Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis returns to Nantucket to be honored at the third annual Dreamland Stage & Screen Gala.
Growing up in Wareham, Massachusetts, Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis made frequent fieldtrips to Nantucket throughout her childhood. Her father worked on the Cape Cod Canal for the Army Corps of Engineers, and young Geena often found herself aboard his boat cruising the waters around the Cape and the Islands. Over forty years and many movies later, Davis will return to Nantucket this weekend to be honored at the Dreamland’s Stage and Screen Gala for the inspiring work she’s done both as an actress and an advocate for gender equality in the media. In advance of the gala, N Magazine interviewed Davis about her work, her favorite roles, and how she is on a mission to change the face of media.
N MAGAZINE: One of your most memorable roles was as a tough-nosed baseball player named Dottie in A League of Their Own. How did that role foreshadow what you would do later in your career in the realm of gender equality?
DAVIS: It was really a combination of two movies that really heightened my awareness. I did Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own back to back, two movies that really resonated with women. They cemented my passion for helping to empower women and girls, and have driven my commitment ever since.
N MAGAZINE: What are some of the big conclusions you’ve drawn from the research you spearheaded through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media?
DAVIS: One is that a great deal of the gender bias in Hollywood is unconscious. I sponsored the most research ever done on gender depictions in the media because A) no one had ever done it, and B) no one seems to be aware of just how few female characters there were in kid’s media. Once I had the research, it changed everything. Now movies are coming out regularly that we know we’ve influenced.
N MAGAZINE: What role can we as moviegoers play in bringing about improved gender equality in the media?
DAVIS: Do you mean besides donating to my institute? (Laughs) It’s important to pay attention and notice the poor representation of female characters in what our kids see, and to point it out to them, girls and boys. Otherwise, they will take it in unconsciously and grow up with a lower opinion of girls’ importance.
N MAGAZINE: If you could bring about the change you’re fighting for in full, what would the face of American media look like? How would movies and television change?
DAVIS: If boys and girls can see female characters doing half of the interesting and important things, having half of the adventures, and simply picking up half of the space, their world view as adults will be different. They will expect to see that boardrooms are half women, for example, or that congress is half women, even that it’s just as likely for a woman to be president as a man.
N MAGAZINE: The Nantucket Dreamland is a non-profit committed to promoting theater and the arts for future generations on the island. Why are institutions like the Dreamland critical for any community to thrive?
DAVIS: The arts are critically important to us and society. They tell stories that broaden our experiences, and help us see the world through a different lens. Einstein said he thought imagination was more important than knowledge.
N MAGAZINE: The Dreamland also has a robust young actors program here on the island. What advice would you give to the aspiring young thespian dreaming of being the next Geena Davis?
DAVIS: In my first class at Boston University, the professor told us that we had chosen an extremely difficult profession. In fact, he said that probably only 1 percent of us would be able to earn our living as actors. These odds are horrendous, obviously. But my reaction was to feel bad for the other kids because I was sure I would be the one to succeed. If you feel like that, I say go for it.
N MAGAZINE: You won an Oscar in 1988, what is undoubtedly the pinnacle of any actor’s wildest dreams. To this point in your career, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
DAVIS: I would say I am most proud of never getting typecast. I’ve been in all kinds of genres: drama, comedy, science fiction, horror. I think I am the only actor in Hollywood to go from playing an amnesiac assassin to the parent of a rodent. That’s The Long Kiss Goodnight and Stuart Little, respectively.
N MAGAZINE: I was surprised to learn about your archery career. What other things do most people not know about you?
DAVIS: Yes, I was a semi-finalist in the Olympic trials at 43 years old. My daughter was born when I was 46 and my twin sons when I was 48. I guess I am a late achiever.
N MAGAZINE: You’ve worked with some of the most revered actors in Hollywood, is there anyone who you enjoyed working with the most? Any fun stories from behind the scenes?
DAVIS: I was incredibly fortunate that my very first audition for a movie got me a small role in Tootsie, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Dustin Hoffman. While we were shooting my first scene, Sydney called me over and asked, “Why are you not nervous? It’s your first time on a movie set and you’re doing a scene with Dustin Hoffman in your underwear.” Partly it was because it felt right — this was exactly what I had wanted to do all my life. But partly it was because of Sydney and Dustin, arguably the two most important influences on my career. They were so welcoming and accepting and made me feel like a peer. That set the tone for everything I did after that.
N MAGAZINE: Who impresses you of the actresses coming up in the industry today?
DAVIS: She’s an obvious choice, but I really love Jennifer Lawrence. She’s fearless and can do anything. Fortunately, the industry is letting her!
N MAGAZINE: There have been two feature films filmed on Nantucket in the last couple years — can you imagine a movie idea that the island would provide a good setting for?
DAVIS: Not off the top of my head. But if there is one, I hope they cast me in it!
Photography courtesy of Mark Rogers