By Ryan Meehan
The star of over 75 feature films and television programs and internationally recognized for her five year starring role as Lt. Stephanie Holden in the TV series Baywatch, Alexandra Paul began her acting career at age 18 starring in the highly rated telefilm Paper Dolls. She then starred in dozens of films, several television series and more movies for Lifetime Television than any other actress. Alexandra is a vegan and an environmentalist who has been recognized by the United Nations for her work on the human overpopulation issue. She has registered voters in South Africa, delivered medical supplies to war torn Nicaragua, volunteered for a population nonprofit in Sierra Leone and been arrested over 16 times in the United States for civil disobedience actions on peace, gay rights and environmental issues. Alexandra has been driving electric cars for 25 years, and was featured in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Alexandra is also an athlete who competed in the Boston Marathon, the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon and who participates ocean swim races as long as 13.7 miles. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, triathlon coach Ian Murray. We are grateful to have the extremely talented Alexandra Paul as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: What was the catalyst for your desire to get into the field of acting? When was the exact moment you knew that this was something that you’d be doing full-time?
AP: In late 1981, I was 18 and modeling in New York City when I auditioned for the lead in a TV movie called Paper Dolls. It was an ABC Movie of the Week about models, and the producers were looking for an unknown girl to play the part of the innocent teen who becomes an international modeling sensation. Naturally, they auditioned real models. My agency, Wilhelmina, had asked me to take acting classes so they could submit for commercials and soap roles, and I had been taking classes for a couple months with an acting teacher named David Mann. He was just terrific and I was so inspired by him. It was the first time I had considered acting as career- I mean, I was just taking a year off before going to Stanford University to be an environmental scientist!
I was flown to Los Angeles to screen test, got the role and had an amazing experience acting opposite Daryl Hannah, Eric Stoltz, Joan Collins, Jennifer Warren and Craig T. Nelson. Not to mention the best director I have ever had in my life, Ed Zwick. He truly ruined me for anyone else. I have been looking for a director to compare to him ever since, and every single one has come up short.
Paper Dolls was one of the top 5 TV movies of 1982, in an era when TV movies were huge. I decided to forego Stanford, much to my mother’s chagrin (and I got a terse note from the dean of admissions saying I was throwing my life away). I stayed in LA to commit to being an actress.
RM: How often would you say that someone recognizes you as Stephanie from Baywatch? What is the most frequently asked question you get asked about your time on that show?
AP: It has been 20 years since I filmed my last Baywatch episode, but people still recognize me every day. The most frequently asked question is “Is David Hasselhoff nice?” And I say YES! He is wonderful, and such a joy to work with.
RM: When did you first become a vegan; and was there anything that you heard or saw that personally influenced that decision to not consume any sort of animal byproducts?
AP: When I was 14 years old, I read Frances Moore Lappe’s book Diet for a Small Planet, which talked about the environmental destruction of eating meat – how wasteful it is to grow food for cows when you can use less land growing vegetables directly for humans (1 acre of land will yield 56 lbs of beef, but 20,000 lbs of potatoes, for example). I immediately became a vegetarian, which in 1978 meant people worried you would die from malnutrition! The next year, I did a book report on Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and learned about the ethical reasons to not eat meat. Early on in my career, I included a clause in my acting contracts that said I would not wear fur and that the makeup used on me must not be tested on animals. In 1989, I met Chris DeRose, the founder of Last Chance for Animals, and he inspired me to give up wearing leather, wool or silk. I wanted to give up dairy, as that industry is abominably cruel, but it took until 2010 for me to make that change. Lots of messages from video, books, friends, my brother Jonathan – they all accumulated until I finally took dairy out of my diet. I decided one night and that was that – it was so easy and it has changed me so much as a person! My heart is so open, I am more compassionate in my everyday life and I am more aware of injustice everywhere. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is taking 33 years to go from vegetarian to vegan.
RM: What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened on the set of any television show or movie that you’ve worked on? Why did it initially catch you so off-guard to begin with; and how did you and the other actors and actresses around you respond to that situation?
AP: One story is that when I was shooting my first feature film, Christine, I brought my identical twin sister, Caroline, to the set secretly and we dressed her up in my wardrobe and did her makeup and hair as if she were I. I was so new to Hollywood, no one knew I had an identical twin! Then she walked onto the set and shot a scene without anyone but the lead actor and the makeup/hair/wardrobe departments knowing that an impostor was doing the scene (which fortunately had no dialogue, or we might have been found out!). The funny thing is there is a great still shot of the director, John Carpenter, looking at my sister during rehearsal with this really odd look on his face. He later said he thought I was ill because “I” had not said hello to John in my normal way.
While filming rescue scenes for Baywatch down in Long Beach (we filmed water scenes separately as it would take too much time for actors to go from wet to dry) after a rain, Nicole Eggert found a dead body washed up on the beach and she called me over to look. It was weird, waxy and bloated -it had been washed ashore and you could see the bullet hole in the abdomen. We still took a boat out to film for the rest of the day. But another time after a rain there was so much floating styrofoam on the ocean surface we had to wrap for the day, as we could not find an area where there was no garbage. All these are reasons no one is supposed to be in the Santa Monica bay after a rain – the city does not have storm drains that catch things, so everything on the ground runs straight to the ocean – trash, motor oil from the streets, animal waste etc.
I was in Yugoslavia in 1991 at the beginning of Croatian/Serbian civil war there, filming the movie Death Train. We were the last production in that country (and then were the first back in when fighting stopped to film the sequel, Nightwatch). Pierce Brosnan and I were playing United Nations soldiers, and one day we went up to our hotel rooms after a long day of shooting with real UN soldiers next to us in the elevator. I never felt like more of a fraud, pretending to be heroic with fake bad guys when they actually were risking their lives in real conflict.
RM: Based on what you’ve seen within the industry, what seems to be the most common mistake that younger individuals wanting to get into the business tend to make? Why do you think that blunder is so recurrent among that particular group of people?
AP: Talent alone will not bring you success. You have to have discipline, work well with others, and be a smart business person. I see young women thinking they have to be super beautiful, and that is just not true. What actors have to be is the best version of themselves.
I wish I had taken an audition class when I first came to town – casting directors will often only call you in once and if you do not do well they often never agree to audition you again. Auditioning is a different animal than acting, and learning proper auditioning technique is important. Also important – and fun- is taking scene study classes, improv classes, dance classes, voice classes, singing classes – anything you can to continue working on the craft of acting.
RM: What do we need to know about “Mentor”; and what’s the best thing about getting to work with Jason Stuart?
AP: You should spend 40 minutes and watch the 6 episodes! You will enjoy it. I love working with Jason because he is one of my closest and oldest friends. He knows me so well that I feel comfortable with him. We have been in 5 of the same films, but only in 3 of them have we had scenes together. Mentor was the most fun because we play ourselves, although I also loved playing his sister in 10 Attitudes. Plus Jason is very funny, so there is a lot of laughter on the set.
RM: Would you consider the kind of activism that you engage in to be overly aggressive, or do you think that people who might not necessarily agree with the ways in which you’ve chosen to speak your mind would argue that it appears that way due to the fact that you are so outspoken?
AP: I do not think I am doing enough, considering the environmental crisis we are in and the suffering all around!
I am sure there are some who do not like me for my outspokenness and my views, and I totally respect their right to boycott my projects. I do not aim to change the minds of folks who have already made their mind up anyway. I have more impact influencing the fence sitters, those folks who have not decided how they feel about something.
I actually respect folks who stand up for their beliefs – even if I disagree with them- than the folks who do not care, are afraid to “get involved”, or who cannot be bothered. I admire passion and commitment. A woman once told me she could not watch those slaughterhouse videos because she “loves animals so much” and it would upset her. I would prefer to hang out with a hunter who believes he is doing the right thing, than a wuss like her.
RM: Which of the causes that you support would you say is the most misunderstood and why? Is it simply a matter of people being uneducated about that particular subject, or something deeper that drives the court of public opinion away from doing the right thing?
AP: Human Overpopulation for sure. People are worried their rights to have as many children as they want will be taken from them, but populationists like myself just want to educate people about the benefits of having a one child family, and the hardships that will occur when the world human populations reaches 10 billion in a few decades. We do not want to force anyone to have fewer kids than they want, but we do want to discuss how cultures for so long have inculcated us with the notion that we must reproduce to survive. Which made sense back then, but now we are adding 1 billion more people to the planet every 12 years! I am 51 years old, and the world population has more than doubled in my lifetime – from 3 billion to 7.3 billion. Population growth will stop at one point, the question is how – when we run out of water, when a famine hits, a war starts over resources ? Or because we all choose to have smaller families?
The media is full of economic doom and gloom when it comes to countries whose population is falling. The fear is that fewer consumers will cause the economy to falter, and there will not be enough young people to support the older generation’s social security and medical costs. All these are valid points, but we are forgetting to compare that with what will happen if our populations keep growing: unemployment, lack of infrastructure to keep up with the influx of people, poor education and serious quality of life issues due to overcrowding. What about food prices, water prices, housing prices when billions more people are competing for what are pretty much the resources we have now… some folks think technology will save us, but me personally I have no desire to live on a planet with 11 billion people (which is what the UN is projecting in 85 years) no matter how great the technology to keep us alive is.
When my 78 year old mom was born, there were 2 billion people on the planet. In 78 years the world population has almost quadrupled! The fact that no one is freaked out by that perplexes me.
RM: So who did try to kill the electric car? What was the most fascinating thing that you learned from participating in that film; and what do you think is the most significant barrier which prevents us from using cleaner and more effective energy solutions today?
AP: The one barrier to massive adoption of electric cars is gas prices. As long as gas prices stay within our new normal (under $5 a gallon here in the US), staying with gas cars will be the easier route (pun intended). Gas prices have not gone over $5/gallon because oil producers know that when prices go up steeply, people start to look for alternatives. They are even lulling us into buying more SUVs by letting the price drop (which will also put the smaller oil companies out of business).
Who killed the electric car, after California mandated that a certain percentage of vehicles had to be emission free? Technically, the California Air Resources Board, who repealed that mandate. But CARB was under a lot of pressure from car manufacturers and oil companies, and consumers trepidation about the new technology (which actually is a very old technology – 99% of the NY taxis in 1899 were electric) did not help matters. So there were a lot factors that killed the EV, just as there were a lot of factors that resurrected it in 2005: Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which made the term climate change a household phrase; the climb in gas prices; and the doc Who Killed the Electric Car?.
RM: What non-swimming related training is necessary for these distance swims that you take part in so often?
AP: It is always good to mix it up when training for a single sport race like swimming. Doing other activities to stay in shape prevents injury, boredom and overtraining. I am not going for a medal, so any sport that uses different muscles in different ways is good – I stretch, walk and ride the stationery bike in addition to swimming, and I do special exercises to keep my shoulders strong and healthy, since they hurt when my pool mileage rises. A competitive athlete has to be more picky and make sure they are doing things that complement their swimming, and will not hinder it (for example, a runner might not want to lift very heavy weights because more bulk will slow them down).
RM: When you look back on all that you’ve accomplished in your career in front of and away from the camera, which of your achievements do you consider to be paramount and why? If I were to ask you that question five years from now, do you think that you will have a different answer?
AP: I am proud to have stood up for many issues that were important to me, even if that meant getting arrested and spending time in jail for civil disobedience. I am also proud of the amazing relationship I have with my husband, Ian. We have been together 19 years and we are still very much in love.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
AP: Besides trying to save the world? 🙂
I am producing a couple movies. One is an action comedy called The B Team http://meetthebteam.com/ , starring a lot of my Baywatchcostars http://www.eonline.com/news/558716/baywatch-alumni-working-on-movie-with-john-cleese-find-out-more-about-the-b-team I am also producing a movie that is really close to my heart: a thriller about the beginning of the animal rights movement in America. It is based on the book Free the Animals http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/51975.Free_the_Animals by Ingrid Newkirk, a terrific true story about a young policewoman who is a cop by day and an animal liberator by night.
I also have 3 movies coming out in 2015: FireQuake on the Sy Fy channel, the independent movie Dirty, and the Lifetime movie Flirting with Disaster.
Official Website: http://alexandrapaul.com/
Alexandra on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alexandra-Paul/204595929578563
Alexandra on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/alexandra_paul
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.