A WOMAN OF FIRSTS: An Interview with Lexi Alexander
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lexi-alexander

Lexi Alexander is a woman of firsts.

She was the first woman to direct a Marvel or  DC Comics superhero movie.

She was one of the first women to teach US Marine Corps hand-to-hand combat.

And now she’s one of only three ladies to direct TV’s testosterone-heavy hit Arrow.

For the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who has developed a cult following from her flicks Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: War Zone, it’s just another day surviving in the male-dominated workplace that is Hollywood.

“It’s funny,” she laughs, speaking from her home in LA. “When you do action as a woman suddenly they don’t want you to do anything else.

“I wouldn’t know what a ‘woman film’ is like and how you make it.

“A chick flick wouldn’t be something I would write or direct, but I’m also the girl who watches Dirty Dancing 50 times and sees Love Actually every year.

“I’m not snobbish about it and I don’t look down on it, I just wouldn’t know how to do it.”

What she does know how to do – and well – is action.

Even Sons Of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter is the first to give her a shout out for her work inspiring his hit series.

It’s a style that comes informed from her previous career as one of the world’s top martial artists: she won world championships at 19 in point fighting and karate.

It was on the circuit that she met and befriended Chuck Norris, who was one of the key people behind getting the then twenty-something Alexander over from Germany to work as a stuntwoman and fight instructor.

“There’s no career in martial arts really, so I had all these people saying to me ‘Lexi, you could be the female Jean Claude Van Damme.’

“Especially in the early nineties, when you had all these famous martial artists making B movies.

“Chuck sponsored my Green Card and sent me to a very specific acting school, which I really enjoyed, but I just didn’t want to act.

“Even when I became a stuntwoman and thought this will be how I finance film school to become a director, it was very hard because I’m not a size zero – I’m not even a size six most of the time.

“As an actress I would never cut it and even as a stuntwoman - at the end of the nineties there was this whole Ally McBeal thing and everyone was so skinny - I was too big to cover the actresses I needed to cover.”

Fast forward some 20 years and Alexander has left her stuntwoman days behind her (excluding that time she saw and became obsessed with Mad Max: Fury Road which “made me want to get back into stunting”).

Her short film about a boxer – Johnny Flynton – was nominated for an Oscar and her debut feature Green Street Hooligans kickstarted the career of Charlie Hunnam (Sons Of Anarchy, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) and won Alexander a swag of awards on the international film festival circuit.

Her next steps have been anything but conventional, yet she’s the first to admit “I don’t like being told what to do”.

Considered a “hot director” in Hollywood, Alexander says she took meeting after meeting before landing her second film – Punisher: War Zone.

“I pushed for any film that had a boxer in it following Johnny Flynton, but I was told no because of my gender many times.

“I took all the meetings and after two years of not having a next thing, I took the Punisher – which was not my first choice.”

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arrowlexialexander-138759

The adaptation of Marvel’s cutthroat comic book vigilante wasn’t a commercial or critical success, but over time has become beloved by fans – including Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D star Patton Oswalt who calls it one of his favourite superhero films ever and that it had him “standing up on my chair and cheering”.

For a complete change of pace, Alexander did a family film Lifted - which saw her tap into an entirely new demographic.

But it wasn’t long before she was back doing what she does best: balls-to-the -wall action.

While Entertainment Weekly have been happily tapping her to direct everything from Wonder Woman to one of the Star Wars spin-offs, Alexander has dipped her toe into the world of television.

Directing the fourth episode of the latest season of Arrow (which airs in Australia next week), the filmmaker of Palestinian and German heritage has won some high-profile admirers in the show’s stars Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards (with Amell saying that working with her created some of his favourite scenes in the “entire history of the show”).

She credits Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl showrunner Andrew Kreisberg with getting her on the show after he “hunted” her down and fellow showrunner Wendy Mericle for being an incredible go-to boss.

But the biggest asset, she says, was the loyal Arrow fanbase.

“I have two cult movies so I’m used to interacting with fans, but what has been neat about the Arrow fandom is how polite and passionate they are.

“I have literally made new friends from it. Most fanbases are very protective of their show, but I would be tweeting pictures from the set and people would be reply back to me saying ‘thank you so much for sharing’.”

Twitter has been a fourm Alexander has truly utilised as both an outspoken feminist and someone fighting for gender equality in the creative space.

With nearly 20,000 followers she tweets everything from support for fellow filmmakers like Effie Brown and Ava DuVernay, to depressing statistics about Hollywood’s gender disparity in front of and behind the camera (link ).

Not afraid to face internet trolls on the regular, Alexander has no time for playing it safe.

“Equality is either intersectional or it’s nothing at all,” she says confidently.

“You can’t leave people behind.”

Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz