A deep dive with Ted Dan­son, who wants to en­sure that the oceans are in a good place.

The Washington Post - - STYLE -

Ted Dan­son mod­estly likes to pre­tend he’s just some ac­tor who uses his fame to call at­ten­tion to is­sues — namely, the plight of the globe’s oceans. But get the guy talk­ing about, say, fish­ery man­age­ment or habi­tat de­struc­tion, and it’s clear he knows his stuff — and, hello, he’s been work­ing on it for decades and is now the vice chair of the board of ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Oceana.

The “Good Place” ac­tor was in Wash­ing­ton this week for a board meet­ing at the group’s airy Con­necti­cut Av­enue of­fices, but be­fore he got down to busi­ness, we sat down with him to talk about his evo­lu­tion as an ac­tivist, his #goals mar­riage to ac­tress Mary Steen­bur­gen, and his su­per-mor­bid yet strangely help­ful life phi­los­o­phy.

This in­ter­view has been edited for clar­ity and length. Q: You founded your first oceans cam­paign in 1987. Has your ap­proach changed in those decades? A: Typ­i­cal of peo­ple who be­come new con­verts to an is­sue, [at first] you think “oh, this is very sat­is­fy­ing to throw a brick!” and then you learn ac­tu­ally the is­sue is way more com­pli­cated and nu­anced than that, and then you learn to not throw bricks and you learn to work with the peo­ple who don’t agree with you to find some sort of com­pro­mise that makes a dif­fer­ence. Q: So many peo­ple are rem­i­nisc­ing about for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush. Do you have a story? A: I do, but it’s an em­bar­rass­ing one to tell. In my brick-throw­ing phase, I was so stupid. I was in­vited to the White House, and I, in my right­eous brick-throw­ing stage, said no.

Be­cause I dis­agreed so much with what was go­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tally, or so I thought. It turns out, he was an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. I’ve grown since then. Q: Would you meet with Pres­i­dent Trump or his ad­min­is­tra­tion? A: Well, you can’t give up. But clearly now with this ad­min­is­tra­tion, it’s a de­fen­sive, rear-guard kind of ac­tion. You’re try­ing to pro­tect all these amaz­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal acts that have been put into place over the years — mostly by Re­pub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions — that are now be­ing at­tacked in the name of “all reg­u­la­tions are bad.”

Like the En­dan­gered Species Act — this is not warm-and-fuzzy tree-hug­ging. It’s about mak­ing sure that your nat­u­ral re­sources sur­vive so you can keep mak­ing money and cre­ate jobs. It’s so stupid. So short-term stupid. Q: You and your wife are close friends of the Clin­tons. What was [2016] elec­tion night and the af­ter­math like for you? A: It’s dif­fi­cult to put dis­tance and spin on my emo­tions. We were there that night, and it was a slow-mo­tion — from my per­spec­tive — car wreck. It was be­yond be­lief.

I will put spin on it: It is what it is, and here we are. That be­ing said, a lot of peo­ple woke up, and that’s good. A lot of peo­ple, a gen­er­a­tion where I thought, “hey, where are you guys?” are here now. Q: You’ve been mar­ried for 23 years, which your wife joked in a re­cent In­sta­gram post is like 714 years by Hol­ly­wood stan­dards. What’s your se­cret? A: It’s part divine, and it’s part that I’m mar­ried to Mary Steen­bur­gen. We laugh non­stop. There’s noth­ing that makes us hap­pier than to make each other laugh. But you’ve got to sprin­kle some of the divine in there, be­cause we both met each other when we thought we were in­ca­pable of be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship with­out mess­ing it up, and we mys­te­ri­ously, mag­i­cally found each other.

So do cli­mate-change de­niers go to the Bad Place? A: No, but their houses get swamped.

So here’s my philo­soph­i­cal say­ing that saves me, and Mary thinks this is the dumb­est thing I could say: “And then you die.”

It’s not like you’re go­ing to save the planet and then you get the im­mor­tal­ity card. This is a huge chal­lenge for all of us. So go for it — who cares? Just do the best you can. That’s what you’re here to do: Bump up to the big chal­lenges and see how you do. Q: And then you die. Wow. A: If there was a chance that if you suc­ceeded you might live for­ever, then it would be hor­ri­fy­ing, right? Too much pres­sure! But if you know you’re go­ing to die, then you just go for it.


Ted Dan­son, re­formed thrower of bricks; hus­band of Mary Steen­bur­gen; and friend of the oceans and the Clin­tons. Q:

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