What sent Hannah up a tree

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.

“She’s been living on the farm, interacting with the community, learning about the issue. She has a depth of knowledge and caring for what is going on down there with or without the TV cameras.”

Hannah was booked on suspicion of resisting a court order, a misdemeanor.


“It’s the first time I’ve ever been arrested,” she said. She said she is “laying my body down on the line.”

Since her arrest, she said, her phone rarely stops ringing. “Benicio Del Toro just called now. And Los Lobos. People are calling and offering help in droves. I’m cold-calling people I don’t even know.”

She was at the farm for 23 days. When the authorities finally arrived to arrest the squatters and pluck her out of the walnut tree, Hannah said a strange peacefulness came over her.

“I knew what I was doing was taking a principled stand. In fact, there was a very strange and unexpected sense of calm that came to me while I was coming down. It made me more confident that I was doing the right thing. I was standing by my convictions and standing in solidarity with these farmers.”


Even the police seemed to sense it, she said.

“If you take a principled stand, the Sheriff’s Department will treat you with a lot of respect. They don’t treat you like a criminal who just held up a 7-Eleven. They treated us with a lot of respect and courtesy.”

Hannah was guarded about disclosing where she lives, but in previous interviews she has talked about homes “in the Rockies” and in Malibu.

Hannah said she believes in “living in a reasonable fashion.”


“What I mean by that is, my house is very tiny. It’s a one-room house, actually. I added a little bathroom and closet on because there wasn’t one.”

It is a stone cabin that used to be a hunting lodge in the 1920s. There is a moss deck that serves as a living room. “And it’s really lovely,” she said. “There is no need to have a billion-square-foot house to live in. People very often think that bigger is better. I just don’t agree. First of all, you wind up rattling around in houses that are not homey.”

She grew up on the 42nd story of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago. “I had a normal city kid’s life,” she said. “In the summers, which was sort of my saving grace, my father sent us to the same camp that he went to as a kid. It was in the Rockies. You lived in a covered wagon. There was no electricity. You backpacked for two months. You’d groom horses, dig latrines, pitch tents and that kind of stuff. It really taught me about nature and the value of and beauty of being connected to all things. Until that experience, I really felt like an alien in the world. Nothing made sense to me. Once I went to camp, everything made sense.”

Ecological lifestyle


To Hannah, there is no differentiating between being an environmentalist and being an animal-rights activist or humanitarian. “I don’t draw distinctions. If you care about human life, you have to care about the environment. If you care about the environment, do you not care about human life?”

She doesn’t use just any lightbulb in her stone cabin. She uses compact fluorescent bulbs. “They save energy. Like, for example, you can get a bulb that has lumens power of a 100-watt bulb but it actually only uses 15 watts.” Hannah buys biodegradable household cleaners, laundry detergent, shampoo and dish soap.

“Why would I want to be eating off a plate washed with chemicals that are toxic?” she asked. “Common sense dictates that if you buy nontoxic products to clean your house, clean your laundry, clean your dishes, even clean your body, you will spend less time going to the doctor.”

All this does not mean that Hannah lives a “frontier house” existence. “I have a computer. I have an iPod.”


“It’s fine if you want to live a Spartan lifestyle and get rid of all your possessions and live like a monk,” she said. “That’s wonderful, but not necessary to live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.”