Veep's Emmy-Nominated Producer On Putting Your Pretty On & Facing Fears

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stephanie-laing-veepPhoto: Courtesy of Stephanie Laing.
Stephanie Laing allows herself to feel fabulous for five minutes a day. Just five. Then she does what any of us would do: spill her coffee or trip over her own two feet and get on with her long list of to-dos. Unlike us, however, that includes producing the HBO series Veep, Eastbound & Down, and Banshee.

Much like Selina Meyer herself, it's safe to say that Laing is beyond thriving in an industry that's historically male-dominated. But, when we met the Emmy-nominated producer and single mom of three, it was quickly obvious that none of that boys-club business really mattered.

Getting her start in commercials and working her way up to HBO programming in '95, Laing says it was comedian Tracey Ullman who was one of her first mentors to recognize her work and help advance her through the next steps in her career. Of course, that would eventually lead to her current position of juggling the demands, budgets, and schedules of three sitcoms. Be it splitting her time between a Brooklyn home and Baltimore filmings; chasing down boats (perhaps one of the more difficult props to lug to set); and recently, chronicling a bit of her balancing act on Put Your Pretty On, a blog inspired by her daughter, we were thankful to land a little time with the lady calling the shots behind the first female vice president — at least the one on our screens.

Do you ever remember a time on set where you felt like your voice wasn't being heard?
"Well, I definitely take it upon myself now to make sure my voice is heard. It was challenging when I was first starting out; it was a different time. It's why I feel it's so important to promote other women. I did experience some of the classic situations women do, but I looked past that. It's one of those things where you have to consider the source of where it's coming from; one of those moments where you have to step back and say, 'You know what? I'm good at this job, and I'm going to keep being good at this job. I'm going to keep surrounding myself with people that know I'm good at it.'

"I don't think there's ever been an instance where someone has looked at me and thought, 'Oh my God, she's the only woman here.' I work my ass off. I do think women, in general, work harder than men to get what they want. They have a ton of dedication; you're making a choice to be away from, say, your kids to be on this show. That's a tough decision to make. You better really like that job, or like that show, or want to be around those people to give up time with your children. I think you're more apt to work really hard when you're faced with that."

What's the best on-the-job advice you've ever received?
"There are two things: It's how you ask the question, picking the moment because you'll get a totally different answer at any given time. That was a huge piece of advice. And, Tracey [Ullman] taught me to act on fear. You have to challenge yourself. Something could go wrong, but why not challenge yourself? If you're not growing, you're dying."

What's some of the worst advice you've received?
"It would go back to the fear thing. I had someone say to me while I was asking for a promotion, 'Why do you want to rock the canoe? The canoe is great.' And, I explained that I liked the canoe...and if it tips over, well, fine, I'll find another canoe. Essentially it's to be complacent, and not challenging yourself. "

Have you seen a progression for women in the funny business?
"I do, and I have. Let's face it: We're really funny! I realized years ago that there was a huge absence of female voices from television. There were a few characters, but they weren't as real. Women have heartache, pain, love, and laughter. The funniest women are the ones who laugh their way through their lives; through crisis, through whatever it is. You have to see the humor in it. The scene is changing. There's always been female executives, but now, more than ever, I'm seeing more female directors."

What does "Put Your Pretty On" mean?
"It's become my motto in a way. My daughter, Paterson, when she was five said, 'Mom, one second, I need to put my pretty on.' Which terrified me because I then watched her put chapstick on. And, I'm not that person; I barely have any mascara on on any given day. It stayed with me, and it's become a daily thing of getting up, putting your game face on, and dealing with life. Put your pretty on is essentially dealing with all your shit. It's okay to put on your lipstick and buy nice things. Pretty is about strength, it's about humor, and finding it in your life."

What have been the most defining moments of your career? When did you know you had arrived?
"Recently, with the Emmy nominations for Veep. My agency is WME and they take out the ads in Variety, like 'Congratulations to our clients,' and my name was listed among Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Justin Timberlake.

I was borrowing jewelry for the awards and the guy behind the counter asked me if I saw my name in the ads. He pointed it out for me, and I thought this might be my moment: I'm getting really expensive jewelry from a nice place in Beverly Hills, my name is listed next to these really talented people, and then I walked outside to a parking ticket!"

You wear so many hats on any given day, so how is it that you truly find balance in life?
"Through humor, and reminding myself that I'm not going to be good at both jobs every day. Some days I'll be better at being a mom, and some days I'll be better as a producer. There's not a lot that can shake me at this point. When you deal with your life, and keep a certain sense of humor about it, then whatever shits going to happen, you deal. Someone was telling me the other day over some drama 'it's never going to change.' I told them, 'You know what? It is going to change because the laws of the universe dictate that it will. Tomorrow is happening, and it will be different some way.' I find balance in accepting who I am. It's living in the moment, living in the day, and being present. The only way is to not worry about yesterday or tomorrow. And, yes, I do do Soul Cycle."