Actor, Singer, US Humane Society, The Shelter Pet Project
“I feel we’re at a tipping point, and I may be overly optimistic, but at least the conversation now is so…like the cacophony is getting louder about the injustice of only a few being able to have a delightful education, the social inequity, which just perpetuates a socially unjust future. So, I want to pray that we are on the brink of rectification, you know?”
In your opinion what qualities make for a Power Woman?
When I see a woman in her power, what I am always most struck by is that I see a person who is so comfortable in her confidence, intellect, abilities, a situations that she is able to bring everyone up with her and there’s a grace that transcends competitiveness that comes with true power and that’s what I’m always drawn to and appreciate in others and aspire to in myself.
With all the different issues that we focus on in our lives to have balance…to stay balanced what in your efforts…or how do you pursue your efforts in gender equality? And do you feel that these are kind of a more of a global approach or specific issues that you might be passionate about?
I think, right now, we are in triage mode. What’s the right way to say this? I think that the world zagged in a way that, as a child, my thought progress was only one direction, and, in the last few years, the world has zagged in a way that was so surprising to me, personally, and, for me, upsetting, but I think there is a silver lining in it a little bit–it has mobilized legions of people who now, at least in America, no longer take certain freedoms and inclusions for granted. So, I think, for me, every day has become about doing what you can. If, today, what you can do is contribute money, that’s great. If you can march, go march. If today is the day you can get on a plane and volunteer somewhere internationally, then how wonderful. But, I see everyone doing what they can in the moment because we know that every day is precious and a new chance, but every day is dire and there are so many needs that it is simply a matter of being engaged. I’m an ambassador for the organization CARE this year and I got to go on a trip with them to Rwanda in January. What a blessing of an opportunity that was and what an incredible organization they are. They’re in 94 countries all over the globe and it’s hard to thumbnail them because they do very nuanced responses in each situation, and in Rwanda we spent a lot of time in a Safe School for Girls, but also in a village doing savings and loan outgrowth that a woman, named Bridget, had to beg her husband for money for soap five years ago, and now she owns a vegetable farm, has 850 chickens, gets 1,000 eggs a day, and she has employees. So, to go and see things like that where people are hands on, it’s just. It’s not charity in that “here’s four dollars,” it’s charity in that “here’s the infrastructure, we’re supporting your dream, let’s figure out how to make this work.” So, that’s incredible, and then some days you get to go march with the women’s march, and then some days you’re working so you can only send money, but I just feel like I see so many more of my friends just doing whatever they can every day and the aggregate is gonna make an avalanche of good.
Do you feel that women should be playing a specific role in climate change today?
Oh my goodness. Well, first, I would just take issue, like semantically, with the word debate because it’s science and it’s happening and it’s true. Climate change is a truth, not something to be talked about anymore, it’s something that should be acted on. And, in terms of a gender specific role for women…I mean, of course, you can’t mention gender and climate without thinking of Greta Thunberg because she has been such an inspiration. The last year and a half when her voice has been so angelically spearing. But, for me, I don’t think that climate is gendered because it effects all of us all at once, everywhere, so only that I celebrate that women are finding and using their voices and taking their space in the room, as they should be, because we have so much to contribute. But, shy of that, I definitely will say with an asterisk that we do bring a different perspective, so it is encumbered upon us to use our voices, take our space, and sit at the table. But, besides that, I do believe it to be a human issue, not a gendered issue.
If you could have someone else’s job for the day, who and what would that be?
There’s sort of an inherent megalomania in taking someone else’s job, so I will frame it like if I could give all my energy to someone who is living a life I think deserves it for a day, it would be Ava Duvernay. I would give Ava absolutely all of my energy and light, and I just think that she is walking the walk with such grace and courage and giving her truth and telling the important stories and bringing people to the table and getting other people’s stories out there with that distribution arm of hers…Ava can have all my energy for at least a day to go and do good.
What historical figure do you most identify with?
I demur from claiming that I am, you know, in any way like anyone great, but I’ll tell you whom I think of and admire. If I could ever, even in a small way, inspire like Martin Luther King Jr., or I could be honest like James Baldwin, or Michelle Obama still ranks for me as a person who is just doing life right on every level. I’d be super proud if elements of any of them could radiate forth as I walk around this planet and this life.
In what way do you work for women’s power and equality and what do you think is the number one action we as a society can take like an affirmative action to make change possible?
For me, short term, right now, boots on the ground. That’s the answer to that–women running for office. I think, in America at least, representation matters and I know my industry…we’re trying to take baby steps forward in terms of having everyone’s story told, but the people who make the laws are the people who really impact daily life, and that’s not necessarily even a presidential level–that’s your town councilors, your school board members, it’s a very local level people. And, of course, abortion is such a dire topic right now, but I think getting women in office is going to change so much, and I see a wonderful groundswell in that direction. I also see a wonderful synergy around not just women supporting women, but people supporting women, so that’s really a big focus for me now. I wanna support everyone, I wanna see everybody get out and run, and I wanna see more women in office making decisions that hold…we’re just a little bit better. God bless, and I hope this will change too, but we’re a little bit better at holding everyone’s concerns in our hands. So, I look forward to more women in office.
Have you ever encountered a block in a workplace where you’ve had to turn around and figure out, ‘what do I do?’
Yes, of course. We renegotiated Scandal as a group and it was very clearly women made far, far less than all of the men and it was, obviously without any specifics, I think we were all surprised by the truth of it. You know, we know we’re privileged because we’re so lucky to have fancy jobs anyway, so I think we thought we were insulated, but we weren’t. And, to tag on what you’re saying about loving men and having a conversation, they’re being wonderful men that are already having the conversation. I mean, we are a real family and we just sat down and threw spaghetti at the wall until we could figure out an algorithm that respected everyone equally, and it took us from August to December. It took a long time, but we did it and it’s doable, but I think the most important thing is sharing knowledge and having the conversation. Talking is everything, being honest, and open, leaving space to go away and think things through and process come back together with ideas. Everybody’s ideas are respected and then, eventually, when there’s love in your heart you wind up at the most just answer. Yeah, when everybody’s in it.
Do you feel that there was a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today and can you tell me what that is?
Yes, it’s a bit of a nebulous, not so much like…I saw this and this changed, but singing. It was singing. From the time I was five or something I’ve been singing and just knowing that I could live other lifetimes in this lifetime, even if they were just three minutes long in a song, but it was an instant addiction or salvation or haven or however you wanna coin it. It saved me, it really, really did, and so I just knew very, very early that I needed it. Yeah, that’s the right way to say it, I needed it and I’ve been so lucky because I have so many friends that are of equal or surpassing talent that maybe have not gotten to be actors in this lifetime, so I feel lucky everyday that I get to do what I do because I love it so much, but you just exercise your empathy like all day, every day–it’s such a privilege, it’s the best.
What is the best piece of advice that’s ever been given to you?
My sweet mother has buried four husbands and her third husband I loved so much. His name was Barry and he used to always say, he was from Brockton, Massachusetts, he was like, “Just be yourself and you’ll be fine,” and I literally couldn’t hear that for…I mean, he’d been dead ten years before I could hear that, I was so not wanting to be myself ever, anywhere, at any time, but it has come to be a lifeline because it’s never wrong. You’re never wrong if you give your truth and it always just opens other peoples’ hearts, even if they disagree with you, they can sense your honesty. So, it wound up being the best thing anyone ever told me, the whole secret to life…just be yourself and you’ll be fine.
There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions? Thoughts?
Yeah, we fill the pipeline. We get the pipeline full, we keep women, girls in, we keep girls in school. We keep listening and feeding girls dreams. We let them know that everything is possible because that’s all it is right now–we’re just having to get the applicant pool more full because life has self-selected women out of some sectors too early and unfairly. So, now that we’re aware of it, we just have to fill the whole pond full of beautiful, wise, wonderful female voices, and then, I really do feel like it’s self-winding from there, and once you give women their power they can run with it.
What’s your favorite book, fiction or nonfiction?
Oh my god, I mean, there have been many, but in the last few years it’s The Goldfinch. The Goldfinch just laid me flat like Donna Tartt. She has done something in language, and I never wanted it to end. I could have wrapped myself in those sentences like they were the warmest blankets. It was the most delightful second life I’ve had in…I don’t know when.
What do you most value in friends?
I most value kindness. Helpfulness is delightful also, like if they’re hilarious, what a boon, but I value a kind heart.
What trait do you most deplore or dislike in yourself and in others?
I am most disappointed in myself when I bark. That horrible little thing, when you snap at people and it’s just the sound of fear, right? You’re just afraid of something, or you’re ashamed of something and you’re lashing out to keep a distance, so that’s something I’ve been working on lately–trying to just love myself through those moments: “Oh, honey, whoa I’m sorry? You’re ashamed of something?” or “Oh, you think you have a zit?” or “You’re not smart enough” or whatever and it gently gets you back to being the human you want to be. Especially in New York when someone barks at me, I’m like, “oh, bless them,” or “this is a bad moment for them.” I hate that, but we’re just human beings, it’s just where we are in the moment and hopefully we all get better.
What do you consider is the most overrated virtue?
What I feel is a little over rated right now is self-promotion. There’s a certain blind self-interest that I think, every once in a while, could pause and listen a little, as much as it looks at itself.