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Harry Potter’s Bonnie Wright discusses her career pivot

One of Bonnie Wright's goals is to set the record straight on plastics. (Kacie Tomita)
6 min

London-born actor Bonnie Wright was just shy of 10 when she began starring as fire-haired Ginny Weasley in the beloved Harry Potter film franchise. As her acting career picked up steam, Wright’s dedication to learning about — and fighting — climate change did, too. Wright turned to directing after graduating from film school in 2012; at the same time, she became increasingly involved with environmental activism, eventually becoming an ambassador for Greenpeace and other groups.

Wright shares her formidable breadth of knowledge in her new book, “Go Gently: Actionable Steps to Nurture Yourself and the Planet.” The guidebook is more thoughtful (and practical) than many celebrity-penned books, and her passion for sustainability is evident. Wright’s goal? To help people take micro-steps toward meaningful change, whether that’s swapping packaged products for homemade ones, deciphering what can (and can’t) be recycled or mending one’s clothes instead of buying new ones.

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We spoke with Wright via Zoom. The conversation has been edited for length.

Q: You’ve been an activist for years. Why write this book now?

A: Many of the [climate] actions I was taking were in public spaces, whether that was marches or direct actions with Greenpeace. But at home, I was also quietly implementing changes. I began thinking maybe those quieter practices were almost as interesting as the public actions. The book is about enabling us to make better, more informed choices when we’re faced with so many options. The title, “Go Gently,” is [saying] we should be gentle so we can sustain these actions over time.

It mainly focuses on the home; there's a practice where you choose five items in a certain room and look at the environmental impact of them. “What's this notebook made out of? Where is that paper from? What can I do with it when I've finished?”

Q: You started out focusing on plastic waste.

A: I’ve always loved the ocean deeply, and I was seeing how much more plastic pollution was ending up on our beaches and waterways. I was angry and upset [by it]. Through wanting to understand that, I [realized] … there are reasons human beings are not disposing of their waste properly. There are waste management systems [that are] just not working; then there’s a lack of policy around reducing single-use plastic; and pushing businesses to use more refillable, reusable materials.

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Q: You once said, “Every piece of plastic I have ever used is still somewhere on this earth.” But aren’t many plastics recyclable?

A: The plastic industry literally created the recycling system so we’d keep using it. Plastic is fossil fuels — they put a lot of money into making the world believe recycling is a great thing.

But most of these big companies are driven by the bottom line. New plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic. When your recycling is picked up, it's taken to a materials recovery facility where it's sorted and sold to recyclers. There are some plastics that are harder to recycle because there isn't money in them.

Maybe one week, recycling type No. 2 is not very profitable. All those plastics could literally go to a landfill because no one’s interested in [buying them to recycle]. Other materials in the chain, like aluminum, are almost always recycled because they have higher value.

It shouldn't be put on us: the choice and pressure. That’s where policy and education come in. There's a good term, “wish recycling,” for when you [throw something] in the bin, hoping it's going to be recycled, but not really knowing.

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Q: What do people tend to get wrong about sustainability?

A: We thought for so long that recycling was the answer to our problems. Better systems we could be implementing are refillable, repurposed things, like going to the coffee shop and bringing a reusable cup. Rather than buying new “sustainable” products, what can we be resourceful about within our homes?

Q: What can parents do to help kids become more eco-aware?

A: Young people are good at seeking transparency in these issues; teenagers I’ve known are also aware of the role the government plays. But younger children are in this amazingly impressionable stage. Gardening and composting are fun things for kids to get into, to say, “We eat our food, then scraps from our food go back into the soil and make other food grow.”

Do you wishcycle? If so, you’re actually not helping to recycle.

Q: How does your activism inform your film work?

A: What’s fun about the power of media is that you can take people on this journey of story and use characters to help shift stubborn feelings. A short film I [directed] last year intersected my storytelling with concern about the climate crisis. It is essentially a monster movie, called “Consumed.” It’s about our consumption, how it’ll come back to haunt us.

Q: Were you always interested in acting? You were young when you starred in Harry Potter.

A: I was so young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My older brother read the first two Harry Potter books. He heard they were doing auditions for the films, and said, “You should audition for Ginny Weasley.” I was like, “Okay. Sounds fun.”

It happened very fast, and my love for acting and filmmaking happened in real time on sets. I graduated from film school in 2012, continued to act and direct, and then said, “I'm going to just [focus on] directing for [a while].”

I’ve launched a YouTube channel around “Go Gently,” just making the videos myself. It’s been interesting going back in front of the camera after hiding, quite happily, behind it.

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Q: What’s your biggest hope for your book?

A: I hate to think people could read the book and just sit on the information. My hope is for people to know that there’s no wrong or perfect way to show up to the climate movement. The planet needs all of us to show up in any way we can, to roll up our sleeves and participate.

Laura Barcella is a freelance writer and the author of books for adults, kids and young people, including “Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed The World.”

Go Gently

Actionable Steps to Nurture Yourself and the Planet

By Bonnie Wright

Harvest. 304 pp. $26

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