Kate Walsh is best known for playing Dr. Addison Montgomery on Grey's Anatomy and its spinoff Private Practice. But this election season, Walsh is using her star power to encourage people to get out and vote.
Walsh is participating in "Your Choice, Your Voice," a PSA initiative between California-based KCET, America's biggest independent public television station, and Link TV, to encourage people to vote. The first PSA will air on KCET this week, ahead of California's June 7 primary election. A second part of the campaign will air on Link TV nationwide from late August, through November 7 — the day before the general election.
Refinery29 spoke with Walsh via phone about the campaign and what political issues are important to her.
I wanted to start by asking why voting rights are so important to you this election season.
"Voting rights are always important. It's been hard-earned, it's part of our Constitution. It's one of the great things about being an American and living in a democracy. Many, many countries around the world don't enjoy that right, the right to vote…It's about getting the opportunity to pick, to have your voice heard, and to help pick the next president of the United States. And that's very important. Whether it's your local city council, or your state representatives and senators, this is how you really exercise your right. There's a lot of talk about the system being broken, and it needs to be overhauled, and there needs to be a revolution. And while that may be true, there's still the task at hand of electing the next president of the United States."
Your first PSA will air in California ahead of the state primary. What do you think is the biggest challenge to getting people to get out there and vote?
"Well, I do think it would be great to have a national holiday. It seems absurd to me that we have holidays for lots of other things that are more 'in memory of.' They're all important, that's great, Columbus Day is great. But I feel like even Columbus might want people to have the day off to go vote."
Kerry Washington, Ellen Pompeo, and Viola Davis appeared in an ad for Hillary Clinton earlier this year. Do you talk to the Shondaland crew about politics?
"I haven't lately. I mean, I've talked — I'm working with [Scandal's] Tony Goldwyn right now, on a movie — so we've talked, certainly. But I, we've been politically active together in the past. Shonda and I went and campaigned in 2012 and 2008…But I haven't specifically talked with them about that ad, or this time. I'm sure I'm going to see them out and about in the months to come."
Are you endorsing any candidate, or just promoting voting more generally?
"For this, I'm encouraging voter rights generally…The KCET campaign is really bipartisan. It's really focused on just getting out to vote, no matter who your candidate is. The act of exercising your constitutional right to vote. And that's what we're going to focus on in this campaign."
Earlier this year, Refinery29 conducted a poll of millennial women with ABC News, and we found that 78% of respondents believe the outcome of this election will impact their lives. What's at stake for you this election, what do you think is the biggest issue?
"I am a person who came out of college with, oh, jeez, just thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in debt. And the only way I was, honestly, able to pay off my student loans was at age 37, because I happened to get on a big, fat TV show called Grey's Anatomy, and I was able to finally pay my student loan debt. And that's insane — it was just interest accruing and accruing and accruing. And that just shouldn't be the price tag of trying to get an education in this country. So that's a big thing that, for me, that's coming up, how student loans and interest will be dealt with.
"There's also women's health, which has been hard-won and fought for. And that is also a big, important deal for me. When I had no health insurance, which was most of my early adult life, because I was a struggling actor, I had all of my basic healthcare needs met for free, or for a co-payment of $5, at Planned Parenthood, whether I was in Tucson, AZ, or Chicago, or New York, until I finally got health insurance. And these are basic rights that were hard-fought for. Not to mention choice, a woman's choice. And whether it directly affects me or not, it directly affects many, many, many women. And particularly women who are poor. And that's a huge deal for me.
"Immigration is also a huge deal. Part of what makes our country great is having our borders open. My father was an immigrant and came over and struggled and worked very hard and had a very different life than I did, so I could have the kind of freedom and choice, whether it's my career, or what have you…So, I'm looking for a candidate that represents all of those things: civil rights, human rights, education, and how we are affected by the massive debt that most people still have once they get out of college. So, those are the big issues for me."
Speaking of women's rights and choice, your character, Dr. Addison Montgomery, had an abortion on the show. In real life, is the issue of reproductive rights something you are passionate about, as well?
"Yeah, absolutely! I'm hugely passionate about it…It may not affect me directly, but the issue of choice affects every woman. And, unfortunately, what happens is the women that are usually the poorest women are the ones that are most affected. If you leave the issue of choice to the states, that's just a dangerous place to be. Because some people are like, 'Oh, we have to drive to whatever, California, or something, to get an abortion.' That is not, that's just not feasible for women that are at poverty level."
Why is it important that millennial women vote?
"Well, it's important that every woman votes, but it's hugely important that millennial women vote because it's their future. The outcome will, I believe, deeply affect everyone…And I think that even my generation, I've enjoyed the fruits of the labor of my mother and her mother and the women before them that fought to actually get the right to vote.
"And I think it's easy to forget, because we get caught up in our day-to-day lives, or, 'My life seems to be going okay, so is it really critical that I vote for a candidate that I may not even jibe with all the way personally?' or whatever, but it's essential. Because, like that, in a heartbeat, by a vote, things can change. And hard-fought-for rights can be overturned and changed…So, it's essential, for the here and now, and for our future.
"We are in a great place in the age of information, that we have so much information about the environment, about immigration, about health care, about education. One of the beautiful things about being an American is to go out and vote. So, just to take the time, go out, get educated. If you don't have time to go and do the research, there's brochures and pamphlets at voting booths that tell you, briefly, a sort of CliffsNotes version of what you need to know about each candidate. And vote!"
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.