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What sent Hannah up a tree

The actress, arrested at a protest this week after 23 days on the urban farm, is no newcomer to activism or environmentalism.

June 16, 2006|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

She became a vegan at the age of 11 after she befriended a little calf being hauled by a truck that was parked near a road. The calf kissed her face for about an hour. When the truck driver appeared, she asked him what the calf's name was. "Veal, tomorrow morning at 7," he shot back.

At 12, she got into a big argument with her father because she didn't want her taxes ever going to support war. He told her that if she didn't pay taxes she'd go to jail.

The education of Daryl Hannah, activist, was underway.

As she perched in a walnut tree this week waiting for sheriff's deputies to arrest her and other protesters at an urban farm in South Los Angeles, it may have seemed that Hannah, now 45, was just another actress parachuting in to generate publicity for another cause.

And in fact, publicity is part of what she's after, Hannah agreed. But unlike some activists in Hollywood, she pointed out, she really tries to live what she preaches.

Take the "graywater system" she uses to irrigate the garden at her house. It's sinkwater, bathwater, "water used in runoff," she explained by phone Wednesday afternoon as she prepared to head to an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Six years ago, Hannah said, she stopped driving cars fueled with petroleum. Now she drives a bio-diesel-powered 1983 El Camino she found on the Internet. Whenever she needs fuel, she orders 55-gallon drums of B-100 bio-fuel, made from recycled grease from fast food restaurants.

Hannah said she learned of the plight of the urban farmers about a month ago from a friend, environmentalist Julia Butterfly Hill. The farmers were defying a court order to vacate the 14-acre plot at 41st and Alameda streets, which had reverted to private ownership.

"I was first of all shocked and surprised that I had never heard about this before, having spent so much time in Los Angeles," Hannah said.

The pace of her acting career leaves her time for other projects, such as the "sustainable video-logs" she makes about "inspirational and cutting-edge developments in green culture and lifestyle." She puts them up on her website,

'Blade Runner' android

A willowy blond whose screen success has fluctuated over the years, she saw her career revived as the one-eyed assassin Elle Driver (California Mountain Snake) in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies. But her favorite role, she said, remains the gorgeous android Pris in Ridley Scott's 1982 dark, futuristic thriller "Blade Runner." She also said she loved playing a troubled exotic dancer in 2001's "Dancing at the Blue Iguana."

Her real life, at times, generated more publicity than some of her films. For instance, off and on she dated John F. Kennedy Jr.

"At the moment, I don't have a boyfriend -- but I have had boyfriends," she said.

Her next film is an Italian production to be shot in Spain and Italy. "I think I'm the only English-speaking person in it."

She shrugged off the idea that some people joke about the wild characters she has played over the years -- a mermaid in "Splash," a buff prehistoric woman in "Clan of the Cave Bear," a gigantress in "Attack of the 50-Foot Woman." "That's what I do for a living. If I just played the girlfriend every time, it wouldn't be very interesting."

She went to the farm to make "an emergency episode" about its fate for her video-log series.

"I went down there to shoot a segment and fell in love with the farm and the farmers in particular," she said. "I decided to do what I could to try and purchase the farm on their behalf."

She began calling anyone she knew who might be able to help, including people in politics and entertainment.

"I called Willie Nelson. I called Martin Sheen. I called a ton of people."

Hannah also joined Hill and environmental activist John Quigley on a platform about 40 feet up a walnut tree on the property. Quigley, a professional climber, said he trained Joan Baez to climb the tree and she stayed for a night. He also trained Hannah, who spent several nights in the tree, at 12 to 14 hours a stretch.

The night before the authorities came, Quigley said, Hannah began feeling under the weather and slept in a tent below for a few hours. "On the morning the sheriff showed up, I spotted them and called out. She was on the rope and up the tree in about three minutes. It was an amazing athletic feat."

Quigley said that a lot of people connected with the protest are concerned because Hannah is taking the brunt of the backlash. "People say, 'These Hollywood people, why don't they grow food on their land?' That sort of thing."

Mark Warford, communications director of Greenpeace USA, noted that celebrity involvement is not always good for a cause.

"There are a ton of lightweights, complete featherweights, who think their name recognition is going to help an issue when all they are really about is just trying to score a headline," Warford said.

In Hannah's case, Quigley said, the local farmers have embraced her.

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