There are more than several definitions for that word, and — despite women making seriously admirable strides in every discipline from TV to tech — most of them are still geared toward men. A simple online search pulls up everything from "angry-tempered troublemaker" and "formidable" to "meanest person in the room" and, my personal favorite, "the epitome of the American male."
But, even though, in the past, the term has typically been reserved for guys and their guy things — like fast cars and a general disdain for authority — I like to characterize it slightly differently. Here's the badass rule book I like to play by.
You know those moments when you're uncomfortable? That's where the magic happens. Once you're slightly out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to grow professionally, you can feel change happening. (You might also feel sick to your stomach, but that will pass — most of the time.)
When I asked
A badass is a risk taker, but they're not totally fearless, as we've been led to believe. Trust: They'll be afraid, but they'll do it anyway.
As a producer, I have to set examples. One of those is remaining calm, even in times of extreme chaos. A house could be on fire behind me, but you'll never see me panic. One night on set at Banshee, a house literally was on fire behind me, though it was scripted. After checking all the safety boxes, we burned one character's house — it belonged to Deputy Siobhan Kelly — to the ground. It was an epic moment that left me feeling equal parts fierce and proud.
On the last episode of Eastbound & Down, we were filming a scene meant to take place in an African village. (We were on a farm in North Carolina.) It rained so much that "Africa" was a dangerous mud pit: Trucks were stuck, the cast couldn't get to set — and by cast, I mean Danny McBride, Alexander Skarsgård, and Lindsay Lohan. Simply put, we had to get those scenes, but we had to wait it out.
Patience paid off, the sun came out, everything and everyone was covered in mud, but we got the shots. Not only that, but it was one of the funniest scenes of my career.
And, in more stressful times like these, a badass knows when to talk — and, more importantly, when to listen. When I'm prepping for a stunt, I listen to the plans carefully. I also get to play with Hot Wheels, since we use them to choreograph car stunts. I go for the vintage, blue Corvette every time.
I love gear — camera gear, lighting gear, any gear — and a few years ago, my producing career took an unexpected turn when I started directing second unit on Veep, which is a much smaller crew that shoots establishing, aerials, and stunt scenes. Veep doesn't have any stunts, so I directed shots featuring cars and motorcades in D.C., and I loved it. Calling the shots from a camera car with the wind blowing in my hair made me feel like a badass. But, sharing a furniture pad with my crew like it was a Snuggie? Not so much. In my defense, it was 17 degrees that day.
I was fortunate to direct a second unit scene on Banshee. It was an underwater scene with an actor "chained" to the bottom of a lake playing dead. We had Navy Seal divers for safety, underwater radios, and one huge crane. That was truly badass. I call it my "girls with gear" moment, which is a little bit like "boys and toys."
A badass is passionate: It's not what you do — it's how you do it. My job is 24/7. I'm calling the shots, and I wouldn't have it any other way, because it feels like it's not a job at all.
We film Veep in Baltimore, but the writers script the series in locations around the globe. One episode takes place in Helsinki. Where is Helsinki, you ask? Well, it's in a little-known corner of Baltimore. After days and days of scouting, this badass found a location that looks marginally like Helsinki and complemented it with second unit footage to make it convincing.
When I was given a script for Banshee that called for a double-decker bus to flip over on Fifth Avenue in NYC, I picked a (sort of) quiet weekend in July and worked with the city to get a partial road closure. We had the star — Antony Starr, to be exact — run up Fifth Avenue using traffic cones as markers for cars, and the entire stunt scene was done with visual effects. We won an Emmy for that scene. BADASS.
I ask a lot of questions in my job. My favorite one is "Why?" When I don't get a good answer, I know my answer is "No." A badass knows when to push further. I'm also surrounded by the best crew around, who also know when to push further. These people are all badasses.
The last day of filming Veep this season was epic; it featured 93 different camera setups (which is just as exhausting as it sounds) and 28 script pages, all shot in 12 hours. To put that into perspective, it usually takes about five days to film an entire episode. We knew the odds were against us, but we mapped out our day, and we laughed our way through it.
I did a pilot a few years ago that was shot in London. The creators wanted to go to Berlin to film the Berlin Wall. So, we did, and as we arrived, so did the freezing rain. We filmed anyway and flew back to London four hours later, soaking wet but still laughing. And, trust, if my team wasn't in high spirits, they'd probably have called it a day.
Sure, that might sound silly, but sometimes feeling pretty makes us all feel better, and I think that's badass. Whether I'm filming in the woods at night, the beach on a 100-degree day, or a military base in the dead of winter, I march into my on-set battle wearing my favorite boots (no open-toed shoes allowed!) with a perfect shade of gloss in my pocket.
Producing is a lot like putting a puzzle together without all the pieces, and any time a viewer laughs (or cries), I know my job is done, and I feel like a true badass.
To sum it up: A badass is a risk-taking, funny, calm, quiet, patient, passionate, innovative, investigative, surprising, and original woman. We are all badasses.
We're pretty sure Stephanie Laing is our spirit animal. The five-time Emmy-nominated TV producer of Veep, Eastbound & Down, and Banshee may only let herself feel fabulous for five minutes a day, but she spends her nights (once the kids are asleep, of course) curating her own blog, Put Your Pretty On.