Tavis: Pleased to welcome Gloria Reuben to this program. The two-time Emmy-nominated actress and activist of course starred for years on “E.R.” She’s now staring on the TNT drama “Raising the Bar,” which is now in its second season. The show airs Monday nights at 10:00 on TNT. Here now, a scene from “Raising the Bar.”
Tavis: If I ever need a public defender, I want Gloria Reuben.
Gloria Reuben: Come to me. (Laughter)
Tavis: What a tough public defender there.
Reuben: I know, isn’t that fun?
Tavis: Which is funny, because – not ha-ha funny, but interesting, because – and I don’t want to bash – public defenders do a great job. But unfortunately, because of the media culture that we live in every so often you read some heinous story about some public defender who really let their client down, and that’s not at all the role that you play.
Reuben: Indeed. I know that it’s definitely a thing that a lot of people unfortunately have to deal with, because the work force of public defenders, as of course with DAs, et cetera, but the work force of public defenders in particular, they are so overloaded with an extraordinary amount of cases, particularly at this time when cities and states are tough on crimes.
And that means everybody and anybody gets arrested. And also there have been other television programs that deal with the judicial system that have not necessarily portrayed the role or the life of a public defender in the most kind of positive way, or a way that shows them as being intelligent and capable.
Tavis: So tell me what makes this show different, then, to your point?
Reuben: That we do that, that we show that public defenders are not just overworked but of course there are many of them that are extremely loyal to their clientele that are very intelligent, that work diligently to hopefully provide the best kind of legal counsel for their clients, and oftentimes they butt up against a system that isn’t necessarily kind of conducive to being understanding about individual situations as much as it is about locking people up –
Tavis: And your character, Ros?
Reuben: Ros, I like Ros, yeah. I like that.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that, because I read – I want to make sure – I don’t believe everything I read, but I think this is true. I read somewhere where you said that you think that you were perfectly cast in this role. It’s not often that you hear an actor say, “I was perfectly cast.” What’d you mean by that where Ros is concerned?
Reuben: Well, I think it’s a good fit. I like the way that she’s a leader, and I have found that – oftentimes I have found that certain roles that come to me very much parallel, for some reason, things that are going on in my life.
So I like that she’s a leader and obviously being the voice for those who do not have the voice for themselves, or are representing people that literally can’t afford to represent themselves. And I find that I’ve been very blessed, of course, to have been having a lengthy career so far, and hopefully, that will continue. But to be able to use my success in order to help be the voice for some people in different aspects for different activism that I’m involved with. So in that way it’s a great parallel thing.
I think clearly she’s intelligent and she looks good and she’s – so those two things, I like.
Tavis: That’s a (unintelligible). (Laughter) To your point earlier, that you said oftentimes – I’m paraphrasing here, but oftentimes you find roles in characters that are offered to you that parallel your life. Is that, to your thinking, to your mind, is that, Gloria, divine intervention? Are you calling that down? Is that by design? How does that happen, do you think?
Reuben: I think the first thing that you said is very much in play – divine intervention – very much so. If I take a look back and look at how the path has unfolded with my career and where it has led, not just in the world of acting or in that kind of world, but how it has led me to do other things, in no way could I have even have imagined that things would have turned out the way that they have. So 100 percent, it’s divine intervention, absolutely.
Tavis: I was in a conversation on my public radio show just the other day, as I often am, about HIV/AIDS, for a variety of reasons – most importantly because we don’t have a cure as yet, as we all know – and thinking about you coming on the show. And I’m connecting these things because I had forgotten – and we did a show here, celebrating the close of, the wrapping of “E.R.”
And I had forgotten something. I’m connecting the wrapping of “E.R.” with my talking on my radio show about HIV, and you coming on the program. You had been on “E.R.,” connect these dots – stay with me, y’all. You had been on “E.R.,” but I had forgotten, because it was so many years ago, that way before we were really talking about this as we are now, you played an HIV-positive character on “E.R.”
Reuben: That’s right.
Tavis: Which is – tell me about that.
Reuben: I think very much, again, it’s divine intervention, in a number of different ways. I think that when Jeanie Boulet, I found out that she was HIV-positive – and this is a good, where are we now, this is a good 13 years ago – she was a heterosexual married professional African American woman and she got HIV.
Now, we were ahead of our time. The show “E.R.,” particularly in those first few years, it was ahead of its time in a number of different ways. But for the issue of HIV, that storyline was completely ahead of its time because it’s now – it’s 10, 13 years later that we find that professional, heterosexual, African American women are being infected at astounding rates, and that indeed, because of reruns, people, maybe it’s in their minds a little bit more that I played this character on television.
But as a society, we have dropped the ball on the issue. Hence my about five years ago feeling a strong need and desire to pick up that ball and try to be out there in the world, specifically in the United States, in the African American and Latino communities, getting the message back out there because we’ve forgotten about it. It’s like it doesn’t exist anymore.
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to spread here in the United States, and I’m very thankful for numerous reasons that Barack Obama is our president, right? And when it comes to this issue of HIV, finally we have a leader who not only acknowledges that this is a pandemic here in the United States, but is creating and will implement a national AIDS strategy and has also put together a $45 million media campaign that’s going to be starting up any time now that will target these demographics, target these communities that are affected the most by HIV/AIDS.
So it’s a little upsetting sometimes that we’ve kind of gone backwards, in a way, when it comes to stigma or lack of conversation about it or homophobia or incarceration or poverty or these other elements that play into this pandemic in the Black and Latino communities, primarily here in the United States.
So it’s upsetting that we haven’t moved forward, and yet as is often the word that we have been using a lot lately and within the last year, there is great hope for the future, because it starts from leadership clearly. It starts from the top down.
Tavis: Well, I thought about it because – perfect example – you don’t see this all the time, but it’s a perfect example of how Hollywood can lead the discussion.
Reuben: That’s right.
Tavis: The power that Hollywood really has when it uses it appropriately to get out ahead of the story, to make people wrestle with it. Before my time runs out, we’re talking about HIV/AIDS but I’ve watched you over the years work not just on the screen but in the community in a variety of ways. What’s at the center of clearly your love of humanity and giving all of the causes beyond HIV/AIDS that you attach your name to?
Reuben: The main cause that I have attached my name to and am working diligently in is the issue of climate change. I am currently very honored to be the vice chair of the board of trustees for Waterkeeper Alliance, and we are a global environmental organization. Bobby Kennedy Jr. is the cofounder of Waterkeeper Alliance.
So our mission is to protect and preserve the waterways in the world, and we bring polluters to justice. We hold up environmental law. Now, as everybody on both coasts in this country and across America and all around the world, we are seeing the ramifications that climate change is having on our communities, on our waterways, on our health, and I am on a mission to raise awareness on this issue, because we don’t have any time left to just kind of be lackadaisical about it, particularly when it comes to this climate bill that is hopefully pending to be passed in the Senate.
But with the issue of water and the issue of clean water, the U.N. estimates that by the year 2050, 40 percent of the population on this planet will be facing life-threatening clean water shortages, then we need to do something now. We have to stop these industries that are polluting our waterways.
The coal industry is a huge industry when we’re talking about polluting the environment, our air and our waterways. And we have to just kind of create more citizen activism on this issue, which is what Waterkeeper Alliance does.
Tavis: Obviously she’s a lot more than just a pretty face. Having said that, if you got to talk about climate change, send Gloria Reuben (laughter) for a climate change conversation, for public defender. Send me Gloria Reuben. The show is called “Raising the Bar,” it’s on TNT, starring one Gloria Reuben, in its second season. Gloria, nice to see you.
Reuben: Likewise, a pleasure.
Tavis: Glad to have you on the program.
Reuben: Thank you.