In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Best known as True Blood’s sly and vicious Pam Swynford De Beaufort, progeny of Alexander Skarsgard’s Eric, Kristin Bauer Van Straten has also appeared in episodes of Once Upon A Time, Seinfeld, and The Secret Life Of The American Teenager. Her latest role is as a spokesperson; she’ll introduce Earth Focus: Illicit Ivory, a documentary that aims to expose the stark and shocking effects of the illegal global ivory trade. Bauer Van Straten is a longtime animal rights activist, having previously worked to free a tiger living at a Louisiana gas station. Earth Focus: Illicit Ivory airs nationwide on Link TV beginning Thursday, May 28. Following that broadcast, the show will also be streaming for free online.
Kristin Bauer Van Straten: It was selling jewelry on carts in downtown Boston in the winter.
The A.V. Club: When was that?
KBVS: That was through college, so early ’90s. I stood out there all day in 10-degree weather in the snow. I had to get up really early, take the subway, stand in line for my cart. It was horrifying.
AVC: Were you selling to tourists?
KBVS: Yeah, it’s on the Freedom Trail, so it’s tourism. It’s like $8 earrings. But it was physically painful.
I was also a maid, so cleaning toilets wasn’t my favorite thing, but honestly, standing outside all day in the cold was worse. Although that’s what I did for seven years on True Blood, so I guess it’s all context.
AVC: True Blood seemed warm—to viewers, at least.
KBVS: It didn’t seem warm to us, but for Alan Ball, I’ll do almost anything. For earrings, not so much.
KBVS: You know, that’s an interesting question. I started to look at that when True Blood ended. It’s a gradient scale because you can compare yourself to less successful people and more successful people. I want to give you a moment, but I’m not sure that there was one moment. I know that there are odd markers, and sometimes I will have that thought at random times. One of them that happened to me was when I was at Trader Joe’s buying the 36-pack of toilet paper, because I used to be so poor that I would buy one roll at a time or I would steal it. There are moments like that, like central air conditioning. When I turn on my central air conditioner, I feel like, “Wow, I really have come a long way.” Or buying the super expensive organic raw food for my dogs, and I remember when I had to buy the cheapest big bag of kibble. So I think for me it’s often in terms of comfort.
KBVS: I would give a lot to actually be able to glamour China into not wanting ivory. I can’t even tell you how much I would give to be able to stop the illicit trade of Africa’s wildlife, and to just look into the president of China’s eyes and say, “You don’t want this anymore, your country doesn’t want this anymore,” and have it be done. That would be great.
AVC: You could do the whole country.
KBVS: Yep. You could go on television. That would be my dream.
AVC: As with most supervillain plans, that cuts both ways. It might seem like it’s doing a lot of good, but you’d surely piss some people off.
KBVS: Well, I would start with the greater good… or end up there. But I’m sure that I would take a couple of stops along the way and maybe glamour Elon Musk into giving me a Tesla or something for free, I don’t know. There would be something that wouldn’t be so altruistic.
AVC: How long have you been passionate about stopping the ivory trade?
KBVS: I started finding out three years ago. I had a dinner with some people from IFAW and they told me what was happening, and I felt like I was at a real fork in the road, because it’s very difficult to learn about all these things that are happening on the Earth right now that shouldn’t be happening. My husband is African and his family is from Kenya, and this was a huge passion of his grandfather’s—in fact he was the scientist who figured out how to tranquilize large animals with this drug called M-99, and it’s the protocol they still use today—so I called my mother-in law in South Africa, and I just couldn’t look away. The more information that I had, the more I wanted to do something, and so it’s been a few years on this particular topic, but my whole life, growing up on a farm, I’ve just always liked nature and animals.
AVC: People in the U.S. probably think that because it doesn’t affect them here that it’s not a bigger problem. They say, “Well, I don’t buy ivory. No one I know buys ivory.”
KBVS: I think you’re exactly right, and that has to do with how to engage people who may never be going to Africa or seeing these animals in the wild. I think it’s a personal choice. You have to look inward and ask yourself, “Am I okay with not doing something? Writing a letter, giving $5, fostering an orphan, something. Am I okay if these animals do go extinct in my lifetime? In the next 10 years. Or do I personally, for my own soul, do I need to do something?” And that is a fork in the road that I would like everybody to actually address, as opposed to elephants going extinct by default, because we were just busy. I think it’s time for us to make a choice.
KBVS: I’ve heard stories about me as a kid. My dad got me a T-shirt that said “here comes trouble,” and when I ask my mom what I was like, she just sighs with this weary tone and says, “Oh, you were really busy.” I was born in 30 minutes, and walked and ran at like nine months, and I think I’ve just been pedal-to-the-metal my whole life. I know that I’m pretty tired, so that seems to add up.
KBVS: It was Andy Gibb. “Shadow Dancing.” I used to say my prayers at night and it was like, “God bless mom, dad, my sisters, all my animals, and Andy Gibb.”
AVC: Is he still alive?
KBVS: He is not. I was going to make a joke that apparently prayer doesn’t work. He died young. He’s a tragedy.
KBVS: I don’t know why, in my head, I would probably be playing the theme from Rocky. But that would be embarrassing if that was played out loud. I mean, that’s the kind of mentality you would need to go into a wrestling ring. I don’t know, anytime you walk onto a stage or something where there’s lots of people staring at you, you need to have something inspiring inside your head. Bolstering.
AVC: Have you ever used music to get you psyched up for a role?
KBVS: I have. When my energy was flagging, I would listen to Michael Jackson. I’d dance around.
KBVS: I filmed the lead-in to the Earth Focus: Illicit Ivory documentary, and it’s an amazing piece. I feel really lucky that they wanted me to introduce those, because I spent the last couple years knowing how important this kind of programming is.
KBVS: Oh yeah. And I wish I knew her name, but every once in a while someone will come running up to me—actually I was with my friend Liz Vassey. This is the funniest one. We were leaving the Arclight after seeing a movie, and these two fans ran up to us and put in front of her a photo and put in front of me a photo to sign, and neither one of them was us. I looked at her and she looked at me, and we went, “screw it.” And we both signed our names on someone else’s face. I don’t know who this blond girl is, but Liz knows who the girl is who looks like her. Lindsay… I don’t know. It’s an Asian girl and my friend isn’t Asian. At least mine is blond and I guess we resemble each other. There’s also another photo going around that is not me, and I find that all the time. I don’t know who it is.
AVC: Are these fans? How do they have the photos of you? Are they people that sell the photos online?
KBVS: I never know how it works, because I’ll show up at the airport, and they’ll have photos of me to sign. They have some sort of superpower where they know where we’re going to be. Or they must have, in their car, hundreds of different pictures of celebrities, and then hang out at the airport all day? I don’t know how, I don’t understand.
AVC: But you always sign your name to them? So somewhere out there someone has a photo of someone else with your name on it?
KBVS: Oh, hundreds. There’s a picture that’s supposed to be me, and it’s not. And even my husband said, “that’s you.” I said “nope.” She looks a lot like I do.
KBVS: Well, I’m a really good painter.
AVC: House painting or Van Gogh painting?
KBVS: I went to school for fine art. I’m a decent housepainter, but I’m a really good fine art painter. So during the strike years, I printed up a business card to do portraits of people and pets.
AVC: That’s a booming industry.
KBVS: Yeah, I know! It actually did sort of take off after True Blood took off, and I didn’t need to try to do it anymore. But that’s what I would hope to do is painting, because I don’t think I’m qualified for anything else. My last job would be babysitting, so I don’t think Starbucks would even hire me.
KBVS: I was collecting Barbies. I know… embarrassing. I sold them all on eBay, and traded them for vintage dishes. So I’ve collected two things.
AVC: What kind of vintage dishes?
KBVS: Franciscan Starburst. They look like they would be on the Jetsons cartoon. They’re classic mid-century, with these funny starbursts on them.
AVC: Why those? And why Barbies?
KBVS: Barbies was a reaction to being home and we were going through all of our old toys we had when we were kids, and because I was the last child, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I remember that Barbie!” “Oh, that’s Jill’s.” “Oh my gosh, the plastic horses!” “Those are Jill’s.” “Oh, the puppets!” “Those are Jill’s.” And nothing was mine. I was like 25 years old and I burst into tears, and what was mine? Everything was a hand-me-down. Then we went to Chicago to a museum, and we stopped into FAO Schwarz for my nieces, and I saw these collector Barbies, and I was on a series at the time, so I bought like 10. I don’t know. Never too late to have a happy childhood. And then I just kind of got into it. And ended up with a lot, until I wanted dishes.
The other thing that I did was take them out of the box and I displayed them. I had a shelf put up around my bedroom. And then I met a guy and he moved in and I just felt bad for him that he was sleeping in this bedroom with Barbies everywhere. All they care about is three things and one of them is food, and we were eating off of crappy dishes, so I traded the Barbies for something he could appreciate.
KBVS: The first thing that comes to mind is the birthday cake that my mom always made me, which was applesauce cake with butterscotch frosting.
AVC: Would that be your dessert, or would you just eat a big piece as your entrée?
KBVS: Honestly I think if it were my last meal, I’d just eat the whole cake.
AVC: Your stomach would hurt but it wouldn’t matter.
KBVS: Yeah, I would be in a blood-sugar coma and have a horrible stomachache, and then I guess death would be welcoming. You’d be happy to move on. Get rid of this body that’s in agony.
Bonus question from Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J: Have you ever had sex with a man?
AVC: I think he was hoping he was going to get a guy.
KBVS: [Laughs.] Well, the answer is definitely yes. I think that’s okay for my mother to see now that I’ve been married for a while.
AVC: And what do you want to ask the next person?
KBVS: Well, they’ll know it’s from me. Maybe I should ask them would they rather be owned by Pam from True Blood, or owned by Maleficent?
AVC: What’s your answer?
KBVS: I don’t know if you want to be owned by Pam?
AVC: If she likes you, maybe, but otherwise you’re screwed.
KBVS: That is a really a toss-up, man. I mean, I certainly know Pam a lot better and like her a lot, so I’ll go with Pam. I think she’s brutal but fair.