Actress Malin Akerman opened up about her turbulent childhood during an emotional interview at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in San Francisco on Wednesday, saying that being a latchkey kid in a rough neighborhood and getting thrown out of the house at 16 “drove me to be the woman I am today.”
“It was tough,” the “Billions” actress told a packed room of women executives at Dolby Laboratories headquarters.
She shared that she moved from Sweden to Toronto with her parents when she was just 2 years old, only for them to divorce a few years later. “My dad moved back to Sweden and I had a single mom,” she said. “I was a latchkey kid.”
Akerman recalled being home alone at 9 years old and wielding a steak knife, worried about a Peeping Tom in their neighborhood and the constant threat of burglary. “The place got broken into on a regular basis while we were sleeping,” she said.
She was forced to leave home at 16, she said, and learned to fend for herself, including tending bar to pay the rent while her mother struggled with mental illness.
Eventually Akerman broke into acting after years of struggle in Los Angeles. But it was only recently, she said, that she felt she had grown into an authentic performer.
“Comedy was a mask,” she said, referencing the funny movies that dominate her filmography, including “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and “The Heartbreak Kid” with Ben Stiller. “It was time to take that mask off.”
Having a child was the catalyst for her move into more dramatic work, including her role on Showtime’s “Billions.”
“When you have a child it requires you to be the most present, authentic version of yourself.”
Akerman plays Lara Axelrod, wife of the very wealthy Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) on the series. Like her, the character didn’t grow up economically advantaged.
“Being in survival mode made me become somewhat of a chameleon and learn how to shape shift,” Ackerman said.
“For me, coming to Hollywood, it helped me understand how to read people on an almost animalistic level.”
Dolby Laboratories head scientist Poppy Crum also spoke at the event, sharing observations about her research in brain science and how they relate to the immersive audio and visual technology she’s developing.
Her job, as she described it, is “thinking about deep science that hasn’t been solved.” Crum has created a moving image that the retina interprets as real fire — just one example. “I put people in front of it and see their bodies reacting,” she described. “That’s immersive technology.”
Crum closed with her thoughts about being a woman in science and technology, which often puts her in the extreme minority. “Don’t define yourself for what you did in the past,” she advised. “Define yourself for what you want to do in the future.”
A panel of technology executives and experts followed, with insights shared by Krista Anderson, chief customer officer of Okta; Jennifer Jolly, Emmy Award-winning consumer technology journalist; Jade McQueen, managing director of media and entertainment at Box; Lisa Stone, entrepreneur in residence at Trinity Ventures; and Courtnee Westendorf, SVP and CMO of the Oakland Raiders.
“It’s really a fine-tuned balance of trusting your gut and knowing your sh-t that makes it all work out in the end,” said Jolly of overcoming the challenges woman face in the workplace.
TheWrap Power Women Breakfast raised money for Women’s Audio Mission, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts. In a field where women are chronically under-represented (less than 5 percent), WAM seeks to “change the face of sound” by providing hands-on training, experience, career counseling and job placement to women and girls in media technology for music, radio, film, television and the Internet.
Those who donated to the charity auction were Dolby, Women’s Audio Mission, The Oakland Raiders, Joel Bernstein, Surf Air and Skin Fitness Ocean Treatment.
Previous speakers at TheWrap’s Power Women breakfast series have included Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, comedian Chelsea Handler, Game of Thrones’ actress Emilia Clarke, activist-actress Salma Hayek, producer and entrepreneur Gail Berman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd, media executive Nancy Tellem, digital executive Susan Lyne, technology journalist Kara Swisher and many others.
Presenting sponsors of the Power Women breakfast were Dolby Laboratories, Box and Okta. Other sponsors included CreativeFuture, travel partner Surf Air and fashion partner Ferragamo.
TheWrap broadcast the event on Facebook Live! Go to FB.com/TheWrap to watch the archived footage.
Watch the full video of Akerman’s interview below.