Anna Gunn Drew on Gender-Based Discrimination for 'Equity' Role

Marisa Guthrie Anna Gunn EQUITY screening H 2016
Marion Curtis/StarPix

The actress used the fan hate she faced playing Skyler White in 'Breaking Bad' as a platform for her role as an investment banker.

In Equity, Anna Gunn plays Naomi Bishop, an investment banker who dodges and fights against some of the same gender-based discrimination and disadvantages that Gunn herself wrote about in a 2013 essay titled “I Have Character Issues.” As part of a Hollywood Reporter co-hosted panel after a screening of the film at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York City, Gunn referenced that piece, the mean-spirited rhetoric she encountered for playing Skyler White on Breaking Bad and the concern that she would attract more for addressing it.

“I thought, ‘You know what, bring it on,' because I had gone through that ring of fire and learned something that was very valuable, which is that I’m going to continue to take it on, and I was lucky enough to get this role and embody this struggle that is very common to so many women.” she said.

Onstage with Gunn was Barbara Byrne, vice chairperson of investment banking at Barclays, who served as a co-producer for the film; Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest; Moira Forbes, president and publisher of Forbes Woman; and Suzanne Townsen, who in 2012 was appointed the advisory leader for KPMG in New York City. The panel, moderated by THR East Coast TV editor Marisa Guthrie, discussed the inverse relationship between likability and success for women, the pay and investing gaps that exist and whether or not women are approaching a place of equity within the workplace, financial or otherwise.

“I would have never thought when I started in 1980 that we would still be having this conversation, so it’s very necessary, and I’m so happy that we’ve gotten this film,” Byrne said, later adding, “The importance of this movie isn’t just the story that’s being told, it’s the fact that as an investor, we have to make it possible for women to tell the story, for women to direct the story, write the story, conceive the story, act the story. And so it has that tone.”

As Bishop, Gunn has to combat internal pressure form both her male and female colleagues, and as she is a seasoned investor, Krawcheck said, the audience pegs her as a villain, though that isn’t the way it has to be. “More than one of us can be successful, and in fact one person’s success doesn’t pull from anybody else success, it adds to it,” she said.

While many of the panelists recalled stories of sexism and expressed hope that the film would inspire further conversation, there was a sense of optimism among them that progress is being made, particularly as newer generations enter the workplace. “Things are changing,” Byrne said. “Our last bastions are Wall Street and Hollywood. Speaking about it, talking about it, I see millennials as a great gift to business. They question, they don’t tolerate nonsense. They are hard workers, but they’re not anal about it. You want that questioning so you have to look at each opportunity as optimistic and to engage and discuss.”

“I feel like it is becoming a richer time,” Gunn said of the opportunities made available to women. “We have an imperative to tell these stories, and we have to keep going.”

In speaking of Equity, Forbes invoked the 1988 film Working Girl as perhaps the last portrayal of strong business-minded women. “What’s exciting about this film,” she said, “is culture and film are some of the most powerful catalysts for conversation. When you have voices like these from across so many different perspectives coming together, it’s at least a powerful way to inspire something different. Something more beyond what we’ve been having. Because certainly the industry needs the talent, it needs the innovation, and women need to be a part of it. And unless they feel welcome, they’re not going to go.”

Equity, starring Gunn, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner and James Purefoy, opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 29.