When she’s not playing hilarious businesswoman Brianna Hanson on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, June Diane Raphael is focused on activism, creating art about outrageous, incredible women, and fostering an empowering community for women at her local JCC. Last week, I talked to Raphael about Brianna’s upcoming arc in Grace and Frankie, her new movie The Disaster Artist, and actions she’s taken as an intersectional feminist post-election.
You play Grace’s daughter, Brianna, on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. What draws you to her?
You know, I really love that she’s not filtered. I just love that she doesn’t have that filter that most of us have. I think women especially can be concerned about how people see them, and I certainly can too, and it’s very easy to internalize some of that messaging. So I’m really finding it so freeing to play someone who just does not give an F.
What can you tell me about Brianna’s arc on this upcoming season of Grace and Frankie?
I’m really excited for people to see it. Some of her vulnerabilities are given more stories this season, and we can understand more about how she’s attempting to manage a relationship, and what’s really challenging to her about opening up and being with someone. So a big arc in the season is finding out why she’s really truly been alone and seeing her crack open a bit more. But she is who she is. I think sometimes anger and defensive humor are usually covering something, and we get to see more of what those vulnerabilities are.
What’s your character like in The Disaster Artist [about the making of 2003’s The Room]?
Watching James Franco on set, I knew that he was onto something incredibly special… I play one of the actresses in the movie. To the point where we’re frame-by-frame recreating scenes from The Room. They’re adjusting your position, you’re listening, watching the scene tons of times before you actually do it because you’re doing a full recreation of the movie. But it was really cool. It’s so different.
Facebook.com/The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room
Is comedy what comes most naturally to you as an actor? Is it your first instinct?
I find it funny that I’ve been working in comedy for so long. Although I think I’ve always loved comedy, I thought I was going to be doing like, Three Sisters on Broadway and that was the height of success, if I could just get there. So it’s been a surprising experience but I think anyone who is acting ultimately wants things to be truthful, and I think the best comedians also are not worried about whether it’s funny, they’re trying to make it honest and if people laugh, that’s on them. And UCB has the same philosophy. In 101 classes, you’re told: “Do not try to make anyone laugh.” They drill it into you. They’re not interested in that. They’re interested in finding the truth of things and if that’s funny then, cool. So that’s sort of more the place I try to work from. I will say this, I love doing it, though. I love the process of it and how alive it feels, that’s so much fun.
You’re saying a lot of “don’t try to make it funny, just be honest.” When you approach acting or recording for your podcast [Earwolf’s How Did This Get Made?] or writing something, are you coming from an inherently political place? Do you have feminist ends when writing or acting or thinking about something, or are you just trying to honestly humanize the character?
I would say both are happening more so than ever. I’m aware of what I’m putting out there in a way I haven’t necessarily been. I still think that not editing yourself and creating a creative space for yourself that’s completely free, devoid of judgment, all of it, is really important. But I am more and more aware of an audience seeing or hearing something and having questions about it or possibly feeling marginalized and what my role is in that. I think both things can be true. I think you can create a space for yourself that’s totally and sacredly free — which I believe in — and you can edit yourself too, and be thoughtful about the world you live in. Because how could you not?
How have you been coping since the election?
I’ve been really sad, of course, but I have been energized too. I’ve thought a lot and I’m thinking a lot about what I did before and where I showed up and where I didn’t — my role in it. And those types of conversations, like the one surrounding the Women’s March and intersectionality, can be very painful and embarrassing for many people. I didn’t go to a Black Lives Matter march. And I’m wondering, why? I think that what I’m facing and opening my heart to can be uncomfortable for me, but I really believe that’s where the future of this is, where the work is. And I’m doing that work. Sometimes I want to just devote my life to helping women and children and to the causes I care about. But I also know the platform I have and the work that I do is important, and it’s also my passion, and to let go of it would be crazy. That’s kind of the status report on where I am.
What did it feel like to perform at the Planned Parenthood Benefit in D.C. after the Women’s March?
Casey Wilson and our friend Morgan Walsh and I, our bit was we found Yelp reviews of old Donald Trump products and did dramatic stage readings of these Yelp reviews. It was insane, inspiring, so great to be there. We’re three moms, two of which traveled with our children, and supported each other and made it happen for each other and fought through exhaustion and whatever to show up. So performing was amazing, but what I really walked away with was like — we were an example that weekend of women making it happen, not just for ourselves, and that’s really special.
June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, and Morgan Walsh at the Women’s March after party benefitting Planned Parenthood. Instagram.com/@junediane
What’s raised the political stakes for you after this election?
I think as a white woman I’ve definitely benefitted from my race, and my privilege in the world with my racial identity, privilege I’ve enjoyed because of the color of my skin. I’m realizing that more and more and that’s what this election has brought up for me in the biggest way. You can think about how people feel fear in America and intellectually understand it but it’s a very different thing when you feel it in your body. When you feel scared. And that’s how a lot of people feel right now. And I don’t think that white people — and that’s such a broad generalization — but I don’t think we’ve had that experience with the government. And the authority figures around us. And I think it’s a really important moment to actually feel fear in your body and see what that does, because you understand it in a totally different way.
What might you say to the 53% of white women that voted for Donald Trump? Have you tried to have that conversation with anyone?
I’m not there yet. I hope to be because I know it’s important to have that conversation, but I’m not there yet. I’ve met, I think, probably two white women who voted for Donald Trump, and I just… am not ready to talk about it. I’m not there. I’m ready to do my internal work, but I’m not ready to do that. I’m just too angry to do that. I feel really sad, ultimately. Like — what do you have going on, in yourself, where that’s okay for you? But I’m also really angry. More angry than sad.
And you’ve started an Instagram campaign post-election called The Big Hundred. How did that start?
Post-election, a group of women and I started getting together every Sunday night at our local JCC. So many awesome things have come from working with these women in my community, and it’s continued and there are lots of great actions we’re doing and projects we’re working on. One that I’ve been working on with two other amazing women in the group and my husband is The Big Hundred. It’s these bite-sized actions, from joining the ACLU to sending a love letter to a mosque. It’s the idea that activism can be bite-sized, because we can all be really overwhelmed, it’s hard to know what to do. But for someone who’s looking for a little bit of information every day, it’s a great, positive base.
The Disaster Artist premiered at SXSW on March 12th to rave reviews. Grace and Frankie’s third seasons premieres March 24, 2017 on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:
Check out The Big Hundred on Instagram here.
Top photo: Grace and Frankie
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Olivia Loperfido is an English and psychology major at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences, and the junior editor of NYU's Mercer Street (2017-'18). She enjoys spending time with her dogs and tortoise, watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and contacting her state representatives. Follow her on Instagram here and contact her via email here.