month’s My Tribe.

Alysia lives with her husband, The Exes star David Alan Basche, and their daughter Livia, 5, in an eco-friendly brownstone in Harlem. We asked Alysia — also famous for her role in Alexander Payne’s Oscar-winning movie Sideways — ten questions ranging from the silly to the serious. Life, motherhood, happiness and OITNB, nothing is off limits.

Ulrica: What’s your idea of perfect happiness?

Alysia: My idea of perfect happiness is, honestly, this moment right now. I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo on my hand that says “As Is.” Because I want to remind myself that everything is perfectly the way it should be, right now, no matter how I’m feeling or what I’m doing. We don’t have to change anything or make anything better. We only have to remember that this moment, just the way it is, is quite extraordinary.

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Alysia and Livia on Fire Island, New York.

Ulrica: You joke about being a recovering perfectionist. What does that mean?

Alysia: I want everything to be perfect! It’s exhausting and impossible, and I’m really trying to let go of that. I want to be better at enjoying the magic of life, just the way it is now, without feeling the need to change anything.

Ulrica: What traits do you value most in your friends?

Alysia: Great listening skills, compassion, honestly, intelligence and a sense of humor. And willingness to be spontaneous. They need to be able to do things at the last minute!

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Alysia, Livia and David together on Fire Island.

Ulrica: What’s your biggest splurge? Massages? La Mer skincare products?

Alysia: That’s so funny that you say that. Yes, it would be Creme La Mer. I’m such a crunchy, earthy granola girl that it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of my life. It’s so incredibly expensive, so I only use it about twice a week. But it makes you feel so dewy and delightful. My other indulgence is Soul Cycle, which is a spin class that’s crazy fun! It’s a dance party on a bike. I don’t believe in working out unless it’s crazy fun. The only time I do the StairMaster is if I have to learn my lines.

Ulrica: What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since you became a mom?

Alysia: It’s easier to let go of what other people think about me. Being an actress, it can be really tough to deal with. But when I became a mom, my priorities suddenly shifted. I was no longer the most important person in my life, and that made it easier to let go of other people’s opinions. Of course I’m not 100% perfect. It’s not as if I don’t care what anybody thinks! But I’ve let go of a big chunk, and that feels great.

Ulrica: What’s the biggest challenge about being a mom?

Alysia: The journey of motherhood, for me, was my desire to be a good enough mom. It took me about two years before I felt like I was good enough. There were a lot of times when I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really messing this up!’ I think one of the biggest things for me was to allow myself to admit that I’m wrong. But being wrong is how you learn and grow and become a better person. And that’s an important lesson to pass on to our children.

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Ulrica: What talent would you most like to have?

Alysia: It would be a tossup between being a concert pianist and having a supercharged scientific mind. It would be so interesting to see how Stephen Hawking’s brain, or the brain of a musical genius, works. To have the ability to understand music or understand the universe on that level would be spectacular.

Ulrica: How important is the concept of kindness to you?

Alysia: The most important on the planet! If you do something kindly, you really can’t fail. One of the proudest moments of my life was at the parent teacher conference this year, when the teacher told us Livia was the voice of love and kindness in the class room. I’ve never been more proud in my life. That’s who I want to bring to this planet.

Ulrica: What are you obsessed with right now?

Alysia: I know it sounds nuts, but we have a food dehydrator and we’re obsessed with making fruit leather. Livia loves to put things in it and see what happens. We mix raw cacao, ripe bananas and coconut flakes, spread it out and then it turns into this super delicious chocolate banana fruit leather. You have to try it!

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Ulrica: Describe what it’s like to be a part of OITNB?

Alysia: It’s heaven! My mission in life is to tell stories that other people are afraid to tell, and stories that make the world a better place. And this show is very “on mission” for me. I’ve done a yoga benefit for inner city kids and I’ve started working with the Women’s Prison Association. I’ve discovered a whole new world where I can do good and be of service. With every new door that opens up, there are beautiful discoveries, and I feel very lucky right now.

• Ulrica Wihlborg

Be sure to check out Alysia in Orange Is The New Black season 2. She next co-stars opposite Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton in the comedy Life Itself. You can learn more about Alysia on her website and follow her on Twitter. To support the Women’s Prison Associate, check out the limited edition sapphire locket co-designed by Alysia and Suz Somersall of Kira Kira jewelry.

All photographs by Chris Cayten. Makeup by Steven Iannello.

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