Aisha Tyler is the busiest woman in Hollywood. And the host of The Talk and the podcast “Girl on Guy” and the star of TV shows Archer and Criminal Minds is taking on yet another title: director. Tired of waiting for Hollywood to give her a chance—”It’s so incredibly hard as a first-time director, especially if you’re a woman and a person of color, to get studios to take you seriously”—Tyler has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her own independent film, AXIS.
Tyler spoke to TIME about why female and non-white directors need to make their own opportunities in Hollywood, why nerd culture doesn’t belong to white men and the advice Jennifer Aniston gave her on the set of Friends that’s stuck with her.
TIME: Why did you decide to fund your movie through a Kickstarter campaign?
Tyler: It’s so incredibly hard as a first-time director, especially if you’re a woman and a person of color, to get studios to take you seriously, whereas I had a built-in fanbase who knew who I was, had listened to my podcast, who saw my short films and were excited to be a part of this.
People often don’t understand why celebrities crowd fund. I think they think if you’re “famous” you can just get $10 million, and that’s not true.
There’s been an ongoing conversation about diversity in Hollywood, especially behind the camera. What has your experience been trying to get films made?
Fewer than 2% of the members of the Directors Guild of America are female. And there’s an incredible lack of diversity in this town. Instead of sitting around and waiting for Hollywood to wake up, I decided I was just going to make a movie myself.
What would you tell an aspiring female filmmaker to do when it looks so impossible right now to break in?
This sounds jaded, but it’s always been impossible. It’s incrementally less impossible now. So impossibility should not deter you. The world is full of terrible people. Disregard that fact and keep going.
For me, instead of sitting around and crying about how nobody was giving me a break, I just started making stuff in any capacity. I want to make a podcast. Instead of going to find someone to fund it, I already had an iPad, I bought a couple hundred dollars’ worth of equipment off the Internet, and I started making a podcast. In the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I just kept going until I did. I learned things and read things and built something.
With my short films, I did the same thing: I just got a camera and started making things. There are so many resources out there for small filmmakers now in terms of technology. And tiny, tiny films can break through, even if all they’re doing is teaching you to be a better director.
Just do it, and keep taking it as seriously as if you were getting paid to do it. Nobody is ever going to give you permission, so give yourself permission. And eventually you’ll make something that changes the way people perceive you. It’s not going to happen because Hollywood opens its doors. It’s going to happen because we kick them in.
Was there anyone who inspired you to “kick the doors in”?
When I was on Friends, I was up for this really big movie. I didn’t get it and was so heartbroken. I got to work and was bummed. I was in the kitchen talking to Jennifer Aniston, and she said, “Look, that’s never going to go away. No matter where you are in your career. You’re always going to lose stuff to other people. You’re always going to get your heart broken. So you need to just find a way to have it not be that important.”
So what I would say to people of color and women is that you’re going to get your heart broken over and over and over again. And that shouldn’t matter because if you know who you are, getting your heart broken will just increase your resolve to work harder. And you will transcend.
You joined Friends at the peak of its popularity. What did you learn from that experience?
I think it’s rare when you’re an actor that you know the thing you’re doing in is going to be a big deal. But when you get cast on Friends in season nine, it’s going to be a big deal. I went from a show that had 1 million viewers a week to 20 million viewers a week.
I learned how to be comfortable on a really high-pressure set. Guest stars would come in there all the time, from what I heard, and really be paralyzed with fear because that cast was so good at what they did. You could very easily melt down being surrounded by that cast and that attention, and I think there were people that had melted down. I learned to not freak out, have confidence in myself, and ask for help when I needed it. They made a point of being really kind people and making you feel at home.
The last day of my first week there taping, we walked out for the curtain call, and Matt Perry goes, “Get ready for your life to change.” And he was right.
Why did you name your podcast ‘Girl on Guy’?
This is unfair and overgeneralizing, but I wanted people to know that even though there was a female host, the subject matter was going to be a little different than what they might be stereotypically assuming a woman would talk about—yoga or whatever. I was raised by a single dad, so I’ve had what were maybe traditionally considered male interests: I was a big video game fan, a big action movie fan and am still a big gamer. I wanted to talk about those things and describe it in a way to people that would make it clear what the podcast is.
There’s also something to a cross-gender conversation. Men talk with women differently than they talk with men. Men tend to disarm around me. They’re a little more vulnerable. I do the interview in a room where it’s just the two of us—no producers, no publicists. And what I typically get in the conversation is a moment where they say, “I’ve never told anyone this before.” And that’s what I’m looking for on my show, an unguarded conversation.
You talk a lot about “nerd culture” which has historically been associated with white men. Do you feel a responsibility to break down that stereotype?
I wish there was somebody like me when I was a kid to make me feel like the stuff I was into when I was a kid wasn’t unusual. It would have been nice to know that girls do play video games or black kids like punk and heavy metal. I love when I do my standup shows that the audience is so diverse: younger, older, men, women, goth Mexican kids, Asian bros. It’s not that I’m exactly like them, but it’s nice to have somebody out there tell you it’s okay to be exactly yourself.
For a long time, culture has been expressed as, “If you’re black, this is your music. If you’re white, this is your music.” I don’t know if I’m representing nerd culture as much as creating a more honest form of self-expression.
Do you think that fan pressure on Hollywood to show more diversity is working?
In Hollywood, there’s this weird idea that people won’t go see this movie if there is a black lead or a female lead. But if you look at the last Star Wars movie, there’s a black lead and a female lead, and it’s the most successful movie of all-time. So those are like false concepts. Hopefully studios are going to start to see that.
What got you interested in directing?
The movies I watched with my dad growing up were Die Hard and Mad Max. As I got older, people were kind of making the same films over and over again in that genre. I knew the movie I wanted to see and the directors I really admired like Paul Greengrass or Kathryn Bigelow and thought I would love to emulate them.
So I started directing short films. I’ve actually done six to train myself and become confident creating, and the result is I’m now making this small independent film—we’re going to shoot it in like nine days. My whole goal is to push myself to do the most creatively challenging work that I can. I’m only truly effective when I have the penny taste of panic in my mouth and am thinking, “Is this really going to get done?”
Entering its seventh season, do you think the characters of Archer have matured?
One of the reasons that people find the show appealing is that the characters are so resistant to personal growth. But obviously for Lana and somewhat to a lesser extent Archer, they’ve matured. They’re parents. Archer didn’t really have a say in the matter of becoming a dad, he’s much more sacrificial. Even in the very first episode of this season, he makes sure she’s safe before his shenanigans.
Given that, do you think the show is closer to long-running animated shows like The Simpsons and South Park or a live workplace comedy?
In some way, the characters on shows like The Simpsons are frozen in amber. There are new situations that arise, but they don’t really progress on a timeline. I do think the characters on Archer progress, as do their relationships with one another. In season one Cheryl/Carol was a secretary whose name nobody could remember. Now she’s a member of the team. I think that’s the difference between this show and those other ones. Who knows if it will have as long of a life as those shows or not. I would love it to.
And the characters are extreme versions of people you already know. Everyone knows a guy who never works that hard and approaches everything like a layup and still wins. Everyone knows the secretary who doesn’t know what she’s doing or the overbearing mom. We recognize those archetypes in our own life. Archer is just an extreme workplace comedy. We would all love to go to the lunchroom in our office and get drunk and talk s— about each other.
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