Alexandra Paul is described by the Women's Entertainment web site as having an 'unusual combination of model looks, social activism and Ivy League intelligence'. She is best known for her role in the internationally-syndicated television series, 'Baywatch', but she has numerous films and television shows to her credit. A committed electric car owner since 1990, she's currently owns a Toyota RAV4 EV, and once leased a GM EV1.
Alexandra Paul: Action Hero
Exclusive interview with Hollywood actress, Alexandra Paul on her efforts to raise public awareness of the zero emission vehicle technology embodied in the now-defunct General Motors EV1.
By Bill Moore
There is a publicity photo of actress Alexandra Paul with actor Pierce Brosnan on the set of the 1993 action-adventure flick, "Death Train". Both are decked out in combat gear, ready to inflict mayhem while saving the planet from a rouge nuclear bomb threat, which is oddly appropriate because in real life, Paul has been very active in the anti-nuclear peace movement. She's been arrested a dozen times for her convictions.
So, when Burbank police gently removed her and her fellow protester, Colette Divine, from their RAV4 EV on March 14, 2005, slapped plastic hand binders on her, and hauled her off to jail, it was an experience with which the 41 year-old actress already was familiar.
So, why does a beautiful, talented, intelligent woman park her electric car in front of a truck transporter and risk arrest? EV World called her to find out. (NOTE: We also spoke with Ms. Divine and that interview will appear next week).
Ms. Paul's real world rendezvous with history became on February 16, 2005 when she participated in the first rally to attract public attention to the existence of some 78 General Motors EV1 electric cars parked behind the company's Burbank, California training center. Previous history indicated that like most of the other 1,100 or so cars built by the company between 1996 and 2000, these too would be crushed.
California entrepreneur Ken Adelman, an EV owner and environmental activist in his own right, had documented through aerial photography that the battery-powered two-seaters were being crushed at GM's Mesa, Arizona proving grounds. EV supporters were determined to prevent, if possible, the destruction of these cars, so they began an around-the-clock vigil in front of GM's building. EV1 vigilers, as they called themselves, signed up for 4-hour shifts. Paul estimates she did at least four 5am to 9am shifts, and probably a total of eight to ten shifts during the entire 28-day vigil.
It was during Paul's 9 am to 1 pm shift on Monday, March 14th that enclosed car transporters began arriving, signaling GM's intention to continue removing cars, a number of which it had successfully removed the previous Friday.
As a fourth transporter arrived, Paul, who had been siting in her RAV4 EV with Colette Divine, another working actress and RAV4 EV driver, decided to block the driveway preventing, at least temporarily, the transporters from leaving the lot. Volunteers in a Toyota Prius hybrid were prepared to block a second entrance behind the training center, if the trucks tried to leave that way.
"About thirty seconds later a Pilot truck full of EVs started to come out, and I was wedged between two car transports", Paul stated.
Thus began the stand-off that would bring in the Burbank police and carry the vigilers' message around the world.
"I knew that I was going to do an action," Paul told me, "because the ten days before when they had come and taken away EVs, we basically had to stand there and let them take the trucks out; and I really felt that we couldn't let that happen, that we had to step up our protest".
Since many of the people involved in the vigil work in the entertainment industry, they had worked hard to prepare the media for what was likely to happen. As soon as Paul saw the first truck arrive at 9:30, just after beginning her shift, she began calling her telephone tree and within minutes the cell towers around Los Angeles began to buzz with calls to other vigilers and the local media.
"By the time Noon came around, which was two-and-a-half hours after the first truck arrived, there were quite a few cameras there", Paul said.
Her First EV Got 25 Miles on a Charge
Paul was driving a GMC "Jimmy" SUV back in 1990. It sported a "Boycott Exxon" bumper sticker in protest of the environmental disaster caused in Alaska's Prince William Sound by the running aground of the Exxon Valdez in 1989. She said that it suddenly occurred to her that she was part of the problem.
So, she followed Ed Begley, Jr's example and went out a bought a Datsun that had been converted into a battery electric. That first EV got just 25 miles on a charge. Eventually, she would trade that car for a converted VW Rabbit with twice the range. In 1996, she heard about the EV1 and immediately put her name on the list to lease the car. She and her close friend, Ed Begley both took delivery of their EV1s the same day.
When Toyota broke precedence and offered to sell some 300 of its electric RAV4s, Paul bought on, as did Begley.
While she likes the RAV4 EV, she told me that the EV1 was a nicer car, one that came much more closely to exemplifying her own personal values.
Alexandra Paul with her EV1
Feeling of Impotence
While Paul and Divine sat in the banner festooned RAV4 EV, she refused to talk to the police or the media, instead letting vigil organizers Paul Scott and Chelsea Sexton speak for her.
"I know that Paul Scott and Chelsea Sexton are incredibly articulate on this issue and we've been working together for a long time on the EV1 issue. They certainly know how I felt and why I was doing this.
"You know, I think there was also this feeling of utter impotence, because we had offered $1.9 million to GM and they had ignored us. We had vigiled out there for 27 days and they had ignored us. They had even sent trucks and taken EVs out from under our noses, in broad daylight. So, I really felt like it was time to do something more drastic", she explained.
"I had no idea of the media attention it was going to garner, however. This is a very personal thing for me and I love the EV1s, championed the EV1. I was very, very sad when I couldn't re-lease the EV1 even though I sent GM a check, pledging my commitment to the car when they wanted to take it away from me. I now drive a Toyota RAV4, which is a good car and I am happy and grateful to have it, but it's nothing like the EV1... It drove like dream. It was fast and quiet. It turned on a dime."
She added that since it was the first designed-from-the-ground-up, mass-production electric car, that made it special. But she also liked the fact that for her needs it was appropriate, even as a two seater.
"In this era of Americans needing bigger and bigger cars for the oddest reasons that I find, or justifying it for the oddest reasons, I really found that a two-seater was good for me". Paul and her husband, Ian own a Prius, which gives them room for five, if they need it.
"He's a triathlete and a surfer, and he manages to fit all his bicycles and surf gear on a rack on top of the car or on back of the car. He does not need an SUV. And I hear all these incredible excuses [like] 'I have a big dog so I need an SUV'. I even heard somebody tell me the reason she had an SUV is because she had three kids and she wanted each of them to have their own seat, otherwise they would fight. I just find it incredible because I grew up... in a family of five and we never needed an SUV. And we had two dogs.
"I think that for me having such a small car and such an efficient car and technologically advanced car just showed that we really didn't need those old dinosaurs called SUVs", she said.
Peaceful Resistant Isn't Futile|
Determined to not make easy for the authorities to move her RAV4, Paul gave her keys to someone else and refused to speak directly to the police, using her cellphone instead.
"I really believe in non-violence, but I also believe in a short of resistance that has to be respectful. I didn't feel that it was okay when the locksmith was there to keep locking the door when he unlocked it. That felt childish".
Alexandra Paul being handcuffed on March 14, 2005
This peaceful resistance was mirrored by her actions. She told the police that while she wouldn't get out of the vehicle own her, she wouldn't offer resistance when the police took her by the arm and removed her and Ms. Divine, whom she praised for her poise in what was her first act of civil disobedience. She called this her "statement of resistance".
Paul also stressed that "when you're in a civil disobedience, it's really important not to be angry at the drivers of the transport trucks, or to be angry at the police, because they're just doing their jobs. The people that we need to focus our frustration towards, our disappointment and even our anger, is General Motors.
After being removed from the car, Paul and Divine were handcuffed and taken to the Burbank police station where they were jailed for about 4 hours and charged with a misdemeanor.
"They [the police] where very respectful", Paul said. Both women have court dates later this month, but Paul will be working on a film in Canada and will be seeking an extension on her appearance until June.
"I don't plan on spending time in jail over this", she told me "because I don't think it will serve our cause. But I do believe that the reason that it was important to do this civil disobedience was that we, the vigilers, really made every attempt to do everything else before this stand-off on Monday; and nobody really listened. This is a very important issue".
Paul credits the hard work of Scott, Sexton, and the environmental groups Earth Resource Foundation and Rainforest Action Network with marshaling the volunteers and media necessary to make this an internationally-reported event.
"It's so hard to express all the reasons why the EV1 should be on the road to America's media because we are such a soundbite country. At least people are [now] aware of the fact that GM is crushing these clean cars. I think if people get that, that's a big step. Then we have to add in salient points like $13,000 in taxpayer money went into each car. What a travesty that is.
"You know, it's sort of fitting and ironic that ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) has now been opened to drilling two days after our action. And then in the newspaper morning, I saw that GM stock went down 8.5 percent".
Paul remarked that even the proponents of drilling in the refuge acknowledge that the most that can be recovered is about 16 billion barrels, equivalent to just over two years consumption by America.
With a sigh in her voice, Paul said, "Hey guys, we have a clean car now."
Never About My Career
Some in the media, including CNN's American Morning, have charged that Paul and her fellow Hollywood celebrities are simply riding this story to advance their flagging acting careers. One newspaper called Ed Begley a has-been, a notion he found amusing in a personal email to me, saying he's never been busier in Hollywood. Alexandra Paul, too, has three movie projects lined up for this Spring and Summer.
But still, I had to ask her if she was doing this to advance her career.
"It was never about my career," she stated. "It was never about me being an actress. Being in that car was simply because I was an EV driver who really believes in that technology. I am so sickened that we can go to the Moon and we don't even have a car [made] in this country that gets over fifty miles per gallon. I think people should be stunned at that fact."
She pointed out that even in the anti-nuclear, peace actions she's taken part in, she never sought publicity, letting her Alexandra Paul web site recount those actions, instead.
"The scope of this [EV1 vigil] publicity is new for me. Today, I received a bunch of emails from Thailand and from Czechoslovakia and from Canada. They had all read about the EV1 situation".
More Than A Car
I asked Paul why GM chose to ignore their offer, in contrast to Ford, which had come around and solid the last of its Ranger EV pickups to their owners for just a $1.
"I have no idea", she responded with obvious frustration in her voice. "I really don't. I am sorry, I can't give you any insight into that. I don't quite understand the corporate mindset".
So, why is she so passionate about this issue?
"You know, the EV1 is more than a car. And our vigil was more than just about saving the seventy-eight cars in that back lot. It was about clean air and global warming, and the fact that we, as Americans, and we as citizens of the world have to start demanding that corporations make cars that are clean, because they are not going to it on their own... Clean cars mean less war. It doesn't just mean clean air because wars are now being fought over oil".
Paul senses that we're on the verge of peak oil and because America is so dependent on oil, that we are risking the collapse of our economy.
For her the EV1 represents the first real advance in automotive technology in decades. She points out that she saw a Mercedes-Benz car built in the 1922 that got essentially the same fuel economy as a contemporary model on display at the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show.
"I am thinking, Wow! We really haven't come that far".
Face-to-Face with GM Management
I asked Paul what she would say to GM's senior managers, Rick Wagner and Bob Lutz, if she had the chance.
She replied that she'd tell them that people want clean cars, not just cleaner cars. She told me that GM boasts about spending $1 billion to develop the EV over ten years time, but the same corporation spends nearly $3 billion every year just on advertising. She is convinced, as are many EV1 enthusiasts, that GM simply wasn't committed to building a market for the car.
"If GM would have advertised the EV1 and allayed American's fear about the range and the strangeness of the technology, I believe the EV1 would have sold like hotcakes".
She countered GM's argument that the car wasn't financially feasible by pointing out that the consequences of not building clean cars is far more expensive in terms of the effects of air pollution and global warming.
"If you look in the long run, its cheaper to have clean cars, zero emissions cars. I don't even want to hear 'cleaner' cars. That's not even good enough for me. And soon zero emission isn't going to be good enough. We're going to want zero pollution not only out of the tailpipe but out of the energy source too".
"I've heard all the reasons why they don' t make these cars, and I don't think they're good enough reasons for me," she said. "We know there was a list of five thousand people on the waiting list [for] the electric car and there were only eight hundred being leased to the public. That's pretty amazing. Almost six times more people wanted the car than cars available, yet they still put themselves on the waiting list in hopes that GM maybe would manufacture some more cars, or maybe some of those eight hundred would come up for them".
What amazes Paul perhaps more than anything else about the EV1 Vigil is how what she calls a "motley band" of individuals could organize and execute 28 straight days of around-the-clock vigils day and night through the worst rainstorms in Southern California in over two decades.
"I think that's amazing, and I am very proud to have been a part of it. To me that's even more a point of pride than the civil disobedience... I just find that consistency of commitment, through thick and thin, admirable; and I was just a small part of those 28 days, but I am really proud to have been a part of that. It means more to me than what happened on Monday".
Be sure to listen to our entire interview in MP3 audio using the Flash-based player below Ms. Paul's photo or by downloading the file to your hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 device.