High Times Greats: Daryl Hannah

One of Hollywood’s leading eco-activists on her plans to save the world.
High Times Greats: Daryl Hannah
Daryl Hannah by Gordon Scott

From the April, 2005 issue of High Times comes David Kupfer’s interview with Daryl Hannah, republished below in honor of Hannah’s 60th birthday December 3.

Daryl Hannah walks the walk by living off the grid. Her solar-powered home in the Rocky Mountains is a model of eco-friendly design, with an organic vegetable garden and spring water which runs through it. She drives a car that burns recycled french-fry oil from fast-food restaurants.

“They actually dump billions of gallons of it a year,” she says. “The diesel engine was meant to run on vegetable oil. It’s actually less expensive than gas these days, and also burns green. No greenhouse gases. No war for oil.”

Hannah’s been involved in the biodiesel movement for years. In 2004, she accepted the Influencer Award at the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo and was honored with Willie Nelson at the Environmental Media Awards.

Born in Chicago in 1960, Hannah’s first role was in Brian De Palma’s psycho-thriller The Fury in 1978. Her career has spanned over 25 years, during which time she’s appeared in 60 feature films, including Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), Ron Howard’s Splash (1984) and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987). Today, Hannah has become a strong supporter of independent cinema. Her latest film projects include Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, John Sayles’ Silver City and Maria Lidon’s Yo Puta (Whore).

What inspired you to become an eco-activist?

When I was ten years old, my uncle, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, told me all about nuclear power. I was shocked, horrified and appalled. I became a vegetarian around that time. As I got older, my concerns grew about air, water and natural-resource protection. I began to see humanitarian and environmental concerns as one and the same: “Thou can’t not stir a flower without troubling a star.”

How have these concerns manifested in your life?

I make sure, first and foremost, that I’m living by my own belief system. My home is a green building using energy- and resource-conserving building materials and solar power, with a biodiesel-powered generator. I use green insulation and a graywater system. People come to my home and witness that these systems work. Too much of the time, people assume that to live in closer alignment with nature means a great sacrifice. It doesn’t. Living in harmony with nature can be a real pleasure. I’m now in a phase of my life where I can get some of this information out there.

What do you think of celebrities’ involvement in causes?

As an actor, I wanted to figure out the best way to effect some positive change. Musicians can raise money and awareness by doing benefits. Actors are a little limited. Cinema, television, music—all these things are means to communicate ideas, to open hearts and minds.

Honestly, on the whole, I think celebrity is a silly concept, but using those mediums to express oneself through art and the media is great. If you have an occasion to play a concert to raise money for a cause you believe in or speak about a certain subject to raise awareness, you’re lucky to have a chance to do some good in the world.

Who have been strong role models for you, people you admire?

Since I was a kid, I was a member of Greenpeace. I really liked the idea of jumping on a Zodiac boat and doing direct action in front of tankers. I love extreme things that make a point, like the work of Julia Butterfly while she was tree-sitting—simple but extreme actions that send a powerful message.

Do your personal concerns influence the film roles you take?

Yes, it’s my nature. I look at roles from the point of view of what they’re trying to say on a greater scale. I’ve turned down some roles, for example, that present women in a bad light, as bad role models, or that are misogynistic, or that were in some way not presenting compassionate views of humanity. I steer toward roles that have something to say.

How was your experience working on Silver City?

I love working with John Sayles—he has such a beautiful take on humanity, and his films are poignant, moving and handmade. He keeps them small. I have so much respect for him. The film is important—it’s about hypocrisy within a political family. It’s political satire with a message. Uncle Haskell, the inspiration for my consciousness and humanitarian views, was the film’s cinematographer.

Your characters in Silver City and Michael Radford’s Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) smoke pot. What’s your stance on drugs?

I’m afraid of chemical-based drugs. The ones derived directly from nature concern me less. Things like mushrooms, peyote, hallucinogens, marijuana, shouldn’t be illegal. You don’t want people to operate heavy machinery while they’re on those things, but I have no problem with their use. It’s absolutely ridiculous that something can be illegal when it can be so useful for opening minds. Hallucinogens open all of your senses, beyond the small portals we normally experience the world through. They can actually be quite educational and result in epiphanies. I believe they should be experienced in a respectful and ceremonial fashion.

What are your views on the industrial uses of hemp?

I really, really think hemp could help change a lot of things for the better in our ecosystem. Hemp can be used for paper, protein, petroleum replacement, clothing—it has so many uses! It grows so quickly and requires no pesticides. It’s a weed, for Christ’s sake! The fact that growing it poses a problem for our government is a shame—it’s just silly. The fight to legalize industrial hemp is certainly worthwhile.

How did you get interested in the biodiesel movement?

I was sold the moment I realized we could grow our own fuel, but I didn’t really get involved until about six years ago, when I met Charris Ford—a.k.a. the Granola Ayatollah of Canola. About five years ago, Charris and some buddies started making Grassolean [biodiesel] from recycled french-fry oil they collected from local restaurants. A bunch of us started running our vehicles on Grassolean, and then a short film called French Fries to Go was made about the project.

You do a lot of work promoting sustainable fuel. What’s that been like?

It’s been fun. Early on, Charris and I started giving biofuel talks to raise awareness around the country, and then I began talking about kicking the petroleum habit on shows like Leno and Howard Stern. I even went on the dreaded O’Reilly Factor and was surprised at how friendly Bill can be when he agrees with you.

On the whole, people love eco-friendly fuel because it’s nontoxic, biodegradable and can be grown by farmers. It’s a no-brainer! Less pollution and fewer wars appeal to everyone, not just tree-huggers. It may not be the ultimate answer to all of our environmental problems, but it is a powerful step in the right direction.

What are your professional and personal goals?

I know this may sound corny or arrogant, but I want to save the world. I’d like to keep being creative. There are so many things I want to learn.

What’s your greatest fear?

I think of Peter Beard’s work studying the elephant population of Africa, what happened as their population declined and their habitat was reduced. I feel the same thing is happening to us as a race. We’re on our way out. We’re so shortsighted and we’re screwing it up for ourselves. The planet doesn’t belong to us—not just to people, not just to wealthy people. We have no right to fuck it up. It’s not our prerogative and should be against the law.

1 comment
  1. Daryl Hannah really is just a wonderful person. Thank you High Times for putting this interview back out there to remind us of what a great spirit she has.

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