Community Highlights | Alyssa Thordarson on Empathy Through Film

Written by Malin Evita

Alyssa Thordarson is Chicago-based actress and first-time filmmaker who has written and will be co-producing After: A Love Story, a film following a couple who is coping with the aftermath following a violent incident.

*This interview has been edited and condensed. Listen to our full conversation on Spotify: Community Highlights Vol. 1 (timestamp: 13.00)

For Alyssa, films were one of her very first loves. “The idea that someone out there made something up and now we are all watching it… that was just incredible to me.”

“At some point, it occurred to me that there are people who are actors!” She says, “And I think that was sort of it for me; I don’t think I ever seriously considered doing anything else.” 

When Alyssa wants to do something, she wants to learn everything there is to know about it. So from middle school, she subscribed to all sorts of Hollywood and entertainment magazines to read about the marvellous actors’ every move. She was also a theatre kid, and never let her passion sway as she took any and all roles she could get. “Pretty much any time someone was like Will you be in this thing? or Will you get up in front of people and do something? I was like Yeah absolutely, I can do that! Do you want me to learn [the other’s] part’s too? I can learn all the parts. So I’m sure I was insufferable in that way.”

What does film mean to you?

“This is gonna sound corny, but I’m gonna embrace it. I think film is freedom. In the way that a lot of storytelling is freedom. I think it creates empathy, I think it creates sort of universal bonds with people. I mean, you and the characters, you and anyone else who’s seen the film… It gives people something to talk about; it gives you access to places, and emotions, and people that maybe you wouldn’t have in your regular life. I mean I really think the world is a better place because we have it.

What are your all time favourite movies?

  • The Lord of the Rings franchise (2001-03, dir. Peter Jackson)
  • Heat (1995, dir. Michael Mann)
  • Casino (1995, dir. Martin Scorsese)
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001, dir. Baz Luhrmann)

How about directors?

  • Martin Scorsese
  • Jane Campion
  • Michael Mann

After: A Love Story

“I wrote a script about overcoming trauma, essentially. And it was important to me that, especially because it’s a short film, the audience doesn’t have to live through what happened to [the characters] with them, in order to empathise with them,” she says, “We always see what happens in someone’s life at level 10, what we don’t often see is what happens in those sort of quiet moments where you are just trying to put your life together.”

After: A Love Story is a short that will start shooting in August. The film will be directed by award-winning filmmaker Clare Cooney (Runner and Pick Up) and it stars Alyssa and actor Glenn Stanton in the lead. Contribute to their campaign fundraiser here and help them reach their 7K goal! You’ll be supporting a great film with a diverse creative team.

“The moments I feel I connect most with the characters are when they are not saying anything and you just kind of have to watch them process something,” she says, “I think it’s a very human thing to maybe project onto that but I also think that’s why storytelling in that way is so effective because you are creating a shared experience with your audience.”

“If you are going to show something like [graphic trauma], you really have to be able to answer satisfactorily why,” Alyssa says. While some scenes featuring graphic dread, like Pieces of a Woman’s birth scene, can be very emotionally effective if handled with care and compassion, she finds that a lot of media tends to exploit rather than explore trauma.

“I’m gonna call out Game of Thrones because they did this a lot where they’re like Do you wanna see something really messed up? Do you want to see how depraved this character is? Well, now we’re gonna make them sexually assault, or like, mutilate this character. It was a plot device, it was exposition,” she says, “There are a bunch of people who really responded well to that show and I am not saying it wasn’t a valid way to tell that story, but it didn’t connect with me and I am tired of seeing that type of methodology in worldbuilding.”

Listen to our full conversation about her career journey, the topic of trauma exploitation, and building character-audience connections.

Making It: Women in Film is a weekly podcast featuring conversations with women working in the industry. Do you want to be part of our next Community Highlights volume? Send an email and introduce yourself to us at This is open for all women with a passion for film; no credits required!

Written by Malin Evita

Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.

Website: | IG: @malinevita

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