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January 19, 2008

Politically Act-ive

Wow, I'm sorry it's been so long since i posted something. Anyway, I was interviewed for a piece in Backstage West. Here's the full text.


January 18, 2008
By Nicole Kristal

Outsiders often accuse those working in the entertainment industry of caring more about their own material well-being than about the greater good. But many actors' concerns about their country run parallel to their concerns about their careers. With the California and New York primaries set for Feb. 5, many left-leaning thespians are getting involved or at least pondering their preference for certain candidates, while weighing the key issues that impact them because of their profession.

"I know a lot of actors who didn't vote at all in the last couple of elections but who finally will," said Carrie Wiita, a Los Angeles actor in her 20s and a supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Since last year, Wiita has done phone banking for Clinton and continues to inform her own friends about differences between Clinton and her main competitor, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

As an actor, the issue of greatest concern to Wiita is health care. "The difference between Hillary's plan and Barack Obama's plan [is that] Hillary mandates health care for everyone," said Wiita, who added that she feels Clinton's mandate will decrease the number of patients who cannot pay their hospital bills, which will take the burden off the entire medical system and lower costs for everyone. This is important to Wiita, a nonunion actor who currently pays a $300 monthly premium through California's Major Risk Medical Insurance Program because all other insurance providers denied her coverage.

Actor and Obama supporter Matthew McCallum said the health-care issue concerns him as well. "I think as actors we have to do something about health care, because I honestly know only about a handful of actors in town that have any health care at all, and that's a little absurd," he said. The issue of gay marriage is also of importance to McCallum, who has a family member who is gay.

McCallum said he's interested in Obama in part because of the senator's hopeful message and skills as an orator, which appeal to McCallum as an actor. "Frankly, I think there's a lot to be said for idealism, which I think is what Obama encompasses." McCallum added that he intends to campaign for the Democratic candidate, whomever it may be, when the general election comes around.

Union Woes

Politically active actor Amir Talai lamented that none of the politicians seemed overly concerned about addressing the lack of jobs in the entertainment industry. "I don't really have any illusions that any of the candidates have anything of meaning to say about Hollywood or the unions or anything in my profession directly," said Talai, noting that when politicians talk about employment, they're often referring to manufacturing jobs in the Midwest. However, Talai said the WGA strike has drawn actors into politics. "What's really interesting about the strike is that it started getting us politically active locally and realizing that we have to make our voices heard as artists, and I think that, hopefully, that will carry over into national politics and statewide politics." Talai, who worked ardently on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, supports Obama in the primary and plans to do phone banking and canvassing for whichever Democratic candidate is nominated.

Each of the top three Democratic contenders -- Clinton, Obama, and former senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards -- expressed their support of the writers in statements released to the press in early November. Edwards walked the picket line in front of NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif., at the beginning of the strike; Clinton showed her support by appearing on David Letterman's show when he returned to the air under a WGA agreement; and Obama said, "I stand with the writers," in a Nov. 5 statement.

However, Obama recently came under fire from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees for hiring nonunion stagehands to work his political events, such as one in December featuring Oprah Winfrey in New Hampshire. According to IATSE, the union asked Obama's campaign to move the event to a union-sanctioned venue. The campaign refused to move, and after IATSE threatened to picket, Obama promised to make a pro-union statement and use union venues in the future. IATSE later endorsed Clinton.

Get Up, Stand Up!

Regardless of which candidate left-leaning actors select in the primary, actors cannot forget their unique abilities to effect change and become a part of the political process. Actor Patti Negri has been a poll worker in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles for 15 years; acting enables her to devote time during the day to support the democratic process. "Stand up for what you believe in," she advised actors. "We're eloquent and well-spoken, and people listen to us because we know how to command an audience. If you have a passionate view on something, express yourself. That's part of our training."

Talai said actors have another talent to lend to politics: "What's great about actors is we're used to rejection, so we're perfectly suited to working in politics. We can make calls and get hung up on, we can knock on doors and have doors slammed in our faces, and we deal with that all day long."

Back Stage contacted Southern California campaign offices of Republican presidential candidates and requested to speak with any actors volunteering for their campaigns. As of press time, the calls had not been returned. If you are an actor who intends to vote for a Republican candidate and would like to share your point of view, please email news writer Nicole Kristal.

Nicole Kristal can be reached at

Read the archives:
My advice for current and aspiring actors (Feb '11)
So long, Amiricans! (Jan '10)
Vancouver! (Nov '09)
Politically Act-ive (Jan '08)
Welcome to the Desert (Jun '07)
In Flux (May '07)
"Which Groundlings show(s) should I see?" (Feb '07)
BackStage Article (Nov '06)
just for the heck of it, Luke Chueh (Mar '06)
Season 2 to come (Feb '06)
Seriously? (Feb '06)
SF Chron: you should be watching Campus Ladies! (Feb '06)
CL news: Giant bra is strapped for a home (Jan '06)
NY Times calls Campus Ladies Hilarious (Jan '06)
LA Times calls CL original and infectious (Jan '06)
Cheryl Hines TV Guide interview (Jan '06)
Hollywood Reporter loves Campus Ladies (Jan '06)
NY Times Business article on Campus Ladies (Jan '06)
OK, it's setting in (Dec '05)
Best... Problem... Ever! (Nov '05)
Gilmo my god! (May '05)
Kicking Aspen (Feb '05)
Goodbye WWRY (Jan '05)
Republicans -- the ultimate in Domestic Abuse (Nov '04)
Special K (Nov '04)
We Will, We Will, ROCK! (Sep '04)
We Will Preview You (Aug '04)
We Will Rehearse You (Jul '04)
Room Raiders / Summertime (Jun '04)
‘We Will Rock You’ Casting (May '04)
Nevermind Nirvana (Mar '04)
The Untitled Onion Movie (Jan '04)
Year in Review (Dec '03)
Second Bombay Dreams callback (Oct '03)
Bombay Dreams callback (Oct '03)
You're Not My Type (Sep '03)
More Making an Ass of Myself (Jul '03)
Shedding (Jun '03)
The Luckiest Man on Earth (May '03)
Snoopy the Intern (Apr '03)
In Pursuit of a Pilot (Mar '03)
The Real Amir (Feb '03)
Legally Blonde 2 (Jan '03)
Osama Yo Mama (Dec '02)
US Army Shoot (Oct '02)
Pimpin' the Studio Lots (Sep '02)
Gambling (Aug '02)

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