Iliza Shlesinger is funny. Like pause-your-Netflix-and-put-down-your-wine-to-cackle-out-loud funny. It's no wonder, then, that the 37-year-old has built a name for herself in the comedy world, dominating the stage with hilarious expletive-ridden sets — many of which you can find on Netflix — that touch on everything from makeup to being an "elder millennial." But comedy is just one weapon in Shlesinger's arsenal of talents, and she's using it to pivot into the next stage of her quest to dominate the entertainment scene: acting.
After a string of cameos on television (Girlboss), and in film (Instant Family), the comedian is flexing her acting skills in her first lead role in the original Netflix movie Spenser Confidential. Loosely based off the Ace Watkins novel Wonderland, the action comedy follows a former cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) fresh off of a prison bid who finds himself at the center of the same police corruption case that landed himself behind bars in the first place. Joining forces with his roommate and reluctant mentee Hawk, a tough-as-nails boxer with a heart of gold (Winston Duke), and his old friend Henry (Alan Arkin), our hero attempts to take down the bad seeds operating within the ranks of the Boston police department.
Shlesinger plays Spenser's ex-girlfriend Cissy, a successful small business owner with a temper as sharp as her wit. She and Spenser are at each other's throats for most of the movie, alternating between heated shouting matches and blistering sexual chemistry. But she's no token woman.
In fact, Shlesinger told Refinery29 she worked she worked closely with Wahlberg and director Peter Berg to make sure that Cissy wouldn't fall victim to the tropes that many female characters in action projects are pigeonholed into.
"Moving into it, the film was a very male-heavy story," she said. "I knew that it was on me to honor Cissy's character. I didn't want her to be this one-dimensional character that was only there to make the guys look good."
"Peter Berg was very accommodating and allowed me to improvise and add in my own dialogue," she continued. "He allowed me to bring levels to her to show that this was a woman who's multi-faceted — she's not there to just look crazy."
Being in Boston on the set of Spenser Confidential and working amidst what she described as the "organized chaos" of a Berg and Walhlberg production really cemented Shlesinger's pre-existing desire to be comedy-action star. "I love all the tough guy stuff, the stuff that's normally reserved for men," she shared. "I've always wanted to do funny action and even play bad guys."
"It used to be that in film, women were relegated to the hot young girlfriend or the hot evil girl," said Shlesinger. "But women are so multi-faceted, and action films have to reflect that complexity."
Slowly but surely, we're seeing more of that texture within the genre, and Spenser Confidential is just the latest project to demonstrate why that matters so much. Past action films like The Heat (2013), Atomic Blonde (2017), and Men in Black: International (2019) have cast actresses to play dynamic and multi-dimensional lead characters who can hold their own in a fight sequence — and will probably whoop your ass. A change is coming in the male-dominated genre, and Shlesinger wants to be at the front lines.
"Hopefully, we'll do more of these movies, and I'll get to do a lot of fighting," Shlesinger said, crossing her fingers. "Maybe we'll get to do an action scene where I say, 'let me take off my heels,' and proceed to kick some ass barefoot."