Photo by Dan Taylor.
Florian DAVID: Hi Mira, how are you today?
Mira SORVINO: I am good, thank you, recently returning from the Dominican Republic film festival where I was presenting the climate (and human!) change endorsing film, "Chloe and Theo,” which I believe is being released in France and other European territories now. My husband Christopher Backus accompanied me and we were able to steal away for a little down time in the naturally gorgeous Punta Cana. However while we were there we were shaken by the the tragic, monstrous attacks in Paris and Beirut. Then Brussels, and now Lahore. Very devastating to us. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to all the victims of these abominations; we hope they know how many around the world are keenly with them in spirit and are resolutely clinging to light, not the darkness hoped for by the attackers.
OUR HEARTS, THOUGHTS, AND PRAYERS GO OUT TO ALL THE VICTIMS OF THESE ABOMINATIONS;
WE HOPE THEY KNOW HOW MANY AROUND THE WORLD ARE KEENLY WITH THEM IN SPIRIT AND ARE RESOLUTELY CLINGING TO LIGHT, NOT THE DARKNESS HOPED FOR BY THE ATTACKERS.
I have a very good friend in Paris who has been sharing his observations about the aftermath; thought I’d include them here: 'Après plusieurs jours de tristesses et de traumatismes, les Parisiens ont retrouvé peu à peu le chemin de la Gaieté et de la vie, même près du quartier où il y a eu les attentats, les terrasses étaient de nouveaux remplies… La vie continue! Les gens sont un peu plus sensibles, sensibilisés, et des sourires humains transparaissent davantages et l'échange avec les gens est un peu plus facile, moins fermé qu'avant, un sentiment un peu plus chaleureux,on sent que c'est important pour les gens de se sentir solidaires, cela est bien!' ('After several days of sadness and traumas, Parisians have slowly recovered the path to joy and life, even in the neighborhoods where the attacks took place the terraces of the cafes were full of people again...Life goes on! People are a bit more sensitive, have been made more sensitive, and we see more human smiles; also to exchange with people has become a bit easier, there is more warmth and we feel that it is important for people to stick together side by side, this is great!')
DAVID: Yes, we have just lived again through some terrible tragedies here on European soil indeed, with these attacks on Paris and Brussels, but also yes in Beirut and now the loss of many young lives in Lahore, Pakistan. ISIS has decided to wage a war against France, and Europe, but also anywhere in the world where the locals' way of life does not fit with their beliefs system. Do you think that our way of life and our long-fought for values especially progress in the field of women's rights is in danger? Are we living a war of civilizations? If so who is most likely to win and why?’
SORVINO: I don’t think so. It is a war that attacks civilization, with a kind of barbarism that has no sound ideology or belonging to a culture. These are actions by extremists that are perverting the precepts of an established religion for their own selfish ends. I cannot, do not believe that the future of women’s rights lies in the hands of these evil people. Progress and light shine brighter than backwards brutality and the darkness of misogyny. I know that everywhere on a daily level we battle against such things in every culture, but I cannot envision a future where the general trend moves backwards.
PROGRESS AND LIGHT SHINE BRIGHTER THAN BACKWARDS BRUTALITY AND THE DARKNESS OF MISOGINY.
I KNOW THAT EVERYWHERE ON A DAILY LEVEL WE BATTLE AGAINST SUCH THINGS IN EVERY CULTURE, BUT I CANNOT ENVISION A FUTURE WHERE THE GENERAL TREND MOVES BACKWARDS.
DAVID: What makes you feel most alive?
SORVINO: Hmm. Hugging and kissing my kids and running by the ocean. Being in nature, and visiting new places. Imagining I feel the ghosts of history peeking out of windows as I walk down ancient lanes.
DAVID: What family values do you deem most precious?
SORVINO: Love, kindness, trust, having your back no matter what, forgiveness, character, humor, affection, togetherness, loyalty
DAVID: Are you still planning to do that cooking show with your dad, actor Paul Sorvino? (We really are looking forward to this, feel this will be a big hit! : )
SORVINO: I wish!! Right now it's on the back burner (pardon the pun!). But he may be doing a show with his new bride Deedee Sorvino that incorporates a cooking element.
DAVID: You seem to be in a happy place right now in life. How hard was it to find that balance between work and family life, any tips?
SORVINO: Hmm. For me having children revolutionized my life. I love them so much it just spun me upside down, and suddenly all the things that the world tells you to value - success, money, achievement, fame, seemed vastly secondary to their wellbeing, the time spent with them, our making a family together. So I can say that although before them I was more famous, more constantly in demand in the movie industry, I am far, far happier now. And I have a sense of humility coupled with an awareness of who I truly am that is not dependent on the outside world’s definition of me. That is very valuable. I have also been able to incorporate an early passion I had to fight injustice, prejudice and oppression into my life through my activism on Human Trafficking (modern day slavery) both with UNODC as their Goodwill Ambassador, and privately. It has been enormously fulfilling to have a voice and (sometimes) an effect on a problem that deeply grieves me.
DAVID: Your husband Christopher Backus, is also an actor! He looks like lots of fun, and a beautiful soul too. What do you reckon makes a happy couple?
SORVINO: Well we have a great time together. We are truly best friends. He is very funny and has a keen insight onto certain things that I sometimes lack. He is an incredible father. Most importantly though, we have each other’s back to the nth degree. My husband would lay down his life for me or the children, and these are not just pretty words. He is fiercely brave and loyal and I think knowing that gives you a kind of security. We are in it for eternity, so when the normal difficulties of life get in the way, we have the big picture to hold onto. The ability to forgive and move on without hanging on to grievances is essential. I just love him, and he loves me, and we know we will stay together no matter what.
THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE AND MOVE ON WITHOUT HANGING ON TO GRIEVANCE IS ESSENTIAL.
I JUST LOVE HIM, AND HE LOVES ME, AND WE KNOW THAT WE WILL STAY TOGETHER NO MATTER WHAT.
DAVID: Now a bit about your current news: We have started watching this fantastic new series on BBC America called ‘Intruders’, based on Marshall Smith’s novel and written by X-Files writer and producer Glen Morgan. It’s about a secret society chasing immortality. You are playing one of the lead roles as Amy, the wife of former LAPD officer Jack Whelan played by British Actor John Simm, and this is your very first role in a television series.
SORVINO: Yes Intruders is a fantastic, unique piece, I am very proud to be a part of it. I really loved the opportunity to play such range within one person. As you may have realized by now I have two completely opposite personae to play that inhabit the same body, sometimes switching dominance within the same scene. It was really an acting Olympics! Plus I had never really played a Machiavellian character before, and it was somewhat freeing, not to be bound by convention and guilt, but guided by the Id and ambition. Usually all the people I play are quite simpatica: so this was a great new adventure.
DAVID: I heard you say that this is a series where no one is as they seem. And indeed! Isn’t that touching on various universal fears and hopes, and in particular a theme dear to Italian writer Pirandello, that beyond the social mask one wears, we are all made of multiple personalities?
SORVINO: Ha, funny you should bring up Pirandello, for I did his stage play “Naked” off-Broadway some years ago. Very difficult show, as my character in it was consumed with guilt, and I find guilt to be the very hardest emotion to be inhabited in a performance because it tends to cripple you with self-hatred. Well in Intruders they go beyond metaphor to the point of positing that one body can actually be home to two different souls. So I get to play two absolutely different personalities in the show, sometimes in the same scene, sometimes switching from one to the other line by line! It was a great acting challenge. But in life, yes, we all have a range to our personalities. I have found that certain friends bring out different personae in me.
DAVID: Let’s talk about immortality; are you a religious person? Do you personally believe in an after-life?
SORVINO: Yes I am a person of faith. I am Christian, raised that way, and chosen by me as an adult. I do believe in an afterlife.
DAVID: According to many scientists, biological immortality is not out of reach. Would you envision yourself living forever, and how do you think that would affect your existence?
SORVINO: I don’t know. You should read the fascinating book, “The Book of Immortality” by Adam Leith Gollner. Not sure how close we are to biological immortality at this moment. Obviously if we all lived forever on this planet, then we would have a massive population issue. Also the question of reproduction would come up - would we still only have a brief period of child-bearing and then live forever as older people (seems sad to me - life for eternity without children being a big part of it)? I think pretty quickly it would become apparent that we would need to improve the lot of all, to have a reason to be, beyond a syncretic lifespan as we know it today. We would need something valuable to do with ourselves over all that time, not just live in hedonism. Maybe we would finally be able to achieve world peace, put an end to poverty and disease. Or maybe our worse nature would take over and we would lock ourselves into a terrible, cruel caste system. I like to err on the side of hope, however. One of my favorite books was holocaust survivor and Freud’s protegé Dr. Victor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning” After living through two concentration camps he decided that Freud’s Pleasure Principle was wrong, and what humans were looking for was not gratification of base desires, but for meaning in their lives, something to live for, and if needs be, something that gave even death dignity.
DAVID: Zoe Cassavetes recently released ‘Day out of days’ with Alexia Landeau and Melanie Griffith, a movie about a 40 year old actress struggling to find work in Hollywood. We know the influence of Hollywood’s productions on the global stage, and your involvement with women’s causes and women’s rights: do you think that Hollywood bears any responsibility towards women as an industry, in the way it portrays them and when it comes to the roles offered to middle-aged actresses? What’s your personal experience of this? Any indignation, hopes, calls for action?
SORVINO: Of course this affects us all, this ageism in our entertainment, fashion and magazine cultures. We all have a dread of impending mortality, of crows feet (from smiling!) being the pathway towards the grave. But disproportionately it affects women and roles being written and financed for them, more than men. It’s as though the powers that be think that very young movie consumers can handle older men in roles, but mature (and I am not talking elderly) women are unrelateable to them, except in Jungian archetypal roles such as the evil mother, or the witch. I am here to say that life does not end past 35 years old. I still feel like a protagonist in my life, not a supporting player, and I think that is the message we need to convey to young viewers, young women in specific.
I AM HERE TO SAY THAT LIFE DOES NOT END PAST 35 YEARS OLD.
I STILL FEEL LIKE A PROTAGONIST IN MY LIFE, NOT A SUPPORTING PLAYER,
AND I THINK THAT IS THE MESSAGE WE NEED TO CONVEY TO YOUNG VIEWERS, YOUNG WOMEN IN SPECIFIC.
DAVID: When you get a script, what are you looking for in a role?
SORVINO: Usually someone I have not played before; I do not like to repeat myself. I also prefer to like the character. If I dislike or judge her and cannot shake that, I probably will not do a job. But often a script is just a jumping off point, and you and the director and writer can find inspiration through the dialectic of collaboration and a much richer character with more nuanced, daring scenes can emerge.
DAVID: You graduated from Harvard University Magna Cum Laude with a degree in East Asian studies! I was particularly interested in hearing you talk about your graduation thesis, which was about racism in China. You wrote it as you were living in Beijing for a little while at the time; could you tell us a bit about what you uncovered?
SORVINO: Well it was about the racial conflict between Chinese and African graduate students, a group that had no long history between them, yet had virulent eruptions similar to those that appear with much more historically long-standing prejudices between ethnicities. It is a pretty long thesis and hard to boil down to a brief answer, but some was cultural and some situational- the values of the two groups of students were quite different, and so were the conditions under which they co-existed. The African students were there on government sponsored scholarships, and enjoyed better accommodations, healthy cash stipends, and an easier lifestyle than their Chinese classmates, one that included loud parties as opposed to the intense studying and 16 students to a room on the Chinese side. But the most incendiary issue came down to interracial dating. I attended a pro-democracy rally (this was half a year before Tiananmen Square - yes, I am that old) where Chinese nationals carried signs that said, “Democracy now!” alongside placards that read “Black Devils go home - leave our women alone!” I heard allegations of rape alongside tragic tales of star-crossed lovers who killed themselves when the Chinese parents rejected the African fiancé. Among the Chinese, girls who dated African men were oft considered prostitutes or “worn-out shoes” women who held no further value as potential wives because of their supposed looseness. And it was the incident of two African men bringing two Chinese national dates to a university dance that fomented what was basically a race riot and an attack on the foreign students’ dorm at a University, which started my whole thesis topic.
DAVID: If racism is deeply connected with the way our brains are wired for survival (essentially fire-fighting anything that is different from us, which it sees as potentially dangerous) what do you reckon must be done to access to a new level of human consciousness on that matter?
SORVINO: Yes, what you say is a danger - just like fight or flight, we humans also seem to be hard-wired for group identification that boils down to an “us” and “them”, the thems being deemed unsafe. Therefore negative or offensive/defensive behavior sometimes occurs as an instinct for self or familial preservation. Put another way, if you have been taught that group X is dangerous, you may treat them as such immediately, instinctively, whether or not they deserve it, just as when the skies are ominously cloudy, you bring an umbrella, whether or not you have felt a raindrop. Studies have been done on when racism or prejudice becomes entrenched. Pretty much by the time you are a late teen, your attitudes are cemented, and then any other evidence to the contrary about the group in question becomes exceptionalized, i.e.; “well he’s a good guy, but you can’t trust most of them” or though you may spout “some of my best friends are X” you still walk faster when you see an X on the street… The only way this entrenched prejudice will change in an adult is usually through a life-threatening circumstance, where an X saves you from drowning, and suddenly you leave your hatred behind.
This is why education is absolutely essential. Caught early enough, children can be taught that all humans have equal value and dignity, and can have empathy for all, despite their parents’ attitudes. Fairmindedness, and not only tolerance, but love for all, is a gift that can be given young children that can empower them to change the world.
FAIRMINDEDNESS, AND NOT ONLY TOLERANCE, BUT LOVE FOR ALL, IS A GIFT THAT CAN BE GIVEN YOUNG CHILDREN THAT CAN EMPOWER THEM TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
DAVID: Let’s pursue a bit on racism, now in the context of America and the current upheavals the country is living through. What happened to Martin Luther King’s 'Dream’?
SORVINO: I still feel the dream is very much alive, and that although we still have pockets of extremism and race hatred, on the whole I would say that society is far less prejudiced, in laws, conditions, and general attitudes than it was when Dr. King, one of my greatest personal heroes, was alive. We have an African-American president and leaders of every field, including the very influential entertainment field. There is still of course bias and unequal treatment, violence at the hands of the police, and unequal opportunity, but there certainly has been progress since the sixties, and especially at the youngest level of society. My kids are completely colorblind. We can overcome together and I think that the message of “Black Lives Matter” resonates for many. There is still a long way to go, but it has not swung backwards, and will not in my opinion.
MY KIDS ARE COMPLETELY COLORBLIND.
WE CAN OVERCOME TOGETHER AND I THINK THAT THE MESSAGE OF 'BLACK LIVES MATTER' RESONATES FOR MANY.
THERE IS STILL A LONG WAY TO GO, BUT IT HAS NOT SWUNG BACKYARDS, AND WILL NOT IN MY OPINION.
However, recent events in relation to the current candidacy race for our next president have brought out a very ugly side to American behavior, one that has quite honestly shocked me. The whipping up of anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim sentiment by a demagogue named Donald Trump has been mystifying to me. The fact that he took several days to rebuff the endorsement of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a group I have despised since childhood for their heinous crimes and attitudes, was disgusting. And to see so many Americans falling for the “all our problems will be solved if we get rid of THEM (Mexicans and Muslims)” rhetoric speaks very poorly to our culture as a whole, and threatens ominous similarities to the growth of the Third Reich.
AND TO SEE SO MANY AMERICANS FALLING FOR THE "ALL OUR PROBLEMS WILL BE SOLVED IF WE GET RID OF 'THEM' (MEXICANS AND MUSLIMS)" RHETORIC
SPEAKS VERY POORLY TO OUR CULTURE AS A WHOLE, AND THREATENS OMINOUS SIMILARITIES TO THE GROWTH OF THE THIRD REICH.
DAVID: I was very impressed with your level of knowledge regarding human trafficking and modern-day slavery. You are the official US Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations’ office on drug and crime, to combat human trafficking, a global plague affecting over 130 countries! Can you give us some concrete examples of some of the crimes that have most infuriated you? And what we can do as citizens to contribute? We all own mobile phones, how can we be sure that the very mobile we use was not manufactured by under-aged children? How do you pressure multi-billion dollar private corporations do do ‘what is right’?
SORVINO: Some of the crimes against children who were sold for their virginities in the CNN Freedom Project Documentary I was the interviewer for “Everyday in Cambodia” were examples of the kind of atrocities that set me on fire to do more. Another woman I interviewed trafficked into Spain from Nigeria in a cargo container described how her traffickers held her own baby ransom to keep her in line, and beat the child over the phone line so the mother could hear. These kinds of things as a mother are intolerable to me. And yet they go on everyday, to the tune of 30 million people living in slavery, with currently only 1 in 100 having a chance of being discovered and rescued. I alongside many, many others, are fighting to change that, but it will take many many more, and the leaders of the world to actually put their money where their mouth is to meet the challenge of this criminal enterprise that reaps 150 billion USD in profits per year. Currently the US spend on the first most profitable criminal enterprise, drug trafficking is 51 billion, but the spend on Human Trafficking, (tied for second with illegal arms), domestically and abroad only 160 million per year. We spend more on military marching bands in one month than on a whole year of spending on slavery. Where is the morality in all of that??
CURRENTLY THE US SPEND ON THE FIRST MOST PROFITABLE CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE, DRUG TRAFFICKING IS 51 BILLION, BUT THE SPEND ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING,
(TIED FOR SECOND WITH ILLEGAL ARMS), DOMESTICALLY AND ABROAD ONLY 160 MILLION PER YEAR.
WE SPEND MORE ON MILITARY MARCHING BANDS IN ONE MONTH THAN ON A WHOLE YEAR OF SPENDING ON SLAVERY. WHERE IS THE MORALITY IN ALL THAT??
Right now you can’t know mainly if something you own was created by slave hands. But there is movement to change that, which will amp up if more consumers and media demand it. There are laws in the US and the British Modern Slavery Act which demand that corporations show evidence that their supply chains are slavery free, but for me they aren’t tough enough. I don’t trust big corporations to vet and clean themselves up - it should be audited by an external, impartial third party. And why, if we have laws to punish people who even if they were not the direct traffickers themselves (say, the landlord of a brothel) can still be criminally prosecuted for profiting from human trafficking, why are we afraid to call to justice the titans of industry and commerce who have made and still make billions off of the broken backs of slave factory labors. The wealthy always get off easy, and until they are made to pay the price the majority of the world will still run on a slave economy.
Them’s fightin words, I know. There are a few groups now trying to highlight companies that have zero slavery in their supply chains, such as Good Weave, and the Freedom Seal being developed in part by the Troni Foundation. Consumers can use theses tools to guide their purchases, but they can also write to their favorite companies and demand to know whether the supply chains are free and clear. As I said at the UN yesterday, how is it that we can track whether the produce we eat is organic or GMO, from field to our table, but we can’t ascertain whether the hands that picked it are free?
AS I SAID AT THE UN YESTERDAY, HOW IS IT THAT WE CAN TRACK WHETHER THE PRODUCE WE EAT IS ORGANIC OR GMO,
FROM FIELD TO OUR TABLE, BUT WE CAN'T ASCERTAIN WHETHER THE HANDS THAT PICKED IT ARE FREE?
DAVID: What makes you proud of being an American?
SORVINO: Well right now, not as much as usual! But I still feel that there is a spirit of ingenuity, of positivity and possibility, that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard enough, that still abides in this nation, however beleaguered as it may be at current moment.
DAVID: Donald or Hillary ?
SORVINO: At this point given those two alternatives most definitely Hillary. I think Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous precedents to be breaking modern protocol with; making racism and xenophobia campaign platforms is only a step away from the fascism that predated the Hitler era. But I have been exploring Bernie Sanders at the moment, and find many of his views very appealing, seemingly very idealistic and revolutionary...
I THINK THAT MR. TRUMP'S WORDS ARE DANGEROUS PRECEDENTS TO BE BREAKING MODERN PROTOCOL WITH;
MAKING RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA CAMPAIGN PLATFORMS IS ONLY A STEP AWAY FROM THE FASCISM THAT PREDATED THE HITLER ERA.
DAVID: Would you feel like running for Office one day?
SORVINO: I really don’t know. I am not particularly interested in running things, just affecting change. We will see as life rolls along if that changes.
DAVID: The last time you laughed?
SORVINO: At my 3 year-old’s adorable cuteness when playing a game of “telephone” a few minutes ago.
DAVID: The last time you cried?
SORVINO: On the set of my new movie I am filming with Josh Hartnett on Tuesday, “Six Below” I cried during the scene and a little bit before it, because the ideas I dredged up in my mind to prepare for the task of possibly finding my child dead were so wrenching. Actually I teared up more recently than that. Yesterday at the Holy See’s event that I spoke at at the UN on ending Human Trafficking/Modern Slavery by 2030, I was moved to tears by the incredibly brave testimony of Donna Hubbard, a sex-trafficking survivor who works with Airline Ambassadors. She is a beautiful soul making the world a better place despite her horrendously painful past, and I was honored and graced to hear her words.