Alison Sudol played a popular character in the recent Harry Potter film “Fantastic Beasts,” but in real life cares deeply about all of the Earth’s non-fantastical creatures.
Ms. Sudol attended the IUCN’s most recent World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September 2016. One afternoon when not busy interviewing conservation luminaries for the IUCN’s official Youtube channel, she played a concert in one of the convention center halls for a huge crowd.
The breakout star of the most recent Harry Potter film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” in the role of Queenie Goldstein, she is now at work on a new film, “The Last Full Measure,” alongside Hollywood icons Samuel Jackson and Christopher Plummer. Despite her hectic filming schedule, she recently took time out to share what motivates her passionate activism for the planet.
An Interview with Alison Sudol
Erik Hoffner for Mongabay: Do you find the arts and activism to be good partners?
Alison Sudol: Art has a profound ability to connect people to their own hearts, and to each other. A large challenge in activism, one that I’ve personally struggled with, is how to open my heart enough to care what happens to nature, and how to maintain that openness despite the pain that it inevitably brings. The terrible things happening to the natural world on a daily, even hourly, basis can be devastating to the human being that lets themself feel it. It is also difficult to maintain a positive outlook, when the vastness of the destruction is considered. Honestly, it can get pretty depressing! However, I think it is deeply important to feel the connection to nature, to what we are fighting to protect, to the beauty and wonderment, the magic and the fragility, in order to pick ourselves up when we get discouraged. Art is a way of lending a human voice to nature, it can remind us of the great beauty within ourselves that connects all living things.
Mongabay: What inspired you to get involved in conservation?
Mongabay: What environmental issue is most important to you right now?
Alison Sudol: Oceans (pollution, overfishing, deep sea mining and trawling, acidification and coral loss), species extinction, deforestation and most recently, the impacts of our current Administration here in the U.S. on American wildlife and climate change.
Mongabay: I hear you’re making a new record, will any of the songs on it speak to those passions?
Alison Sudol: My last record (“Pines”) was much more about the natural world than my upcoming release, which delves more into personal, emotional territory. However, as ever, there is a fair amount of environmental imagery in the writing, as there will be in the videos and other art surrounding the release.
Mongabay: Our series Almost Famous Animals profiles wonderful but little known creatures which are endangered, from bearcats to bumblebee bats, and which deserve much more attention: the features read like a real life “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” If you could magically save from extinction say three of Earth’s fantastic beasts, which ones would you choose?
Alison Sudol: Almost Famous Animals is wonderful! I love that!
To choose three animals to help feels absolutely impossible, as without biodiversity, the entire structure of the natural world is weakened. It doesn’t feel right to pick favorites! Although I truly admire the scientists who dedicate their lives to single species, as without them, so much valuable research and protection would be lost. I have a great respect for all creatures big and small, and believe that they each have intrinsic value, whether we humans consider them cute or cuddly, or even interesting. Nature is not all about us, it’s a vast and complex infrastructure, advanced far beyond our understanding, and the fact that so much remains a mystery to us is tremendously inspiring to me. There is so much potential to learn from the world around us, if we don’t destroy it first.
Alison Sudol: I had the honor of meeting Jane as well! I could hardly speak when I was interviewing her! She has such an exquisite presence – so centered, calm and wise. I was in complete awe in her presence. I also had the great honor of meeting Sylvia Earle and E.O. Wilson – they each have done such great things for the planet, and are such passionate advocates for the sea and biodiversity, respectively. Speaking to these three pioneers of conservation was deeply moving for me.
Mongabay: What makes you optimistic about the future of the planet?
Talking to kids these days makes me feel like maybe we have a shot at changing the way we do things in the future. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting quite a few kids, including at the IUCN Congress on Youth Day, and honestly, I was blown away by their intelligence, eloquence, awareness and activism. I think the more kids understand just how vital they are to the future of the planet, the better chance we have of changing the way humanity operates in the future.
Mongabay: If you could go out in the field and study any kind of animal alongside researchers, where would you go, what would you do?
Alison Sudol: I would love to study whales and other marine mammals, either in the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington and British Columbia, or frankly anywhere, jellyfish off the coast of Japan, or the wildlife of African savannahs.
Mongabay: Do you have any favorite advice or words of wisdom to share?
Alison Sudol: Find something in nature you love, and see if there’s something you can do to help. Even the smallest actions can make an impact. Maybe take a moment to think about where this meat is coming from, your vegetables. Could you substitute a vegetarian meal at least once a day? Buy local when you can. Bring your own water bottle instead of buying plastic ones. Notice the amount of plastic you consume, and how you could reduce it. Question whether you really need that thing that you’re about to buy – was it made in a sweatshop, could there be chemicals in the fabric? And if so, do you really want that on your skin, do you really need it?
Also, take the time to cultivate your connection with nature. We get so busy with our lives that it’s hard to unwind, to remember how healing it can feel to stand beneath a tree, seeing the sun through its leaves, and just be still for a moment. That always helps me, anyhow. A little walk in nature goes a long way.