Kristin Bauer Van Straten has had quite a career and torpedoed her way to our screens as seductive, sexy, no-holds-barred vampire Pam Swynford de Beaufort in the hit HBO series True Blood and most recently, as Maleficent on ABC’s Once Upon A Time. The talented actress now lends her star power to reach out to her legions of fans, asking for their help in stopping elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade that continues in Africa at an unprecedented rate.
I had the chance to chat with van Straten one on one about her quest to ensure the horrific atrocities end and bring the issue to the forefront.
Earth Focus an environmental investigative series, will run their special Illicit Ivory on KCET Wednesday, May 27 at 8:30 p.m. PST and Thursday, May 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV (DirectTV channel 375 and DISH Network channel 9410). The special cleverly connects countries who continue to import ivory, with the illegal poaching of African elephants, of which are becoming dangerously close to becoming extinct should this continue. I previewed the episode and was disgusted at the savage way poachers go after herds of elephants, just to harvest their tusks to sell on the black market, shooting them in the head from helicopters, is just one ruthless tactic they use.
Van Straten feels very passionate about the cause and that the only way to stop poaching elephants is to get our government involved. “Bottom line is, if there were no demands we wouldn’t have this problem. The governments have to make a stronger stance like they did in the 1980’s, because it’s impossible to police it if some ivory is allowed and some isn’t.” Interestingly and to my shock, America is second only to China in importing ivory, which unfortunately supports the black market. People all over the world contribute by buying merchandise made of ivory, which this documentary clearly depicts. Van Straten adds, “It’s really silly for a bracelet or chopsticks or statute of an elephant is what gets me. It’s absolutely silly to value a status symbol over a living creature, especially these beings.”
The selling of black market ivory has hit a crisis level, with rebels fighting Kony but also earning money in poaching elephants for their tusks. Van Straten explains that our own U.S. government is giving non-military financial aid to the rebels, however they are also selling seized ivory. She likened it to if our government was seizing heroine and selling it to the same market that drug dealers were. “There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy. The numbers are supporting that we have to have no ivory sold.”
Van Straten wanted to see this first-hand so in 2012 made the trip to Kenya, Africa, with a film crew and stayed for a month. Her film Out For Africa, tells the story of the horrific poaching tactics used for ivory and the legislation that needs to pass to get importing banned worldwide. The film is currently in post-production.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is dedicated to preserving wildlife and has gained world-wide acclaim thanks to their incredible “Orphans Project”, which has successfully reintroduced over 150 orphaned infant elephants back into the wild. Van Straten spent time observing just what the conservationist do, during her time in Kenya. “It’s so remarkable. They are bottle-fed for five years, so when they lose their family an elephant keeper has to become their mommy, eat and sleep with them 24/7 for five years. Daphne Sheldrick was the first to figure out that elephants can’t handle cow’s milk, it will kill them. She’s the first one to figure out how to keep them alive and release the baby back into the wild.”
So how can you help? Van Straten says “No act is too small. If all you have is a piece of paper, pencil and a stamp, write to your state representative. There’s a lot of information on the 96 Elephants website.” The key is to get each state individually to ban the import of ivory as the federal government cannot step in. There is also a petition to get our government to ban ivory importation that I ask everyone sign. Even just urging Craigslist and eBay to stop selling ivory can help. If we don’t do something now, the estimated less than 300,000 African elephants will become extinct. Can you imagine a world without these incredible creatures? It’s time to get involved!
Of course as a huge fan of True Blood, I had to ask Van Straten about her time on the show.
Last year at the final True Blood panel at the San Diego Comic Con, I was lucky enough to witness how she lingered on stage, shaking hands, tears in her eyes as she made a final goodbye to fans. What was going through her mind in that moment?
“I remember feeling so filled with gratitude. The fans are so unbelievable. If we didn’t have the fans, I wouldn’t have been able to continue to hang out with [the cast] and say those words and be Pam, one of the best written women of all time. I had such an unbelievable last season w/Alex (Skarsgard, Eric Northman) and incredible arc from the beginning. I just couldn’t believe the kismet that brought the whole thing together for seven years.”
For me, Pam was definitely one of the strongest, kick ass, not-to-be messed with characters of all time. I have many favorite moments, one of which that immediately comes to mind is the 1980’s flashback of how Fangtasia came to be. The hair and clothing alone was hysterical, but I loved how Ginger (Tara Buck) first saw Eric in slow motion, walking in from the back room of the video store! Priceless!
What was Van Straten’s favorite moment as Pam? “I’ve had so many! When I think back and what I miss the most, I really miss being on the set with folks, especially Alex. We won’t be together like that again. We’re bonded for life, all of us. We have such a special group there. It was something really unique.”
I’ll second that motion! The special effects were amazing and the story of Eric and Pam will definitely live on as one of the biggest dynamic duos of all time!
I’ve been watching Once Upon A Time since day one and the first time we saw Maleficent was in the season one finale, when Emma had to fight against her in dragon form! I was so happy to see Van Straten in the role as the series continued and thrilled that she was prominent in season four.
Maleficent is such an iconic role, what is it like having to portray a character we all know so well? Van Straten said that before getting the script, in thinking about the character, she had two things in mind- how to make her different than Pam and how to not become a caricature, to be a real person. “Once the script comes and I start memorizing those lines, it becomes easier because the writers focus your emotions and it gives you direction.” Another thing that helped her create a real-life version of Maleficent was being on set with other cast members, the directors and producers, who gave her a lot of instruction, direction and freedom to make her job much easier.
Anyone that knows me knows Robert Carlyle (aka) Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold is my favorite character on the show. What was it like working with him this season as he was a full-on baddie? “He’s amazing. I felt so lucky to be with him on the set and also Lana Parrilla is exceedingly generous and funny. Lana and I, we laughed a lot. She has this incredible, easy laugh that’s infectious. Robert & Lana have amazing chemistry.”
One of the coolest things that I found interesting in season four, was learning that Maleficent has a daughter. What does Van Straten think about this? “Like with Pam, I like where you have characters exceedingly unforgiving, than their Achilles heel is revealed. I love having that. Pam was one of the toughest characters ever, so is Maleficent and they became the softest, most loving characters for one person. Pam was absolutely mush when it came to Eric and Maleficent is with her daughter. I like it when characters are not one color, because I think life is lived in the gray area.”
I agree with you Kristin! So now that her daughter is planning to track down her father, will Van Straten be back in Storybrooke for season five? She says it’s a definite possibility, yes.
Whether she’s advocating for the stop of illegal poaching of elephants and ban of ivory, reminiscing about her experience on True Blood, or preparing for another go round on Once Upon A Time, one thing’s for sure, Van Straten’s fans will forever be dedicated to her no matter what the future holds!
Be sure to watch Earth Focus Illicit Ivory, Wednesday May 27 at 8:30 p.m. (PST) on Los Angeles KCET and Thursday, May 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV (DirectTV channel 375 and DISH Network channel 9410). Please do your part to get involved and ban the importation of ivory from your state. Visit 96 Elephants for more information.
Check out these exclusive sneak peaks of Earth Focus Illicit Ivory