20 Questions with Sigourney Weaver

She may have spent time on a moon called Pandora, but Sigourney Weaver calls herself an earthling who cares about this planet’s environment. Weaver’s role in the record-breaking movie “Avatar” has brightened her star in environmental circles and even brought her to Capitol Hill last week to testify before a Senate panel on ocean acidification. Between that and a congressional screening of “Acid Test,” a Natural Resources Defense Council documentary she narrates, Weaver spoke to The Hill about her time in the Capitol, her love of nature and what’s next for the movie star. 

You testified at a Senate hearing. How did it go?

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It was fascinating. It was a great honor for me to testify. I actually worked on Capitol Hill when I was in college and have been back a few times, but I have never been able to testify.

I thought there was very informed support from Sen. [Maria] Cantwell [D-Wash.], Sen. [Olympia] Snowe [R-Maine] and Sen. [Frank] Lautenberg [D-N.J.].
Our panel was great, too. There was a fisherman named Mr. Waters, appropriately enough, who was very articulate about the problem.

Who did you work for when you were on Capitol Hill? 

A New Jersey Republican. I was just an intern. I was in charge of gun-control mail. I was supposed to send out one letter that opposed gun control and another letter that was for gun control — which made me a little cynical at the time.

Those were the days where Washington, D.C. — all kinds of different people with all kinds of different points of view worked together during the day and went out together at night.

I sort of went in a different direction because I was in school in California, but I have very fond memories of that summer.

You’ve most recently supported Democrats. How’d it come about that you worked for a Republican?

I think I was 18, and actually, my father ran all of Nelson Rockefeller’s campaigns. Those were the days when there were a lot of Republicans who were Democrats, really, so I was also working for Rockefeller to defeat [Richard] Nixon, so that was even more interesting.

I hadn’t decided where I came down on some issues. It was more character-based. No one in my family was particularly fond of Nixon.

How did you get interested in ocean acidification?

The [Natural Resources Defense Council] approached me with the film “Acid Test” itself. They needed a narrator. Like most people, I had no idea about what was happening with the ocean. Scientists are just realizing now how sensitive the oceans are to carbon dioxide pollution and what it means for ocean life.

In the last five years, they’ve realized and been able to measure that the CO2, when mixed with seawater, creates carbonic acid, and our precious seas are more acidic. Now coral is being affected; plankton weighs 30 percent less. It’s already having a huge impact, and as just a concerned citizen, and frankly as an earthling, I wanted to get this message out, because people in America and our leaders want to stop this before it becomes irreversible.

Would you call yourself an environmentalist?

Definitely.

How’d you become interested in environmental issues?

I grew up on the planet. I appreciate everything I see. Growing up in New York state was hugely influential. We had leaders who understood they needed to protect the water supply. We have the Adirondacks, [which] I’ve been blessed to enjoy so much. We have the oceans, lakes, water. Even Central Park — as a New Yorker, I can say that.

I think it’s natural for human beings to care about their environment … so I think it was a very natural progression for me to go from someone who was aware of the environment to seeing it was in danger and wanting to help get the word out.

I imagine your being here today isn’t unrelated to your role in “Avatar.”

I was actually in Brooklyn giving out “Avatar” eco-warrior awards to some kids in the high school for writing very eloquent essays about how “Avatar” made them feel about the environment.

I think it touched a chord with people all over the world that can already see that we’re having a negative impact on our planet by burning fossil fuels and that it’s imperative that we start switching to a clean, green economy.

I think the movie’s very successful, it’s very entertaining, people love the love story, but what they talk about is how moving the movie is. A huge environmental message comes through the film, and it also seems to empower us with ownership of the planet — that it is up to us to fight for our natural resources and our natural landscapes and our fellow species. Unfortunately, man is greedy; corporations are greedy.

How do you prepare for a unique role like that?

One of the things that I liked about my part is that she’s a scientist. She unfortunately had to leave Earth because there was no botany left on the Earth.

We had a lot of science in the movie, some of which didn’t make it into the final cut. We had to figure out how scientists in the future would take samples. I think one of the reasons we wanted to do that is to encourage children to pursue science, and especially young girls.

Have you ever played a political figure in a movie?

I can’t remember that I have, but I’ve done some good research today.

And what are your conclusions? 

I have to say, I’m very impressed by some of the leadership on the climate bill. It’s a very interesting time to be a politician in this country. It takes tremendous energy to get points across and to work in a bipartisan fashion, and I have tremendous admiration for the senators I met today.

What else do you like to do besides make movies and talk about ocean acidification?

I love to hike, and I love to walk, and I love to go to some of these beautiful natural parts of our country. I don’t get to do it enough, but I really find that I get an incredible amount of sustenance from nature more and more as I get older — in every possible way: physically, emotionally.

What’s in store for you for the future?

I’m hoping I’ll continue to work for NRDC on these issues. They’re not going away, and I’d love to reach out to more people who I don’t think are aware of them.

On the job front, I think I’m playing a vampire next, and I have five movies coming out. And I hope I have a chance to do some hiking.

How did you prepare for your testimony?

At this point, because I made the film “Acid Test,” I think I just was able to build on what I already know.

I did try to learn more about the senators’ different positions and everything because, obviously, everyone needs to respect each other’s points of view.

But still, my job was to get the message across that we want action, that the status quo is not acceptable and that people should get in touch with their senators to tell them, and that they can watch the film “Acid Test.” The science is very clear and good for the whole family.

Were you nervous?

I have so much respect for these men and women, and it was such a thrill for me to meet Sen. Snowe, Sen. Cantwell, Sen. Lautenberg. I’m leaving Capitol Hill feeling very inspired by the leadership here. I think there’s a great chance to get this done.


To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Kris Kitto at (202)628-8539 or e-mail him at kkitto@thehill.com.