Tony Goldwyn is so much more than the fake president he played for 7 seasons on ABC’s Scandal. (Or the guy who backstabbed Patrick Swayze in the 1990 blockbuster Ghost.) The actor, producer, and Peabody-Award-winning director is also a passionate activist, who dedicates much of his personal time to philanthropic work. After directing the 2010 film Conviction, a true story about a man wrongfully convicted of murder, he became an Ambassador of the Innocence Project and now sits on their Board of Trustees.
Listen as Tony discusses his work with the Innocence Project, how to find your activism, the roles that made him famous, authentic representation in Hollywood, and more!
Tony Goldwyn, Actor, Producer,Peabody-Award-winning Director & Activist
Speaker 1: All-Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation, and social justice with Jay Ruderman.
Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman, and this is All Inclusive, a podcast focused on inclusion, innovation, and social justice. Tony Goldwyn is an actor, director, and producer who you might know from his breakout role [00:00:30] as the villain, Carl Bruner in the 1990 film Ghost, or his seven-season run as President Fitzgerald Grant and ABC Scandal alongside Kerry Washington. Behind the camera, Tony boasts of an impressive resume directing the Feature Conviction, starring Hillary Swank, the critically acclaimed series, The Divide, and episodes of hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order. Tony is also a passionate activist [00:01:00] who dedicates much of his personal time to philanthropic work. He sits on the board of trustees at the Innocence Project, serves as an ambassador for Stand Up to Cancer, is a board member for the humanitarian relief organization Americares, and the list goes on. His upcoming projects include the limited series, The Hot Zone: Anthrax, and the feature film King Richard with Will Smith. Tony, welcome to All Inclusive.
Tony Goldwyn: Thanks, Jay. It’s my pleasure.
Jay Ruderman: So, Tony, you [00:01:30] are known for many different roles from the classic film Ghost and of course playing President Fitz in Scandal, but a lesser-known fact might be that your family is a Hollywood institution and that your grandfather was the G in MGM. Was your Hollywood path to becoming an actor a given?
Tony Goldwyn: No, I don’t think so. I mean maybe, genetically speaking, maybe. But no, when I was growing up because it was sort of the family business I wanted to… I thought [00:02:00] that was the last thing I would want to do, but then like most actors I sort of got bit by the bug when I started doing high school plays and then it just became an unavoidable thing. You know I must say that as a kid from the very first time I ever stepped into a theater, into a live theater, I was intoxicated by that and sort of fell in love with that world. [00:02:30] So, I suppose it was happening before I even knew it.
Jay Ruderman: And I know that you and I both went to Brandeis and I’ve read that you really caught the bug at Brandeis and was very actively in the theater scene there.
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah, I really… I mean I had caught the bug well before Brandeis, but I went to Brandeis because they had a very good reputation as a theater department and I was lucky enough to have one of those great teachers at Brandeis. A guy [00:03:00] named Ted Kazanoff who ran the department when I was there.
Jay Ruderman: So, I know that you’re very well known for your roles in feature films and on TV and I’m a huge fan, but I want to really focus for the first part of this interview and your activism, and you’re very directed to specific causes. Can you talk about how you came about deciding which causes to spend your time on?
Tony Goldwyn: Sure. You know the [00:03:30] whole thing of service I guess it took me a little while to find my focus. You know when I first started experiencing notoriety from the jobs that I was in, I was pretty uncomfortable with the whole phenomenon of celebrity. It felt rather unearned and I don’t know. There was just something that felt quite shallow about it to me. I really loved doing the work and I was grateful that things were successful, but then I quickly [00:04:00] realized oh, well, you can use this as leverage to bring attention to important things. And people seem to want to be in a room with you simply because you’re on television or a movie so I started just experimenting and it took me I would think, about 10 years almost of getting with organizations that maybe I wasn’t so passionate about and doing things that felt like I wasn’t doing any deep dive.
I was just showing up or [00:04:30] people simply wanted me there for a photo op. You know, but so I became a bit frustrated with that. And then I decided no, I’m going to put my energy into only things that really move me. So, the organizations that now I’ve been involved with for the past 20 plus years are all things that have my passion for them has developed organically and sort of gradually. [00:05:00] I’ve learned I can be much more effective that way and it’s much more satisfying to me because I really am able to develop an understanding of what I’m talking about and not just showing up at a party, or for a photo op, or being part of an organization that I ultimately didn’t think is terribly effective, even if they have a good mission.
Jay Ruderman: So, how did that come about? How were you introduced to the right people? I mean was this your own homework digging down and saying, these are the issues I really want to focus on, or [00:05:30] were you introduced to certain people that you’re like yeah, I learned a lot from them and this is where I want to go?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah, much more the latter. It was almost by accident in every single case. You know, let me just start by saying I feel like my generation, with obvious exceptions, was not terribly service-oriented. I see young people today and my daughters included, and as they come into their adulthood, how they can [00:06:00] give back is something that is a part of their sort of portfolio of how they want to build a life. For me, I came of age in the seventies and early eighties and it was just such a… I don’t know. I feel like we were very narcissistic, self-serving generation in American and so I didn’t… I’m so career-focused that I didn’t really even think too much about it until I got into my thirties and then that was when I sort of spent 10 years sort of splashing around.
[00:06:30] So, by the end of my middle to late thirties, I started getting very frustrated with some of the organizations that I was involved with as I mentioned and stepped back. And at that time, I guess it was in 2001, I heard about a story on the news about a wrongful conviction and my wife actually saw the piece on the Today Show I think about a guy who had just gotten out of prison [00:07:00] after 18 and a half years. He was exonerated, found innocent and his sister had been the only person to believe in him. And she had completed her high school education, gone to college, gone to law school, all in order to become an attorney to find a way to get her brother out of prison, and she did. And he was exonerated through DNA evidence. My wife said, “That’s a great movie.”
So, [00:07:30] I chased down… I had started you know, I was a director by then and I sort of chased down this woman’s story and found out about this organization called the Innocence Project, which had helped her get her brother out. And so, I made this movie. It took several more years to actually make the movie, which ended up being called Conviction. But, that story awakened me to the fractures in our criminal justice system and to the reality of wrongful conviction [00:08:00] in general. So, I organically developed a relationship with the Innocence Project because I was making a movie about them and I just got really passionate about their work. And so that was the I would say, that the Innocence Project was the first organization that I really started investing in and our relationship just grew organically.
And then gradually they sort of drew me in and I became a bit of an ambassador for them. And over the years we’ve gotten very close and I’m now [00:08:30] on their board of directors and that’s a sort of perfect example. I really became, you know my knowledge base grew. So, then when I was talking about it, for someone who’s not a lawyer, I was able to speak knowledgeably in helping to tell their story. So, that’s in and I think in every other, I would say I’m intimately involved with about four other organizations and in each case, it’s a similar story of [00:09:00] evolution.
Jay Ruderman: And I read about your family and that they really sort of kept you, even though you were a Hollywood family, they kept you away from the celebrity aspect of Hollywood as you were growing up. Did activism, did any of that come from your family? I mean did you learn that from your parents?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah. You know my parents are both, my grandparents and my parents were very service-oriented. You know my mother, who was an artist, spent a lot of her free time [00:09:30] working with kids. I grew up in Los Angeles so working with kids from East LA. In the Latino community, there was a community center that she taught art at. And as a kid, not only did my mom teach two or three times a week at this community center, she really brought a lot of her kids into our life. So, there were always kids, her students that were just at our house sometimes like living there. [00:10:00] She would have parties twice a year where they would all come over, all these kids, and she’d just whatever their needs were, she’d address them.
I became friends with a lot of these guys and yeah, and it was just a thing that was natural and normal. You know, similarly, my father was very involved with a number of organizations. His father, my paternal grandfather, who you mentioned who was one of the sort of pioneers of the film industry, Samuel Goldwyn. [00:10:30] My grandfather started… was one of the people who started in 1921, what is now called the Motion Picture Television Fund, which is an industry organization that really helps our own. Entertainment is a very insecure fickle field. It’s basically a freelance job for most people and there was no real support system. So, the MPTF provides social services, [00:11:00] all kinds of services for people who work even tangentially in the entertainment industry. So yeah, that was one of the things my grandfather started, and it was very important to him, and also very important to my dad.
And now I’m involved with that as well and sort of [inaudible 00:11:17] with. And so, it was a part of my family. I honestly think as I mentioned before, I don’t know. I just… The generation, they came up in the eighties. It was the Wall Street generation. Not that I was on Wall Street, but I don’t [00:11:30] know why it took me a little while to put my focus on that. I mean when you’re in your twenties also, you don’t really have any money. You think well, what can I do? How can I give back? What can I, you know, what do I have to offer? So, maybe that’s why [crosstalk 00:11:43].
Jay Ruderman: Well, I also know about growing up in the age of Ronald Reagan and in the eighties. It was a different time in our history and I think there was a focus on business, and excess, and not necessarily as much a focus, [00:12:00] as you mentioned today, with your kids and giving back.
Tony Goldwyn: Correct.
Jay Ruderman: So, it was a different age, but I just want, you know, you mentioned the issues in Hollywood and where some members of the crew could work for 12 or 14 hours a day on a set and issues with contract negotiations. You know we recently had a terrible case with the movie Rust and Alec Baldwin. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like being on a set and how to protect the people [00:12:30] that are working day in and day out on the set who are not the stars or even actors in the production? I mean this was a terrible case where the cinematographer, Helena Hutchins, was killed, but how do we make our sets safer? How do we make the productions a better workplace for the people who are working there?
Tony Goldwyn: Well obviously, the situation with Rust is just beyond tragic. You know my heart goes [00:13:00] out to Helena’s family and friends and everyone on that crew, and to Alec, who I just can’t imagine being in his position. Look, there’s an ongoing investigation. I don’t know the facts. I just know what I’ve read. Same as you. What I can say is that A, that’s a freak situation. You know other than what happened with Brandon Lee and maybe a few really rare cases where [00:13:30] firearms have gone off mistakenly or improperly. Brandon Lee, famously Bruce Lee’s son, who was an actor, got hit with actually a paper slug, which was a blank that was shot and it was too close to him and he ended up dying. So, this is a very rare thing and I’ve never in my entire career heard of any live ammunition being on set. We will find out how that happened.
All that said, there are very direct protocols for the use of firearms on set. I have never been on a set and I have been on hundreds of [00:14:00] them, where if there were firearms involved, the armor, every time you use a gun on set, whether it’s a rehearsal, or you’re filming, the armor and the prop person, sometimes the prop person is licensed to be an armor, will come up to you. The process is they say, “Okay, this is either a rubber gun.” Then they show you the thing. “This is not real. This is for rehearsal purposes only.” And they always show you and they say this very clearly, and everyone knows that it’s fake. If it’s a real gun, [00:14:30] they will say, “This is an empty gun.” And the armor or a licensed prop person will open the chamber and show you the empty barrel and show you that everything is completely empty before they hand you the gun.
And then if it is a live gun with a blank in it, everyone is notified. It says this is a hot gun. This is fire on the set. You know it’s all very, very buttoned down. So obviously, that did not happen on Rust. I [00:15:00] have never once in my career heard of a first AD, the assistant director, handling a firearm. I’ve never heard of that. That’s against any protocol I know about, which is what happened in this case. So, this is very rare and obviously, things did not go according to plan. What has happened and I have experienced a lot in recent years, is the time pressure and the money involved in making a film and the increasing pressure on labor to work longer [00:15:30] and longer hours with fewer resources in order to bring a film in at a certain budget level, has put a strain on crews and even on producers, on the people who are trying to get it done.
Where people can very easily get sloppy, and rush, and put people in hazardous, unhealthy situations, whether they’re working 16 hours a day and have to drive home an hour and a half after [00:16:00] doing that, and in danger of crashing their car or falling asleep at the wheel. It’s just a whole litany of negative consequences that can happen because of an irresponsible work environment because of top-down financial pressure. There’s a boom happening right now in film production because there’s such a desire for content. So, you get areas where there’s a lot of filming and not a lot of crews so you get inexperienced people working on [00:16:30] film sets who are not properly trained because there’s just no one else to do the jobs and people want to get it done. You know, I mean I could go on and on and on and on.
You know what recently happened with the IATSE, the technical trade union, which is a conglomerate of guilds of all the people who work behind the camera, there was a strike authorization to put a stop to all of this. And now thank God, that a strike was avoided and changes are being put into place. So Rust, I think, is a tragic outcome of [00:17:00] that phenomenon.
Jay Ruderman: Any thoughts on I know Dwayne Johnson just came out recently said in his productions, they’re not going to use live guns. They’ll use fake guns. Do you have any feelings strongly one way or the other on that?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah, I think that’s wise now. You know I really do. I hadn’t thought of that because you get so used to the way things are, but for a long time, the reason you used a real gun was so that when that trigger was pulled, you [00:17:30] have the effect of you have recoil, and you have flash out of the barrel, and all of the things when you record that a film that is very effective and makes it feel real. Now we have the capability with computer technology and they do it anyway so the reasons we used real guns, I think are no longer necessary. We can make it look real without a real gun. And the truth is when you have a projectile coming out of a weapon, [00:18:00] even if it’s just a paper slug, as in a blank, people can get badly hurt. And as we’ve seen with Rust, it may be vanishingly rare, but somehow a live cartridge got in that 45 revolver, Colt 45. So, I would totally support that.
Jay Ruderman: Right. I want to talk a little bit about technology because, regarding your work with the Innocence Project, a [00:18:30] lot of it’s based on DNA. I used to be a prosecutor and DNA as a tool did not exist at that time. And now it’s being used to free a lot of people who were wrongly convicted. I mean how big of a problem is this? How many people in America are wrongly convicted and serving time in prison?
Tony Goldwyn: The Innocence Project, since its founding in 1992, has exonerated 375 people. 21 of them from death row. Okay, [00:19:00] so that’s a lot of people, but that’s a small fraction of the people who are in prison who are innocent. You know there are many, many cases, even ones with negative DNA results. In other words, it’s proven by DNA that this was not the person and the system will not let those people out. There are many people where there is no DNA evidence available to retry them. It’s been estimated to my knowledge, that the percentages of people who were [00:19:30] wrongfully incarcerated, in other words, innocent, spending time in prison for crimes they did not commit, is somewhere between four and 10%. So, if you say there are two to 2.5 million incarcerated individuals in the United States, that’s 200, could be up as much as 200,050 to 200,000 people that will be sleep being in a jail cell tonight for a crime that they did not commit/.
Jay Ruderman: In the United States in 2021, that’s crazy. And what do you think of [00:20:00] the top reasons that this ends up happening? I mean is it just a quick trial and the prosecutors trying to push through a conviction? I mean how does this happen?
Tony Goldwyn: Well, you’d be more expert at that than me as a former prosecutor, but I think that it’s a couple of reasons. I think sort of the most macro reason is that when the tragedy of a violent crime happens, as human beings we crave [00:20:30] closure. We crave resolution. We want to get the bad guy. We want someone to be held accountable, and we want to put this to rest and move on, and we want retribution. So, there’s a tremendous amount of emotional pressure to solve a crime and to get the bad guy, sort of speak. The other more structural reason is that police and prosecutors, and tell me if you disagree, but are incentivized and pressured [00:21:00] to have a high conviction rate and to bring resolution to these crimes as quickly as possible. And people politically, you know, a lot of DAs are politically and a conviction rate is a real badge of honor politically.
So, I think that the system is currently incentivized to get the bad guy and to get convictions at all costs. You know we have problems of the tragedy [00:21:30] of mass incarceration, which was a byproduct of the Crime Bill in, was it 96′ or 94′? When was the Crime Bill was passed on the Clinton administration, which was really a reaction to the devastating crack epidemic and the upsurge in crime? And again, it was emotionally, it was very politically charged, but it was like let’s get the bad guys. So, mass incarceration I think has added tremendous pressures, just the volume of people in the system. [00:22:00] Mostly people of color, just put that on steroids and made it just that much more difficult for people to get justice.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah. I think you’re right and I think there is community pressure, political pressure. You’re right. A lot of DAs are elected and it changes from state to state. I mean there are some states that are better than other states, but it is a nationwide problem. [00:22:30] I know there’s been a lot of work on criminal justice reform and Kim Kardashian has gotten a lot of attention on that. Is this something that you’ve also been involved in? Is it an issue that a lot of people who have recognition who are celebrities and well-known figures are getting behind?
Tony Goldwyn: I mean I can’t speak for other people. Kim Kardashian, obviously, is the most famous one, but the answer is criminal justice reform and [00:23:00] that has become increasingly a bigger and bigger focus at the Innocence Project. You know for people that don’t know enough about the Innocence Project, and I encourage you to go to innocenceproject.org to find out more because the work is extraordinary. You know it started out by developing, pioneering the use of DNA technology to prove someone’s guilt or innocence by testing the bloody evidence, or semen, or hair samples from a crime scene to categorically prove whether someone was the perpetrator or not.
[00:23:30] But civil rights attorneys, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, have founded this and have been doing it now since 92′, but what’s happened is as groundbreaking is that work was and as important, the Innocence Project, now really criminal justice reform and policy reform, is almost as front and center as DNA testing. You know because there are many aspects to this in addition to prosecutorial misconduct or police misconduct. There are pressures. There are things [00:24:00] in our system that just need to be changed. For example, the use of junk science. There are a lot of things that are admissible in court and often persuasive at trials, which are completely bogus, like bite-mark testimony.
There are many people who’ve been convicted because of bite-marks and they’ll have a dental expert, forensic expert come in and say these bite-marks match this person’s teeth and that’s why we know absolutely that this is the person that did it and it’s complete nonsense. It [00:24:30] is bogus.
Jay Ruderman: Right.
Tony Goldwyn: So, those kinds of laws, banning bite-mark testimony. Another one, the biggest cause is eyewitness misidentification. So, you have someone saying I know I saw, that was the guy, or that was the woman who did it, and there are many, many ways to manipulate someone’s memory. And so, there’s a lot of work being done to address that phenomenon. And you could probably list many more examples [00:25:00] of forensics that have been taken as standards that really need to be adjusted. So yeah, I’ve been as vocal as I can be and there are bills in many states, and the policy department at the Innocence Projects working on a policy level all over the country to get these laws changing. And they are changing. There’s real, real progress being made because it’s not like… This takes it out of the political realm of sort of you’re either law and order, [00:25:30] or you’re not.
And the thing I always say to people is for every person who is put in prison innocently, the perpetrator of that crime is walking free to do it again. You know you may think you’ve gotten just served, but you’ve actually enabled an assailant, or a murderer, or a rapist to roam the streets freely and do that again. So, and in addition to victimizing the innocent person [00:26:00] and destroying their family, and their whole social network, and their children, all the ripple effects of a wrongful incarceration are just incalculable.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah. It’s a huge problem. What would you say to someone who’s listening who’s like okay, well, I don’t have a huge network, but this issue speaks to me and I want to get involved? What’s the best way that they can get involved and feel like they’re making a difference?
Tony Goldwyn: Well, I think you go to innocenceproject.org, and [00:26:30] there’s the answer to that question. For me, all activism can start on a local level, like what is happening in your community? What organizations are supporting the aspect of, if we’re talking about criminal justice reform, what speaks to you emotionally about it and how can you… Find out what bills are being worked [00:27:00] on in your community, or in your state, or in your district, and go and advocate, and call your assembly person, state representative, congressperson, Senator.
There’s lots of ways to advocate. If you have the means, you can get money. If you know these organizations, a lot of them operate on a shoestring budget so they need volunteers. While there is the Innocence Project in New York, which is what we call the mothership, you know the main one, it is part [00:27:30] and sort of the head of an entire Innocence Project network. The Innocence network around the country and each Innocence Project is financially independent. So, there may be an Innocence Project in your area that may really need some help. And if you have expertise, if you’re an attorney, or you may have gifts that would be very helpful.
Jay Ruderman: Right? Tony, you’re an established figure in the entertainment industry and you mentioned in 2010, that you produced and directed a movie [00:28:00] called Conviction, which you described. Also in 2014, you developed a series called Divide, based off the conviction and the Innocence Project, and tells a story about a caseworker trying to stop the impending execution of someone she thinks was innocent. Do you think that your activism has now entered into your profession, that you’re in a position where you’re able to take your activism [00:28:30] and have an impact through your work and through the production of entertainment?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah. I mean look, what value do I bring to a charitable organization? If I’m having a good year, I can get some money. I can lend my support, but really what my skills involve is storytelling. So, whether that is going out and speaking out on behalf to help tell the story of the Innocence Project or whatever organization [00:29:00] I’m involved in a way that hopefully affects people’s hearts and spurs them to action. That’s one way, but telling stories to shine a light on these issues, that’s the holy grail for me. If I can make a piece of entertainment that moves people and in a three dimensional way gives them a life experience of what, in this case, of what it is to be wrongfully convicted and really lets [00:29:30] them into a two-hour experience where they feel they’ve lived it, what more valuable contribution can I make? So yeah, when I’m making stories that are connected to issues that I care about, I really feel like I’m doing the best version of my work.
Jay Ruderman: Well, I’ve always believed that entertainment has sometimes a greater impact on society and the way society sees things than even legislation.
Tony Goldwyn: You know [00:30:00] the culture changes the zeitgeist. It really does. If you think about LGBTQ rights, for example, and gay marriage. Okay, so into the early 2000s, the idea of gay marriage, or it was still an insane idea. People just didn’t… It just seemed so foreign and then you have a television show like Will & Grace, where you have Eric McCormick, who’s like the most sort of all American [00:30:30] guy, and you have Sean Hayes, who’s just hilarious, and endearing, and fun to be with in your living room every single night, I honestly think Will & Grace had just a profound impact on the American psyche about their attitude towards gay people because what seemed unfamiliar or didn’t know about them was somehow threatening. Suddenly, people realized we’re all just human beings or Modern Family.
You know these kinds of things I really think shift the consciousness [00:31:00] so that now people look at gay marriage, obviously, there’s some people who are more… Every issue has its detractors, but now people just take it for granted as normal. It was a 50 year or longer, but a 50 year pitched battle for gay rights, and the progress that we’ve made on that issue in the past 15 years has been monumental. I really think that’s a perfect example of how the pop culture can really [00:31:30] change things. I mean even in my experience of doing Scandal, for example. When we premiered that show, the idea of an interracial relationship between the president of the United States and one of his staff workers seemed so like wow, man, this is really edgy stuff.
And sort of the corporate entities were nervous about are people… [00:32:00] How’s this going to go over? And of course, people loved it. And within a very short period of time, it was no big thing. Like it was just Shonda Rhimes created a world that was the world as she saw it, and audiences completely embraced it. And so, not that we don’t have a vast distance to go in terms of our issues with racial justice in this country, [00:32:30] but cultural phenomena like that, I think play a massive role. So, that’s where in my small way, I feel like I try and put my energy.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah. Two excellent examples and really changing society and societal attitudes can lead to laws that are really effective. I know you’re really political and you’ve been very out there and outspoken, and I don’t think you’re afraid to be outspoken. One of the issues [00:33:00] that touches on some of the work that you’ve done is the death penalty. And some people see the death penalty as extremely inhumane and then other people in our country are going to see it as a way of deterring crime. I’m sure you have strong views on this. Is it something you’ve spoken out on?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah, to some degree. I do have strong views on it. I mean from a moral perspective, I think it’s immoral but that’s just my personal opinion. [00:33:30] It has been proven statistically, it is not a deterrent. And from an economic perspective, it is a travesty. In other words, the amount of money that is hundreds of millions of dollars that have been wasted of public dollars on housing and death row inmates, as a simple, as a strategy, and on an economic matter, it makes sense [00:34:00] whatsoever. It is not a deterrent. It destroys people’s lives.
You know there’s in terms of inhumanity, the chemicals that are used for lethal injections, there’s all kinds of moral issues about cruel and inhuman punishment and suffering. But again, that falls under the moral part of the spectrum. From a practical standpoint, it should be abolished. It makes absolutely no sense. It does not [00:34:30] work. And as I mentioned earlier, of the 375 exonerations where people were proven by DNA evidence to be innocent of those crimes, 21 people were freed from death row. So, using the numbers we were talking about before, if those 21 people plus all of the other people who have not been able to yet prove their innocence, but likely are innocent, that’s murder.
Jay Ruderman: It’s an amazing statistic and it really hits [00:35:00] home. You mentioned your years of playing President Fitz, who was a moderate Republican on Scandal, for seven seasons. What do you think President Fitz, or what do you think you would think, or what do you think of what’s going on in this country? I mean with Trump and the denial of the insurrection that took place on the capital, this whole thing that our whole election system is rampant with fraud. I mean there’s [00:35:30] this whole narrative out there that, to me, it seems to be extremely dangerous for our country. And I know you’re very you know passionate about being involved in politics so this has to be front and center to something you’re thinking about.
Tony Goldwyn: Everything you said is true. Fitz, well not the Paragon of virtue.
Jay Ruderman: Right.
Tony Goldwyn: I do think he would’ve been appalled by what’s happened to our country [00:36:00] and to the Republican party. I mean Jeff Perry, who played Cyrus, my chief of staff, and my dear friend, Jeff, when we were first doing the show, we were trying to get a sense of like well, what is our world view as Republicans in this alternate universe? And we really thought well, okay. So, well, our agenda is to bring the Republican party back to a consensus party and heal the divisions that coming out of the Bush years we thought there was so [00:36:30] much division with the neocons and the Republican party pitted against the left-wing of the democratic party. And we thought well, that’s going to be our sweet spot as an administration and that sounds so quaint and unrealistic now.
Yeah. I think we’re in a very, very dangerous place in this country and around the world really. I think that [00:37:00] Trump represented, for me, was someone who really capitalized, and had the gifts, and the skills to capitalize on people’s fears, and maybe even more people’s sense of grievance, and saw that there was just real traction there. People who felt unseen, and felt overlooked, and felt looked down on by, quote-unquote, coastal elites, which I suppose I’m one of, [00:37:30] and he’s really a genius at that. And then combining that with the advent of social media and the explosion of what’s happened in our media ecosystem where misinformation can be just rampantly distributed on a mass scale in such a way that people, all of us in our various silos, can really just create the world that we see and find lots of confirmation [00:38:00] bias, lots of information to back up our view of the world, irregardless of what actual facts are.
The famous Kellyanne Conway statement of we just create our alternative fact. There are alternative facts and that’s become, you know we laughed at the time like I can’t believe they came out of our mouth, but that’s very much what I think we’re dealing with. And I know that there are many people in this country who literally see the universe in a different way than I do. Like it’s as if we live on different planets.
Jay Ruderman: Right.
Tony Goldwyn: And I say this [00:38:30] all as someone who believes and has faith, and optimism in the fact that if we can lower the temperature and begin to connect as human beings, find some standard, some baseline of what our objective facts that’s, to me, where the healing begins and to in a sense rise up. Not just against Trump or he really was just like the [00:39:00] right guy, at the right moment, with the right skills, and the right charisma, and all of that. It’s not about Trump or Trumpism. You know I think that is a hazard really to get too focused on that. To me, it’s about finding ways to bring people together in conversation and to be able to connect with people just at a lower temperature where those kinds of [00:39:30] polarizing sort of flashpoints are not in the conversation.
So, it’s a real challenge, but I think we’re in a very dangerous moment right now, but I don’t know. I do have faith. When I have conversations with conservative friends of mine, or when I get into unemotional, deep conversations with people who may be so much more conservative than I am on a lot of levels, we are always at least as many areas [00:40:00] where we can, have the opportunity to connect deeply as human beings about our families or our view of one aspect of life or another. And the focus suddenly then shifts away from that handful of things that we really see very differently. And we’ve lost that in this country I think.
Jay Ruderman: So, I mean I agree with you. I think that Americans and people around the world, for that matter, are mostly good and want to do the right thing, but we live in a polarizing time, and Trump is still out there, [00:40:30] and the Republican party is completely behind him. What advice do you give? I mean your kids are already young adults, but you know younger people who are getting involved in politics and they’re jaded by what’s going on, but yet you deeply believe in being involved in the political system. What do you tell them?
Tony Goldwyn: Well, first of all, whatever your opinion is, we are so blessed to live [00:41:00] in a society where we have the agency to, vote and to speak out, and to do all of the things that we’re allowed to do as Americans. We can’t take that for granted. I would say to young people who are jaded, please take the time. The world is in your hands. Seriously. You can make a difference. You can affect change. You can have agency over your situation, and it is through community building, and through connecting with other people. And [00:41:30] the other thing that it is, is knowledge. Knowledge is power. And it seems I remember in my teens and twenties, it all seemed like I didn’t even know how to get my brain around politics, and it all seemed futile, and out of my control, and I felt that I didn’t have any impact.
You can… There are so many resources to begin to find out how you can have an impact about the things that you care about or the things that impact that affect your life. You can become [00:42:00] an activist and it’s like all you need to do is dip your tone in the water and the truth is it’s really invigorating. It is soul expanding. It is enriching, and fun, and empowering. And so, once you start doing it, you get addicted to it because we are social creatures. We require that. We need to build human networks. That’s a major ingredient in happiness and feeling empowered in our own lives. And I want to share with you an example of [00:42:30] this is my eldest daughter, Anna, last year with two partners, started an online platform called Political Playlist. Answering exactly this thing about after the political divisions that we’ve experienced in the past several years, they formed this platform called Political Playlists, which is a nonpartisan platform where what you do is it is focusing on members of Congress [00:43:00] who are under 45-years-old.
Okay. So, our young, our future leaders. Get to know our future leaders. So, what you do is you go to politicalplaylist.org. You take a brief five-minute survey. It’s really cool and fun, and they have this great interface, and you say where you’re from, what your party affiliation is, what issues you care about most, whether you’re interested in national leaders, or leaders in your region, whatever it is. It’s a quick cool quiz. And then you get matched up with your playlist of five [00:43:30] politicians who either match your needs and generally they’ll throw in one who has the exact opposite ideology from everything you have. And then you get a biweekly newsletter that’s customized for you with information about your leaders, who again are under 45-years-old. And in every newsletter you get, there are links to click through to an article, or to what bills this person is working on, or news about this person, or how to volunteer.
And so, that to me is such a [00:44:00] perfect example of engagement because it’s very digestible. It’ll take you about five minutes to read your newsletter, but because it’s coming every week or two, you just start to build your knowledge base and you start to see oh, well, I could have this impact here. And you start to feel knowledgeable about these young leaders who some of them are going to be the leaders of the Senate and presidents of the United States. So, that’s an example of what Anna’s done with Political Playlist of the kind of thing that young [00:44:30] people with technology can really… It’s fun. It’s like it’s not overwhelming. And so anyway, that’s an example of the kinds of things that are out there but I do think that’s the thing that’s going to change our system for the better, and I’m not advocating right or left because it has nothing to do with tribalism.
Jay Ruderman: That is so innovative and how do people sign up to get this newsletter?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah. Go to [00:45:00] politicalplaylist.org. It’s a really cool website. They got nominated for a Webby Award this past year right after they launched because the design and the interface is so cool. You just go to Political Playlist. Google it and you fill out this form, and you sign up, and you give your email address, and you will be matched up with five people in Congress or the Senate who are 45 or under. And if you don’t… You can then explore many others. There’s lots of data and the newsletter there’s also [00:45:30] really interesting articles about what’s going on, an initiative, they have a podcast that talks to a lot of the young leaders, or activists, or celebrities, or people that are in the conversation. So yeah, check it out. It’s really cool.
Jay Ruderman: That’s awesome. So, Tony, I want to talk to you, you have some really exciting projects that are going to be released very soon. You’re going to be in a film, King Richard, which is coming out on the 19th of November, the story about [00:46:00] Serena and Venus Williams and their dad. Can you talk a little bit about your role as coach Paul Cohen in the film?
Tony Goldwyn: Yeah. This is an extraordinary film, which is going to be out very soon. The 19th, as you mentioned, in theaters and on HBO Max. Will Smith plays Richard Williams, who was Venus and Serena’s father is. Venus Serena’s father who really got them into tennis and many people may know the story or a version of the story, but for those [00:46:30] who don’t Richard, two years before Venus and Syrian were born, Richard was watching a tennis match on television and he knew nothing about tennis. He saw a young woman win a tournament and get handed a check for $40,000 and he just had a vision. He said, “We are going to do that.” And he wrote a 78-page manifesto, a plan. He envisioned this thing like a prophecy that he and his wife were going to have two additional kids. There were already three [00:47:00] older girls and these two children were going to become the number one and number two female tennis players in the world.
And they did it. So, this story, King Richard, really we meet them when Venus and Serena are young girls and follow them through their childhood, and how they got into it in this extraordinary story of really a family’s, because it became a family mission to do this. It’s just incredible. And we all know [00:47:30] what the end of the story is. So, I play Paul Cohen, who at a certain point when Venus and Serena were like five and seven years old or something like that, Richard couldn’t take them. You know he was self-taught in tennis and he sought out the top professional coaches in America and to try and get some training. So, Paul was their first professional coach and was Venus’ first professional coach because Serena was a bit younger and really took Venus to become the [00:48:00] juniors undefeated junior state champion of California and really professionalized her game, and had a very close relationship with the family as well.
Jay Ruderman: It sounds like a film that I really want to watch and I’m sure a lot of people want to watch. I’ve heard Will Smith was very powerful in it. I know that you’ve talked about his character and getting into character. I also read that when it was decided that it was going to go from a theatrical [00:48:30] release to streaming that Will Smith gave bonuses to all the actors on the film.
Tony Goldwyn: Yes. Well, the film will be released in theaters, but Warner Brothers because of the pandemic, decided because people going to movie theaters was a big question mark, so last year they decided they were going to take all their big movies and simultaneously release them on HBO Max as well as in theaters. And there was a big outcry in the industry about that. It was very controversial and Will felt bad [00:49:00] I think, and wanted to do something for the cast who there might be a revenue impact for all of us because it’s going to be partly on streaming. So, Will just gave every of all of the main cast, this bonus out of his own pocket. And I just got a call saying, “Hey man, Will’s got a gift for you.” And I just couldn’t believe it. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. He’s just [00:49:30] a classy human being.
Jay Ruderman: That’s amazing. Another film that you have coming out over Thanksgiving weekend is called Hot Zone: Anthrax, and it recreates the investigation surrounding the sending of anthrax-laced letters to politicians and media outlets in the weeks following 9/11. I remember this happening distinctly and how it put the entire country on edge right after 9/11. What impact do you think it’s going [00:50:00] to have on today’s political climate and why was it important to tell this story 20 years later?
Tony Goldwyn: Well, The Hot Zone, National Geographic has done this incredible six-part series, as you said, profiling this investigation. The fact that we are just are in the midst of a global pandemic or hopefully on the backside of it, that both the terror that we have felt over the past two years, the [00:50:30] way we’ve seen science manipulated, misinformation rampant, the way political agendas on all sides have sort of steered science, and our sort of base or instincts have created pretty destructive scenarios, all of that was at play in this investigation. It’s the thing that people don’t know about. I mean I remember vividly when the anthrax letters [00:51:00] were sent three weeks after 9/11 and we were all traumatized by the attacks on the world trade center, and it was really, really scary. Several people died of anthrax poisoning because of it.
But then with the March to war in the Middle East, people forgot about it and this investigation went on for seven years. So, what I’m doing is I play this guy called Bruce Ivins, who was the lead anthrax researcher for the US Defense Department. And Bruce was a very [00:51:30] complicated guy who became obsessed with this investigation and ended up we’ve learned, that Bruce really suffered from some very severe mental illness that he had hidden. I won’t give away a lot, but it’s an absolutely fascinating story that people will find has great resonance given the two years that we’ve all just been living through.
Jay Ruderman: I’m definitely going to watch it. I want to ask you, I know you’re very involved with Americares, so maybe you want to talk a little bit about what Americares [00:52:00] does and how effective that organization is and helping people around the world.
Tony Goldwyn: Yes. Americares is another one of the few organizations that I’m deeply involved in. My involvement, again, happened organically. This is an organization that was started in I think 1977, but the genesis of it was just after the Vietnam war ended, there was an airplane. We were evacuating people out of Vietnam [00:52:30] and there was a Pan Am, an airline that no longer exists, a Pan Am flight that was taking 143 I think, Vietnamese orphans to get them out of Vietnam when the communists took over, and that plane crashed in the jungle. And it was all over the news, and these poor children were lost in the jungle, and the American government and the state department couldn’t do anything about it, and there was lots of crying and stuff on the television. And a businessman from Connecticut named Bob Macauley [00:53:00] was just appalled that the most powerful country in the world couldn’t do anything.
So, he and his wife Leila, mortgaged their house and rented a 747 aircraft, and flew over to Vietnam and rescued these kids themselves, and then brought them back to the United States, got them all settled in foster care, and realized that they wanted to keep doing this work and that they were going to form an organization that would cut through the red tape and act [00:53:30] now, ask questions later, and just identify a need and get it done. And thus, Americares was born. They started this organization, which in the past 40 years, has become now it’s a very large organization and is of the preeminent humanitarian relief organizations in the world. And what Americares does now is it really is a health-focused disaster, and humanitarian, and development organizations. So, what we do is we really [00:54:00] are focused on health, and health care, and building health infrastructure in communities.
So, we will go to a community that is affected by disaster or poverty, whether it be after a tsunami, or an earthquake, or a flood, or a hurricane, and go in and we’re first responders to bring in medicine, medical supplies, and medical training into a community. But I think the more, most more impact actual thing that we do, is we go into communities and work with the local partners [00:54:30] in the community, whatever health infrastructure they have, whether it’s a hospital system, or whether it’s a hut in the jungle that is a health clinic with five people, and work with the local leaders, and the local infrastructure to build out a sustainable health infrastructure in that community.
When you have health, you have the ability to have a job, to educate your children, to put food on the table. When you don’t have health, you don’t have anything. So, health is fundamental and as we see it, health [00:55:00] equity is a huge problem globally. Americares has been on the front lines of the pandemic. That was one of the immediately we were on the ground helping frontline workers. We provide prescription medicines for people in rural communities around the world. We’re part of a network of free clinics around the United States. So anyway, it’s a very… It’s an extraordinary organization so I encourage people to go to americares.org to find out more. It’s a [00:55:30] group I’m really passionate about and really stand behind.
Jay Ruderman: Definitely. One last question. What do you think you’ve learned about yourself personally, over the years as being an activist?
Tony Goldwyn: I think a combination I’ve developed an increasing sense of humility as I engage in whatever level of activism I’m involved with and see people who really are doing God’s work, who really commit their lives to the service of others. [00:56:00] I’m constantly inspired by that and humbled by that. And at the same time, I’ve learned… It’s given me a sense of agency and power where I really do see where I can have an impact and create change in a way that I never thought was possible. You know for many years in my life I thought well, I don’t know what to do. What difference can I make? You know I’m not a [00:56:30] health expert. I don’t know anything about the criminal justice system. I don’t, you know many of the things that I’m involved with, it’s like what can I do? And I’ve realized that by just getting in the conversation, suddenly a myriad of things reveal themselves for me to have an impact.
Jay Ruderman: Thanks so much, Tony. It’s been a real pleasure. I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for being a guest on All Inclusive.
Tony Goldwyn: Thanks, Jay. It’s great talking today.
Jay Ruderman: Thank you.
Speaker 1: All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive. Have an idea for a podcast, be sure to tweet at Jay Ruderman.