I don’t want to give this statuesque beauty much of an introduction because she doesn’t need it. Pia Mechler is an actress, writer, director but most importantly, a woman who knows who she is, what she wants, and how to get it. I’ll let her tell you the story of how she got there below….
This could easily be one of those commentaries, but I am not going to write about sexual harassment and all the horrible things an actor can encounter in the industry. We have heard a lot about it lately and I could of course share the things I have experienced. I would rather concentrate on the story of my emancipation, as an actor, as an artist and ultimately as a woman. I think that part of the conversation of #timesup and #metoo is interconnected with some deeply rooted issues that lie beneath one’s emancipation – the path to the realization that “I don’t need your permission” and ultimately the redistribution of power that comes with it.
When I lived in a fantasy world without losing my marbles.
From an early age I had a zest for performing. It helped me make sense of things and allowed me to transform from being someone different into someone creative. People looked at me, so I might as well give them a reason for it.
I grew up in a very small town in Germany and what made people look at me were my parents. My father was a pilot for Lufthansa, a job that in Germany of the early 80s still had the glamour of a secret agent. For a lot of our neighbors in our small rural town my father could have been James Bond.
My mother was a whole different caliber of exotic. Having grown up in Chile, she brought the Latina to the German suburbs. Chain-smoking, red painted fingernails, heavily decorated with gold jewelry, long, dark hair. My mother was that woman that all other fathers stared at with desire and other mothers rewarded with jealousy.
When my parents then decided to build a cubist-inspired house with a blue roof and triangular windows and my body chose to grow super tall super fast: My fate was sealed – a childhood of bullying and awkwardness lay ahead of me.
I tried to figure out how I could fit without fitting. After all, I was a girl that at age 4 pushed a marble she had found on the street up her nose, because all her pockets were already filled. You see, already at age 4, I wanted it all, and wanting it all while still trying to fit in, can get messy.
I quickly realized that there was only one way to survive this mess and that was by creating my own storyline. First performing, then writing became my tools of taking control.
When I was no longer a girl, but still not a woman.
At age 19 I was accepted at an international film school in the middle of nowhere in Denmark for acting. A Hogwarts for filmmaking. After graduation I continued on what seemed to be the path of least resistance and I quickly got my first role on a TV show. I was ecstatic: I was 22 and I had a real, paying job – and moreover I felt passionate about it, it nurtured me artistically and it was fun. I played the wife of a soccer player in a show about wives of soccer players. Even though it was indeed fun and I got paid for what I loved most, I wondered if this was really one of the stories I wanted to tell: The women in that show were shallow gold diggers, good-looking naive little things that only cared for big houses, expensive cars, beauty products and clothes.
The role stuck to me as the kind of women the industry wanted me to portray. But I wanted to get my hands on more complicated and real characters and I wanted to be seen as a serious actress, recognized for my talent and not pigeonholed for my looks.
When London called.
So at age 24 I went to London and after a week of unsolicited self-marketing I got a small part in a British TV movie and a few months later I landed my first lead in a British indie. A complicated character, slightly schizophrenic, slightly haunted, still an ex-model, but hey, a nutcase, too. After the movie I met with German casting directors and when I told them about the part, one of the women looked at me completely puzzled: “You are playing a woman with schizophrenia? But you are blond!?”
I quickly realized that no matter how hard I try, they wouldn’t consider me for the parts I wanted to play. They were too rare anyway and the sexism that forbade them was still an unquestioned part of the culture. It was then that I remembered my only way out: Telling the story yourself.
When I was told women cannot be doctors.
By creating a character for myself I hoped I would finally be allowed to portray a real woman on screen. After my third script, people started showing interest. I had written a female centered comedy and Germany was looking to copy the success of “Bridesmaids”. A big production house actually committed to produce my movie but wanted me to edit the script. Sure thing. I was eager to please. Because, again, I wanted to be accepted, I wanted in. So, there I was sitting at a huge conference table with my little notebook, ready for their edits: “We love the story. But some of the characters seem a bit off. Like that doctor, could you not just turn her into a nurse? Seems more believable for a woman, don’t you agree?” Well, I didn’t and the movie never got made.
When I got the taste of directing.
By 2013 I had moved to New York City and I tried to channel my experience of living in the US, being around 30 and being freshly married into a TV spec. But instead of shopping it around and editing it heavily in the process, I wanted to “just do it” – as a web series and side project, with friends, for fun, but without compromise. It was also the first time that I tried to direct. We started to produce it for and with no money and directing it myself was just another way to keep the budget below zero. It was a silly, little project, but I got a taste for directing and loved my independence.
When I was told what I wasn’t capable of.
The following year I went to the Berlin Film Festival for some meetings and a bit of self-promotion. At a party I ran into a director I had once worked with. He was about to direct a huge project and carried himself with the confidence of someone who knows that people consider him the next big thing. I was truly happy for him and despite his cockiness I also enjoyed relinking and chatting about our different paths. At some point a common producer friend joined the conversation and pointed at me: ‘Did you hear, Pia also writes and wants to make her own movies, now?” My dear friend, the director, that I admired for his talent and with which I had enjoyed working so much, then turned to me: “See, Pia, that’s where actresses go wrong. When they think they can also write, or direct…!” I was in shock. I think my jaw actually dropped and stayed like that until I left Berlin the next day with such anger and disappointment, but also with a newborn fire inside of me. I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to direct my first feature. I was certain. About the “how” I would worry later.
When I decided it was up to me.
Not much later though: Back in New York I met with my friend Kim. Over a few glasses of wine we chatted about our frustrations and our dreams and desires, till Kim said point blank: “I’ll do it. I’ll produce your movie.”
Everything fell into place the minute we decided that we didn’t need someone else to approve our plan, that we only needed to decide ourselves who we wanted to work with and how. It was a wild ride to make ‘Everything is Wonderful’, one that could fill a whole book by itself. It wasn’t always easy and we found resistance and made mistakes on the way. But I felt that sweet rush of confidence and happiness streaming through me, knowing: I am directing a bloody feature film right now.
I had lots of great people around me supporting my vision. This is not my movie, it is ours. We have just signed a distribution deal. “Everything is Wonderful” is coming out this summer. We also had a US and European festival premier already.
Now I wouldn’t want it any other way.
All my life I was striving for some sort of recognition, a desire to fit in and be accepted, without realizing that I could only find that within myself. I don’t need to fit in. I myself can make the mold that feels right for me and only by staying true to myself, I can find the freedom to create. If you wait for someone else to tell you “this is good enough, now go ahead and do it,” you will wait for a long time. Just do it already! The rest will come. I still act and audition, but on my own terms and with the confidence of knowing what I am capable of. I write and direct and tell the stories that truly interest me, with real female characters that deserve a voice. And for all of that, I don’t need your permission, I only need mine.
PS: when that marble ended up in my nose, I ended up at a doctor’s office where the doctor couldn’t help me and was close to giving up. Only then the nurse spoke up and suggested to blow my nose really hard. So I did. I have kept that marble to this day.