Exclusive Interview: 'True Blood's Kristin Bauer Stands Up for Animal Rights'
By Xaque Gruber
Though she is known to legions of television fans as a vampire on HBO’S “True Blood,” actress Kristin Bauer’s true passions include animal rights, and for the past few years she’s been doing all she can to right the wrongs of unnecessary medical testing on chimpanzees in America.
Xaque Gruber of Art for Animals’ Sake had the pleasure of chatting with the actress-artist-activist about her most recent efforts to use her celebrity to bring awareness to the cruelty experienced by animals in laboratories across the nation.
AFAS: I love your True Blood character, Vampire Pam. She’s so dark and wounded.
KB: Isn’t she great? I love that – ‘dark and wounded!’ And we’ve added the ‘wounded.’ I really like that she was just dark before, but now we get a little more of the backstory and understand her.
AFAS: A lot of True Blood fans I know are into the same good things and causes you feature on your web site, and I think it’s cool how you can use this spooky vampiric world as a way to promote a healthier world for ourselves.
KB: Isn’t that sort of fabulous and ironic? I didn’t know I was going to get so much support. I mean the fans are very passionate and loyal about True Blood, but also about helping all of us do our causes.
AFAS: Your web site is fantastic and really taught me a lot about you. You can’t really understand a person from generic things written about them on Wikipedia or IMDb.
KB: I had sites built for me before but they just weren’t personal, and I put a lot of energy into this one.
AFAS: There’s one line you have on there in reference to your love for animals and nature: “Life getting to be life.” And it resonated with me as being at the heart of your work with freeing chimpanzees.
KB: It is. Chimpanzees, animals in circuses just being animals, zoo animals, you know, animals not being spayed and neutered so we end up with an overpopulation problem – all of it to me – gay rights even – it’s all the same thing. It’s rights. Someone is removing someone else’s power of choice and power of free will. And it really bothered me that I chose to be an entertainer. I’m not a dolphin that was swimming in my natural habitat, scooped up in a net, and then what they do is they test them to see if they will learn and play along and be entertaining, and if they’re not, they’re dinner. And could you imagine if you were walking down the street and someone grabs you and tried to make you an actor and if you weren’t into it, or homesick, that you would be dinner.
AFAS: Animals have emotions, and can feel. Do people not realize that?
KB: I think they don’t. There’re some great groups doing studies to show that elephants mourn their dead. And there’s this gorilla named Koko who this woman taught sign language. And Koko told the story of watching his parents killed by poachers – so they have memory, and feelings and thoughts.
AFAS: I really do believe that cats and dogs and all animals on this planet have souls. Anything alive has a soul.
KB: I have four animals – two cats and two dogs. And everyone who has ever had a pet will tell you about their different quirks and personalities – so there’s somebody in there that has some sort of power of choice. “I like to sleep here.” “I like it when you rub my belly.” So they definitely would not prefer to be in a smaller cage than to get to walk around. These are basic rights we’re talking about with animals.
AFAS: How did you first get involved with being an activist for the chimpanzees?
KB: I was contacted by PCRM, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. They’re an interesting group because it’s doctors telling other doctors and scientific types that we can do better, and there are better choices than animal testing that will lead to more safe advancements for people. I’m just writing a letter today to stop the military testing on shooting and stabbing pigs.
AFAS: Why are the military doing that?
KB: I believe it’s for medical trauma training in the field, but working on a pig is different than working on a person. They do have simulators of human bodies that are actually better training for medical personnel. People ask me often, and I was asked on CNN recently, what would you say if you’re against testing on apes and chimps – our closest relatives. And you have to answer these things in 15 second soundbytes. You know so no pressure, but I really think we’ve passed the point of the debate of which life is superior. Because that question implies don’t you think that human life is more important than chimps or apes, and luckily that’s no longer the question because we have more advanced methods that will actually work to save more human lives. Ninety some percent of animal trials that passed fail in humans. It doesn’t work because we get diseases differently and our proteins develop differently.
AFAS: So when a chimp is injected with HIV in a medical testing lab does that mean the chimp doesn’t get the disease?
KB: No, not necessarily. So how can injecting chimps be a reliable measure? After three decades of HIV and Hepatitis C experiments on hundreds of primates we have had zero advancement. We don’t have a Hepatitis C or HIV vaccine after three decades. I don’t understand the logic of keeping primates not in families and separate in small cages because right there that creates stress. And if you’ve been experimenting on this animal for many years, you have other factors now in play. You have other issues. They have never seen grass or lived a natural life. If you take a woman who had cancer, my sister had cancer, and she was part of an experiment with a new drug, but she gets to live her life, sleep at home in her bed. But if they put her in a closet and didn’t let her see her family, and tested her for years on end, we can’t tell the result of the drug. Is she doing poorly because she’s stressed out? Is this stress induced depression affecting her cancer? We have no idea. My mother has the same cancer that killed my father. And I’m not hopeful that we’re going to get a vaccine from torturing more primates when it hasn’t worked in decades, and we have better methods.
AFAS: Europe and Japan have stopped using chimps. Why is the U.S. still doing it?
KB: I think it’s because of funding, and trying to break an old way of thinking. PCRM has all the specifics of that answer, but as a celebrity I get called in to wave my arms and go “look over here.”
AFAS: And that’s actually a great role that you have.
KB: It is a great role. I think that celebrity involvement can be useful because a lot of the reasons these things go on is because they are out of sight. A celebrity can pull the curtain back from the wizard, and show that this is not right. There was a NASA experiment where they were going to radiate 700 monkeys. That had been funded seven years before, and it was just going ahead, because they had the staff, the building, the funding, the monkeys – and to get all the cows back in the barn (my old Wisconsin expression), was harder than when it was back in the funding stage. Again, a bunch of people waved their arms and said “look over here – this is ridiculous.” And it stopped. So I’ve seen this work.
AFAS: On your website it says your motto is “I’m trying,” but I think you’re doing more than trying, you’re doing and you’re succeeding.
KB: I hope so.
AFAS: And it’s in little spurts that we achieve these successes. Like you just had a triumph in New Mexico. Can you talk about that?
KB: These were retired veteran chimps. They had been experimented on with HIV and Hep C for thirty years, and were senior and ailing. They had done many, many tours of duty that yielded no concrete medical advancements. After being retired they were being put back into medical experimentation, and with old, ailing animals who were tested on for decades, it just isn’t a sound experiment. We all waved our arms – quite a few celebrities and Governor Bill Richardson said “this is not really right.” So many of them may be going to a sanctuary, and fourteen of them did go back into experimentation, and I believe they are working on getting those back, but you have to stay on these things. It’s amazing how incredible these groups are. I have this whole other career, but thank God there are people every day all day staying on this.
AFAS: Are things with animal rights moving in a better direction, slow as the progress may be?
KB: I think so. I think the conversation you and I are having, and you can put in print. And then other people can join in on the conversation to participate – and also legislation. This will protect our genetic relatives and we can do what Japan and the E.U. have done. And also it will save enormous amounts of money.
AFAS: Do you know how many chimps are being kept in labs in the U.S. right now?
KB: I’m not sure.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Kristin sent an email about Oregon Health & Science University’s National Primate Research Center that alone houses 4,200 primates. So the numbers are much higher than we may even know).
AFAS: I wanted to compliment you on your own artwork that’s featured on kristinbauer.com.
KB: Thank you!
AFAS: Have you exhibited your work?
KB: I haven’t. I need to work on that for next year. I’ve got to create enough pieces to fill a space. It’s killing me that I haven’t gotten back in the lab (laughs). Oh my God, I’m trying to multitask, and I’m sending an email as I’m talking to you at PCRM. I meant to say back in the studio. With everything going on in my life and work, creating art is often the thing that is expendable because it’s just kind of for you.
'In Memory of Oscar'- detail of a painting by Kristin Bauer. Her original paintings and drawings (many of them using animals as a subject matter) can be found on her web site kristinbauer.com.
AFAS: Your husband (Abri Van Straten) also shares your passion for helping wildlife.
KB: He wrote a beautiful song called “Voices” for IFAW (International Fund For Animal Welfare) to try to help them stop Japan, Iceland and Norway from commercial whaling, and it’s on his CD “Sunlight and Shadows” which is available on Amazon. After we spoke to IFAW on the phone, he got up, went out into the yard, and he was staring into space which I know means he was in “his songwriting office.” He went into the studio, came out, and said “I wrote the song for whales.” He’s from Africa, and his family is really involved with animals. His grandfather was the first man to figure out how to tranquilize a large animal to help them, treat them, relocate them – and it’s still the same drug they’re using today. Abri’s mother grew up with an orangutan, a hippo, a bush baby – anything they found in the bush that needed help. So animals are so close to his heart too.
AFAS: And you rescued your pets.
KB: The most amazing rescue in Los Angeles – actually Beverly Hills – is the Amanda Foundation. I’ve known Terri for fifteen years, and she is so true blue. And every penny goes to getting animals out of the pound and getting them into loving homes. And she has a vet hospital with great doctors. She has so much support from Hollywood. We just had a fundraiser with Kevin Nealon, and Bill Maher does stand up for her. Pauley Perrette from NCIS is active with it too – she’s so great and helpful.
AFAS: You see movies like “Planet Of The Apes” (2011) where all the apes are revolting and outsmarting the humans.
KB: I know and I can’t help but cheer for them. (laughs)
Like us on Facebook for more information about the great work Kristin and other courageous activists are doing on behalf of animals: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/ArtforAnimalssake
By Xaque Gruber
Xaque Gruber is a writer for film, television, magazines and online sites including the Huffington Post.