Palisadian Post Interview
ACLU Honors Alexandra Paul as Activist of Year
September 15, 2005
By Alyson Sena
Alexandra Paul seems to lead two lives, or at least one very full one. When the Palisades actress is not filming a TV movie or training for athletic races, she’s registering voters or protesting in front of the Federal Building in Westwood. And this Sunday, September 18, she is being honored as the ACLU’s “2005 Activist of the Year” for her long history of fighting for the environment, voting rights and peace.
Yet Paul, who is best known for her five-year starring role in the TV series “Baywatch,” admitted during a recent interview with the Palisadian-Post that she is a little embarrassed about the honor.
“I’ve never been an activist for the publicity,” says Paul, sipping a cup of hot chocolate at Terri’s Restaurant on Swarthmore.
Even the environmental TV show she co-hosts with Palisadian Peter Kreitler, “EarthTalk Today,” was something she agreed to do only after Kreitler, the executive producer, asked her to be a part of it. “I made it clear to him that I’m not a producer at heart; I just really care about the environment” says Paul, who was the 75th guest on Kreitler’s show in 2000 (when it was called “Kaleidoscope”). “Peter’s a Renaissance man himself; he has a lot of different interests but the environment is really a big focus for him.”
Paul has learned a lot by researching for and interviewing guests on “EarthTalk,” including Julia “Butterfly” Hill, John Quigley and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl.
“We like to talk to people who ARE the change, who don’t just talk about
it but do it and are inspirational,” she says, referring in particular to her September guest, John Francis, an environmental activist who gave up motorized transportation for 22 years and speaking for 17 years.
Paul herself is one of the doers.
“My first environmental act was writing to President Nixon and asking him to stop pollution. My sister did it, too, and our friend Nancy. We all got the exact same letter back, so we were very disappointed,” she says, laughing.
Paul, 42, grew up in the New England countryside in a household where recycling, and turning down the heat in favor of wearing a sweater or using an extra blanket, were the norm.
“My mom is from England and she lived during the war, so she came from that
point of view that you just don’t waste things,” Paul says. “I do not leave a room [now] without clicking off a light.”
When Paul was in sixth grade, she stopped eating tuna because the fishermen’s nets endangered the dolphins. She doesn’t wear leather, silk or wool, and will not use products tested on animals (this is in her contract).
“I’m against any animals in captivity,” Paul says, adding that this issue arose when she was working on “Baywatch,” and one of the scenes was being filmed at Seaworld. She asked to be written out of the scene, and she was.
In addition to the environment, Paul has also chosen to focus her activism on banning nuclear weapons.
“I was really afraid of nuclear war in the 1980s,” says Paul, who walked across America for more than five weeks on The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament when she was 23. She has been arrested more than a dozen times for protesting at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.
But Paul is not an amateur protestor. She’s been trained in the peace movement and spent a week in a workshop on civil disobedience, where she learned “to maintain respect for the arresting officers, and to retain dignity in the face of confrontation.
“If you’re protesting a war, you need to be nonviolent yourself,” says Paul, who spent five days in federal jail in 2003 for trespassing onto federal property during a anti-war protest at the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles.
“The reason that I’m willing to be very candid and upfront on my Web site is because I felt that the [Bush] administration and the media had not wanted people to be candid [at the beginning of the war in Iraq],” she says.
Paul also exercises her freedom of expression by calling her representatives every weekday morning. “I call the White House, I call my two senators and I call my congressman, and I tell them, ‘I want us out of Iraq.'”
She also believes that a sense of community is important for activists. Three weeks ago, she joined the Cindy Sheehan vigil in Pacific Palisades and was impressed with the positive energy she felt on the Village Green that evening:
“My friend, Wayne Glass, who’s a Palisadian and an expert on defense policy and nuclear weapons, was counting honks’people who were honking [in support] as they went by. He counted over 100 honks in an hour and a half. I didn’t hear any negativity, and believe me, a year ago, you would have. And certainly two years ago. That’s the same thing we’re finding on the corner of the Federal Building. I guess people are changing their mind [about how they feel about the U.S. presence in Iraq] or they’re speaking their mind.”
Paul says she first got involved in the anti-Iraq war activism after hearing Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector, speak on the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq in late August 2002. The event was held at the home of philanthropists Stanley and Betty Sheinbaum’coincidentally where she will be recognized by the ACLU this weekend.
“Stanley is one of my political and social activism mentors,” says Paul, who’s been attending events at the Sheinbaum’s since she was in her early 20s.
Working as an actress, in a job that is not a 9 to 5, has allowed Paul flexibility to pursue and maintain a life of activism. But she says it’s an irony that, with the exception of the films and shows she’s written, produced or hosted herself, none of her onscreen work is connected to her activism.
“I starred for five seasons on a show-“Baywatch”‘that was considered the least intellectual show on television,” she says. “And my friends were surprised when I said ‘yes’ to doing it, but I have to say that I had the most fun on that show, and I don’t think life has to be all about earnestness and fighting for change.”
Paul most recently starred in the Lifetime Television Network thriller “A Woman Hunted,” as well as an independent feature “Landslide” and the Lifetime movie “Saving Emily.” She is starring in the upcoming Lifetime movie “A Lover’s Revenge,” which debuts
October 17, and is appearing in several other television movies filmed this year.
When Paul’s not working, she says she enjoys spending time with her husband, Ian Murray, a triathlon coach, in their Highlands home, where they’ve lived for two years.