To some, it may appear that Milano was recently bitten by the activism bug, or that #MeToo is what propelled her advocacy. But the star — in the public eye since she was a child — has been aware since she was just a teen of her power to effect change.
We talked with Milano on the phone before she left the District on Thursday, to find out why she felt compelled to attend the “intense” trial — even just as an observer. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
You attended both the first and second full day of Trump’s impeachment hearing. Why did you feel that was an important thing to do?
For me, this is really a moment in history that I didn’t want to not participate in, and showing up is participating in how this all works. I think when we stop showing up to these events and we stop caring, when we stop physically putting our boots on the ground, that’s when corruption creeps in. . . . I think that there are Americans that don’t have the luxury or the privilege to worry about impeachment. I think we that have the privilege to worry about this, we think that everybody should care. Even though they should, it’s a very difficult time for people. When you’re looking at eight out of 10 people and families living paycheck to paycheck, they just can’t be there. So I thought it was important to go and to represent and to be able to use my platform to share the experience, and maybe give people some insight into what it was like in the room, something that isn’t spun by political agenda or news networks with political agendas.
Can you describe what the experience inside was like?
It was intense. It was definitely intense. It felt historic — just being in that room alone, it was overwhelming. But also I think to be able to watch Congressman [and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff speak, he was so compelling, and I think you could feel, especially yesterday [Wednesday] when he really laid out the constitutional crisis, you could see the Republican senators become a lot more engaged — sort of taking notes feverishly and really listening and hanging on every word, which was refreshing to me because I just expected everyone to be sort of disengaged.
The other thing was that I had a perfect vantage point of [Trump’s] defense team, and I was slightly appalled by the reactions that they were having, which no one is really talking about. They’re giggling at some points and scoffing when Congressman Schiff says certain things, and I thought it was disgraceful and such an outward symbol of how they just don’t take this process seriously. I think that showed a lot on that first day — the sort of arrogance to be unprepared. When Schiff was laying out his case for taking on Senator [Charles E.] Schumer’s amendments, you know, the defense would get up there and just say, “This is a scam!” And they had nothing. All they could do was attack weird parts of protocol. Not once did anyone say, “We will prove that Donald Trump did not commit impeachable offenses.” To me, it almost sounded like when a defense team has no real argument …
But I thought Schiff was really interesting, especially from a performer’s perspective. And you can see the difference between him and the other impeachment managers, how he is in his element when he gets into that zone of really conveying that narrative and a timeline. It felt like you were watching a one-man show on Broadway.
Is that something that surprised you? Did you expect Trump’s defense team to behave the way they did, or did that catch you off-guard?
I was caught off-guard by that, to be honest with you. But once I thought about it and I thought about [Trump attorney Rudolph W.] Giuliani and the circle of people that are surrounding him, it made more sense. It really did feel like they were a gang of corruption. You know, I played [one of Trump’s lawyers] Jay Sekulow in the Mueller Report adaptation that we did, the reading in New York that Scott Ellis directed. So, he had spotted me in the crowd, and half of the first day, he was giggling and looking up at me to see if I caught him laughing, which was so bizarre. Like, dude, you are defending the president of the United States! Have some sense of decorum and decency for this body and for this process. I think the case is solid, otherwise it’s a true coverup.
After being there for the first two hearings, do you have any impressions or predictions about which way the case will go?
I think that if people vote against exploring this more, it’s going to affect their political careers. I really don’t think you can hide behind a political party when it comes to doing what’s right. I think that people, as they’re watching this unfold, there are a lot of senators who didn’t know the entire story or the timeline. I don’t think anyone as they’re learning more about this and becoming aware, can then vote against exploring this more or not wanting to hear more. And if that is the case, this will literally be the greatest campaign ad for the Democratic Party. Ever.
You have been very vocal and involved with the #MeToo movement, attending Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing and now also the impeachment hearings. Are you attending these hearings now as they relate to #MeToo and allegations against Trump in that sense, or is this a separate issue for you?
I think when you look at sexual assault, misconduct and harassment, what is it ultimately? Ultimately, it is an abuse of power. I do think that these things, when you look at them in the micro, they do lend themselves to this kind of behavior in the macro. It all ties in. An abuse of power is an abuse of power. He has for four years, whether or not he’s abused that power to the extent of being impeached, but when you watch someone take advantage of people for four years straight, of course it all ties in.
Have you always been this politically inclined?
I’ve been an activist since I was 15. When I was young, there was a boy named Ryan White who had HIV/AIDS. This was at a time when the stigma around it was at its highest. He had asked me to go on television and kiss him to prove that you couldn’t get HIV/AIDS from casual contact. That was the moment that really changed everything for me.
Politically, I became more aware in 2000, when [Democratic presidential nominee Al] Gore had the election stolen from him, and I started doing work on a state level to get propositions passed. I started driving people to the polls, which is something that I still do now, 20 years later. . . . I’m also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, doing a lot of international aid work. We’re fighting for the same things in this country that you see in developing nations: women’s equality, clean water.
Related to that point — the impeachment hearings are being watched by millions of people, but there may still be people out there that think, “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.” Maybe they’re skeptical of happenings in D.C. and think nothing is going to come of it. What would you say to those people?
We can’t lose hope. And when you believe that it’s not going to do anything, it’s almost a protective mechanism — meaning it’s really hard to fight for something for so long and so many people are in the fight every day, they struggle every day, that’s very real for people. I think what we’re afraid of when we fight is that we’re going to lose. It almost paralyzes us from wanting to do anything. I think that’s true with politics and advocacy work, but you have to let go of the idea of disappointment and just get out there, because part of the dent you will make is actually just by showing up. And by showing up that can be phone banking or making calls to your senator or representatives. You just have to participate.
I know a lot of politicians and I have this podcast — I like to ask them when they’re on, “What can people do at home? Tell people what they can do.” The number one thing politicians say is that you may think the phone calls you make to your senators and representatives don’t make a difference, but when there’s a call to action and everybody starts calling their senators and that phone starts ringing nonstop, you are making a difference. You really are making elected officials aware of what you want. That’s ultimately their job! They have no commitment to a party; that’s the most ridiculous thing in the world. They have a commitment to their constituents. It’s their constituents and the Constitution, that’s it.
Do you have plans to be back in D.C. any time soon? I am curious whether you’ve ever met up with Jane Fonda while you’ve been here.
She’s doing Fire Drill Fridays now in L.A.! I haven’t gotten arrested yet, so I am a little nervous to go, but with two young children, it’s kind of hard to tell them, “Well, Mommy’s in jail!” I’m sure I’ll get arrested at some point. But I am in D.C. all the time. I was a big supporter of Congresswoman [Jackie] Speier’s bill to lift the arbitrary deadline of the Equal Rights Amendment — that’s a fight that we’ve been fighting for a couple of years now. I testified at Congresswoman [Carolyn] Maloney’s shadow hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment, so yeah, I’m here all the time.