I get the pleasure of interviewing people in Hollywood pretty regularly with my career. What I don't get the pleasure of is interviewing people as down-to-earth and real as Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios’ EVP of Physical Production & AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Executive Producer. Victoria Alonso spent some time with us the day after we all watched the world premiere of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Women in Hollywood with positions like Victoria's are kind of rare. You don't hear about a lot of women in Hollywood who aren't actors, so we especially love hearing from the ones with technical positions. After all, with such a focus on STEM/STEAM in education, it's especially important for our kids to have role models.
Working Mother Marvel Studios' Victoria Alonso Tells All
Victoria Alonso shared a bit of how she and others at Marvel Studios really helped to pave the way for women in the studios back when Marvel first started. Victoria is one of the three founding members at Marvel Studios (along with Louis D'Esposito and Kevin Feige) working on the MCU films. They've now created 18 films, beginning with Iron Man, with another 5 in the works.
Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios’ EVP of Physical Production & AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Executive Producer
Victoria Alonso has two titles. She's the Executive Producer of the films that they make, and she's also the Executive Vice President of Production for Marvel. Marvel is different than some of the studios wherein some of the studios you have the executives and then you have the producing team. “We’re all of it, ‘cause we do both,” Victoria said.
“We’re a little bit like a production company meets a studio meets the producers meets everything else, 'cause we’ll go and fetch your coffee if you need it,” Victoria said laughing.
But we didn't just talk about Marvel Studios and how cool working for the studio must be, we talked about being parents, and more importantly, being working parents, and what it means to our kids and to us.
Victoria talked about how her almost 8-year-old daughter hasn't really watched many of the films she's worked on yet because she's been too young. She's really only seen the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Victoria's daughter has heard her talk about Black Panther and what it has meant to her. “I don’t talk about what the movies are, but what it has meant to me as a career,” Victoria said. “She said, ‘I know I didn’t do it, but since you made Black Panther, I’m like a really popular kid'.”
“I said, ‘Well, I think you’re popular because of you, not because of the movie.' She goes, ‘No, they all knew what you did and everything, but now I’m like the daughter.' And I said, ‘Oh, that’s great'.”
“I’ve done career day, and then the teachers this year invited me to do a changemaker thing, which was a big deal. It was a big deal to me begin with. And then she repeated for about 5 weeks out loud, ‘My mommy’s a changemaker. My mommy’s a changemaker'.”
“And I thought what a beautiful thing, 'cause I knew my mother was a changemaker, but I never said it aloud 'cause I didn’t have the words. You know what I mean? My mom, I mean she’s the bomb. And the fact that, first of all, she has two moms to choose from. So, she has one mom that is one changemaker. The other one this kickass, amazing designer, creative force, all of it. But the fact that she can say it out loud and she can look up to it is like I think is a beautiful thing.”
What Challenges Victoria Alonso
Victoria doesn't really look at challenges, which is such a great outlook. She only sees day-to-day hurdles. To her, “a challenge is like something you can’t achieve, where a hurdle is something you just need to jump over and go. I like to change a little bit of the dynamic of how we teach ourselves of something that you wanna get past, that is a hurdle and not a challenge. A challenge just seems like something you can’t get to.”
“I’m not sure that I have challenges other than the day-to-day. I mean probably the more difficult thing is to create the balance.”
How Being a Parent Makes Victoria Alonso Work Differently
Victoria said that being a mother has changed the way she approaches what she brings to her work.
“As you know, having children changes who you are as a person and how you see the world. I think that I thought I would've died for someone. I know I would die for her. Hands down. You just show me where the train is. I’ll go first.”
Victoria talked about how the production decisions are looked at with a bit more thought in terms of is that stab necessary? Do we need to see that blood? Can we just stop the punching? “‘Cause I’m numb. I don’t need — I mean like I get it that they’re superheroes and they fight, but I am bored,” she said.
And Victoria Alonso is not a huge comic book fan. Go figure right?
“I’ve gone on record saying this plenty. I love our movies, if you have a movie that is out there and if it’s La La Land or Juno or 12 Years a Slave or Moonlight, I would rather go see those movies than a superhero movie. I do see our movies because I think they have a heart and they have a message. And they have more than one message, and it’s really up to you to see it. You know, you can peel our movies like an onion and find it, and eventually, you might cry.”
“I think it’s a constant question as a parent. And I say it, and I say it aloud in every room, ‘How am I going to explain this in the playground, which I go to every morning to drop her off?' And that creates a conversation. And usually it’s me and bunch of dads, right, 'cause the boys are all dads. Minus two I think they’re all dads now. And a lot of ‘em are dads of girls. So, that’s created a new conversation, as well, in the last 13 years. They’ve all gotten married and they all have children now.”
“It's very present for me, and it’s—is it influential enough? All I can do is every day I give it all I got. And what you see is the combined efforts of hopefully the best storytelling that we could tell. And then sometimes it’s a little bit geared towards the inner child of some of the comic book fans.”
Victoria Alonso Gets It Done
From the day they hire a director and a writer, she's involved in every aspect of the production process. The tunnel we walked through at the premiere, she's involved in the costume design process, and then they design everything in CG.
As far as having a seat at the table, she's never wanted to be a man or be like them. “The strength is being who you are. Hands down. That’s what makes you different. That’s what you bring to the table. But when you go to that table, you sit at that table, not on the side, not behind. You sit at the table. And own it. That’s it. I own it every time I wanna sit at that table. I don’t make an apology for being there. If I’m at the table, that means somebody decided I should be here. So, I am here.”
Victoria Alonso Believes in Empowering Women
She's seriously the most humble and simultaneously powerful woman I've ever met.
“I don’t know that I’m a changemaker. I’m a working mother. That’s all. That’s my title. That’s what I do. I try to create a balance between home, life, marriage, friends, career. So, if that’s a changemaker, so be it, but that doesn’t make me any different than any of you,” Victoria said.
“And the whole idea that I continue to say, the Gina Davis Foundation has a tagline that says, ‘if you can see it, you can be it.' So, for her seeing me or her other mother or any other woman out there doing it is what inspires her to be.”
“I think that she goes to a school that is very mixed and really there’s every color of the rainbow in her school. And I think part of her feeling popular is because every kid there is super excited about Black Panther 'cause they couldn't see themselves before. And now they do. And they’re coming to her and saying, ‘Did your mom really— which one of your moms made it? The blonde or the brunette?' You know what I mean? Like, they’re really confused. Which one is it?”
Victoria Believes as Women We Need to Believe We are Equal at Our Core
“We need to work harder,” Victoria said. And proceeded to make us all a little choked up, especially those of us with daughters.
“I think that women need to believe in their core that they’re equal. Because I see it in my daughter at 7, and, boy, she’s gonna take it over. And there’s a shift somewhere along the way, I think when they turn between 12 and 15. And something shifts. Something shifts, and I think it’s within us. You gotta believe it in your heart. You do,” Victoria said.
And and that moment she created a domino effect of emotions with some of us. We could blame it on the fact that we were all running on fumes from having been up so late at the Marvel after-party from the night before, but we all know it's more than that. As working mothers, we try to have it all, be all, do all. And sometimes, most of the time, that's challenging. My friend Tania is a mom of 5 (that makes my mom of 4 looks pitiful some days), but we all struggle and we all have our demons. When another mom tells us we can do this, for some reason, it stirs emotions. I won't begin to understand why, although I've taken a few psych classes and been in years of therapy.
“I can tell you, you can. You have to believe it in your core. You can do it, because I think if they see it in you, they’re gonna get it. Just the fact that you have done this five times, by the way,” Victoria said specifically addressing Tania, “I just feel like it’s just—I didn’t birth my child. I adopted her. I’m still trying to get rid of the adoption weight. It’s called pizza. My mom used to say, ‘If it has been done, it can. And if it hasn’t been done, it should.' And here I am. Somewhere and yet it went deep. You know what I mean? And I think when you have moments of doubt you just need to think about it. How many people do you know that have given birth to five beautiful girls? I don’t know a lot.”
“I think it’s not only to do it for our children but to do it for ourselves. And I think as moms, we forget who we are 'cause all we do is mom. And you mother this and you mother that and you parent this and you parent that and you like so forget who you are as a human being along the way. It takes all we got to parent. And if you work, like forget about it. And if you still have a relationship, forget about it. And then somewhere along the way, you might have one friend left.
And God forbid you have a party to go. And I don’t drink. So, I don’t know how people do it. Whoever drinks and has a party and stays up, God bless. I mean I can’t do it. I don’t know that I know exactly how to instill that in a child. But I can tell you this. Expose ‘em to stories that you in your true, true self-believe that will inspire you, and it will go in and it will inspire them. Show them all kinds of art. Show them all kinds of music. Show them the differences of this world, because I look at the room and I see you’re all very different women. And you’re all moms.
“As a mother to mothers, I work every day to make sure that our kids a better perspective. I can’t do the better life thing. That’s on you. But a better perspective. And if our stuff, because it’s global and it gets kids all over the world, and if we can create that kinda thing for kids everywhere I think that’s a win. But whatever you’re doing I’m sure is making my kid’s life better too. So, I thank you for that.”
On how Victoria Alonso Helped to Shape the Corporate Workplace at Marvel Studios for Working Mothers
Being the only female on the executive level has to be tough, but clearly, she's helped to pave the way for families in their studio.
Victoria told us the story about she and her partner adopted their daughter. “I work with a very nice group of men. I said to them, ‘I’m going to adopt a child. And one day I will come to you and say I’m going, and I did.' And we were getting ready. I was packed to go to San Diego for the first biggest Comi-Con of our careers, first Avengers, 2010. And we get a call from her birth mom in Chicago, and we left. And I called the boys and I said, ‘I gotta go. I’m gonna go get my girl'. And I did. And I came back a week later with Olivia. And I brought her to work for 18 months, 3 days a week.”
“She was bottle fed and everyone had her. And she never cried. I did not have a crier, thank God. And knew she more about Marvel secrets than anybody. But she couldn't talk. She was the perfect vault. And she was with me. I mean I brought my baby, and I encourage moms to bring their babies and dads.”
“And I encourage moms—we’ve created the capability for those that have been with us, if they wanna go have babies, all they have to do is say it. I’ll figure out how it will work…And if they have to leave at 5, which is not a production time to leave, they go. And when I answer—when I need an email, a text, a phone call answered, they do. And moms work incredibly hard. After we put our kids to bed, we’re still working. So, I know I’m getting the devotion and the dedication from those moms. So, I love it, 'cause I think you can’t just talk the talk. You gotta walk it. The men that work with us are incredibly aware of what we need to do. Change is slow. I’m rather impatient, I must tell you.”
I always tell Olivia, my daughter, that she and I are very similar that way, that we need to learn patience. And we’re working on it together. But I think you’re seeing changes that are very much not a reaction but sort of kinda like an expression of where we are. In the movie Ant-Man and the Wasp, the character of Ghost was a man in the comics and it’s a black woman in the movie.
And like that is gonna be change after change. And it’s not as earth-rocking as Black Panther perhaps was, but every little change is gonna create something that will allow for our girls and our boys to be identified and be included.
Victoria Alonso's Superpower
If she could be a superhero in real life, Victoria would like her superpower to be invisibility.
“I think there’s certain conversations I’d like to hear. It’s kinda simple. I think I would like to hear Olivia on the playground when I’m not there. You know what I mean? I think that would be really cool. I think it would interesting to just be a fly on the wall in the restaurant and hear people chat.”
How Victoria Alonso Recharges
Victoria is an extrovert and people are how she recharges. She finds people soothing. She also plays tennis to reboot.
“I play tennis. When I hit that ball, like there’s no moment in time. I mean every ball has a name. Every ball has a moment…I just love people and tennis. Tennis is a beautiful thing.”
On Balancing Home and Work Life with Travel
Since their daughter was born, Victoria has stopped traveling for long periods of time for work. And when she does travel, either they travel with her or they have a 6 pact in our home that if she's gonna be away for 6 weeks, they either come to her or I come home.
“To be honest with you, I can’t be away for more than like 2 weeks, and then I come home. And then I don’t care if I don’t sleep. I just I need to come home. I’m a mess if I’m not in my home with my girls. So, even if it means that I travel on the red eye to be there for Saturday for whatever for, but I need to take Olivia to a birthday party or have dinner with Imelda and the leave on Sunday, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s just it’s harder on my body, but that’s how I do it.”
On growing up Argentinian and Her Hero
Victoria's mother was her hero.
“I grew in Argentina in a military dictatorship where things were not easy, or there was a lot of activity. People were getting taken away and killed. And my mother—my father died when I was 6, and my mother never remarried. She was a high official in the ministry of education, and she kept us safe. She kept us strong. She kept us open-minded. There’s two of us, my sister and me. And my mom had it going on. She’s a strong, strong girl. And she never took anything from anybody, not the military, not no one.”
“My mom’s the woman that was left on the road bleeding with me on her hands for not saying something some— during that time, there were different groups, political groups, that will come and force you to say, you know…all the things that were going, my mother wouldn't get involved. And these thugs came and beat her and left her for dead on the street—I’ve never told this story before—with me in her arms. I was a baby. She’s a strong, strong girl. And she just whenever she regained consciousness, she got up and took us and off we went.”
“And I mean then to two—I mean now that I have a child, I have so much more respect for my mother. Because I had no idea what it took. I had no idea what it took to be a parent. I had no idea what it took to parent alone. I still don’t know what it means to parent alone, 'cause I have the greatest partner of all time. And I don’t know how I would do it without Imelda parenting together. And just the fact that she had this whole other political situation going on that was not super safe.”
“And when you see the stuff here and you go upstairs and you’ll see all the other things, it is. It’s sort of like you’re just walking through the tunnel last night. I was like [GASP]. And, I do this every day. And like all those people that some people go like, ‘wow,' they’re, like I work them every day. I’m not saying that I’m like numb to it, but they’re just my coworkers, right? The Toms and the Chrises and the Roberts. And the Bries and the Scarlets, right. And when you walk through that tunnel, it just put it all so into perspective.”
“And Imelda walking through, who’s super wise, she said to me, ‘Wow, this is humbling.' She said, ‘And you had a hand in every single one of these things' And I thought, ‘Yeah.' And that’s really what I was feeling, it’s also the responsibility of spending the Walt Disney Studios money and the world will see, I feel very responsible.”