Two-time Oscar nominee explains why turtles are so amazing and discusses the nature documentary that she narrates, Turtle: The Incredible Journey.
Actress Miranda Richardson
Tavis: Miranda Richardson is a two-time Oscar-nominated actress whose many notable roles include “The Apostle” and “Damage.” She’s also known for her role in one of Hollywood’s most successful movie franchises, “Harry Potter.” Starting this weekend, though, she serves as the narrator of a new nature documentary called “Turtle: The Incredible Journey.” The film opens this Friday in several cities. Miranda, good to have you on this program.
Miranda Richardson: Oh, it’s great to be here, thanks.
Tavis: I think this is a compliment – well, it is, coming from me – this has a sort of “March of the Penguins” feel, one of my favorite movies of all time.
Richardson: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: With a great narrator for that project as well, Morgan Freeman. Is that a fair comparison, you think?
Richardson: I think so. There’s an environmental message, there’s real emotional engagement from the start, I think, in this movie. The demographic is, broadly speaking, I guess the same, but it’s maybe geared even more towards the younger family members, and I think the engagement is with the very young turtle to begin with, and you grow with the turtle in the ocean.
Tavis: I didn’t know I could be so fascinated by turtles, how about you?
Richardson: Oh, well, I kind of did, because it’s hard for me to choose. I don’t have a favorite species, because I love them all, but they’re all pretty fascinating, and it’s a chance to get to know in greater depth in this movie.
Tavis: What’s the value, you think, in your own words, what’s the value for we humans learning about animals, particularly a turtle?
Richardson: Well, turtles are amazing because they’ve been here for 200 million years. That’s a fact I did not know. And you think, well, if they’ve been here this long, why would we lose them now? But they’re in danger. I think the main thing to get across is that life is precious. I think you can’t hear that message too many times.
We have a part to play in getting this particular species out of trouble, because we’ve been instrumental in the degradation of its environment and we need to keep saying that and doing something about it, and to instill the next generation with curiosity and a fascination for these species, and this is a magical film. It really is beautiful.
Tavis: What’s amazing about – you intimated this a moment ago when I made the comparison to the “March of the Penguins” film – that film covered a whole googab of penguins as they made their march, the march of the penguins, plural.
To your earlier point, this documentary is powerful in that it allows us to have a relationship with this one turtle who goes, like, all around the world. I’ll let you tell more about the story of why you think it’s important for us to be connected to this one turtle.
Richardson: I think it’s a story, the ultimate story of survival. I think that we engage the character of this individual and we go on the journey with her, and it is mammoth – (laughs) that’s an unfortunate term to use, I suppose – it’s an epic journey. So I think it has lessons about survival, about continuity, about resoluteness and valor – all good stuff.
Tavis: You’re skipping over the good part, though.
Richardson: What’s the good part? You tell me.
Tavis: The good part is the journey. Unpack the journey.
Richardson: Well, the journey is huge.
Tavis: The journey. I’ve got to help you out here. Tell me about the journey, yeah.
Richardson: It’s epic, it’s epic. Okay, so from the get-go, the turtle is facing all this stuff. You don’t know if she’s going to make it even as far as the ocean. She’s on the beach, she’s got sort of 30, 40 feet to go to get to the ocean, and there’s all sorts of trouble immediately. And then when she gets to the ocean, the chances of being thrown back by it immediately. It just goes on.
I don’t mean to make it sound relentless, because there are passages of calm. It’s like a kind of if you’re on a boat on that journey, and we’re all in that same boat. As I say, you kind of grow with her. You go through all this stuff that the ocean throws at her.
I’m not going to give away the ending, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know, because there are so many things thrown in her path. One in 10,000 of these turtles makes it – that’s a really sobering figure. There’s a lot happening now to stack the odds in the turtles’ favor, because we’ve become aware. This is the first time we’ve understood what the journey is in total.
So there are elements of the fishing industry that had to be addressed, there’s even religious issues that have to be addressed, because for instance in Bali, turtle meat is used in religious ceremonies. To try and change cultural things is a tricky and long-term thing. Governments have to talk to governments. The use of a different kind of fishing hook and introducing these turtle exclusion devices into fishing.
It means that turtles now have a 99 percent better chance of surviving, and it’s something really simple that has to be implemented.
Tavis: I asked earlier, Miranda, what the value to us is in learning about the turtle. You’ve answered that. What’s the value to humankind in saving this particular species?
Richardson: Well, the answer to that is the same as any species, I would say, which is that the importance of biodiversity is paramount. We are all interdependent, and if we save the smallest creature on the forest floor, that means that we will also survive. And it’s not a purely selfish thing. It has to be about continuity. It has to be about the next generation and the beauty and quality of life.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine what it would be like without all the creatures that we know? The richness and complexity of life is what we’re talking about as much as anything else here.
Tavis: I’m not an actor, obviously. I suspect, though, that getting into character for narration is a bit different than getting into character for an acting part.
Tavis: How do you get into the zone, so to speak, to narrate a documentary like this?
Richardson: I think it’s tougher, because you haven’t got anything to hide behind. You have got a script and you’ve got a brief, but you’ve just got the voice, and I would always err in favor of doing less, imposing less, and I was encouraged to do a little bit more on this than I perhaps naturally would do, and I think that’s something to do with the demographic that they’re reaching out to.
So yes, I judge myself very strongly. How do I get into it? Well, watch the movie. That’s what I do. There is a very emotional connection with this creature that’s immediate. So you have to be on her side. You feel you want to be on her side. You’re kind of rooting for her.
Tavis: Have you always been an animal lover or was there a sort of ah-ha moment where this kind of happened for you?
Richardson: No, no, I think I always have been. Every time you get a close encounter it’s very, very special. A couple of things happened to me, first of all, with a kestrel, when I was quite young. An injured kestrel who flew into some wire netting when I was supposed to be playing a tennis match, and I just sat with the bird all day.
By the end of the day she was up on my shoulder, and it was just amazing. I just could hardly breathe. I was so excited by this. It was a happy ending. She took off and she found her mate and they were last seen circling around the church tower and going back to the nest, and I was just like, “I want more. I want more of this.”
Yeah, I thought I was going to be a vet. I couldn’t do the sciences. I’m probably better off doing what I’m doing. But the great thing about this profession is it gives a chance to people, whatever their passion is, to get involved somehow. It does open doors. And anything I can do to help, narration being one thing. I’m also an ambassador for WWF, so I just want to be involved and get a good message out there and encourage particularly the next generation to be excited and curious.
Tavis: I assume by WWF you mean the World Wildlife Federation.
Richardson: World Wildlife.
Tavis: Yeah. Got to clear – that’s a little joke.
Richardson: (Laughs) Yes, I know. I know.
Tavis: You got it.
Richardson: But we say we’re not “the,” we are WWF. You are “the.”
Tavis: Got it, okay. Got it.
Richardson: Yeah, right. (Laughter) Yeah, there’s a distinction.
Tavis: Just wanted to clarify. People say, “What’s that got to do with animals?” Didn’t quite get it.
Richardson: Well, you can hug them. (Laughter)
Tavis: Anyway, I got 30 seconds to go here.
Tavis: So Rita Skeeter is no more. The “Harry Potter” series is coming to an end.
Richardson: Damn. Damn.
Richardson: I know. That was a good one. Still. Yeah, if I can get involved in more magical stuff, whether it’s documentary or whatever.
Tavis: I take it you like the magical stuff.
Richardson: I do like the magical stuff.
Tavis: Whether it’s “Harry Potter” or turtles, you like the magical stuff.
Richardson: Exactly, yeah. It starts the imagination.
Tavis: It was a good run, though.
Richardson: It was a good run.
Tavis: It was a very good run.
Tavis: Yeah, like an $8 billion run.
Richardson: Yeah. Not for me. (Laughter)
Tavis: Anyway, Miranda, good to have you on the program.
Richardson: Oh, it was terrific, thanks a lot.
Tavis: Good talking, thanks for coming on.
Richardson: Thank you.
[Walmart - Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.