Patricia Arquette is good at getting awards — and giving fiery speeches while doing it. Just days before we caught up with her to talk closing the wage gap at Salesforce’s inaugural Equality Awards in Washington, the 48-year-old actress was in Los Angeles at the GLAAD Media Awards calling out U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the podium. And you can’t forget the 2015 Oscar speech in which the “Boyhood” star shouted out every woman who’d given birth to a taxpayer: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Clearly she doesn’t have problem getting political. According to Arquette, she was just raised that way.
You were in D.C. Superior Court in January testifying for your friend Natalie White, who was arrested for spray painting “ERA NOW” (Equal Rights Amendment) on the sidewalk of the Capitol building. Is there a good or bad way to protest?
Well, first off it was water-soluble paint, it wasn’t actually spray paint. When we talked about it in court they were trying to claim that it was permanent damage, and I said 240 years of not being covered by your Constitution is actually permanent damage.
Touché. Do you think women’s rights have taken three steps back and two steps forward?
Last week we had Iowa come out with a bill where adult women would have to get their parents’ approval for abortion. That’s back to the way that women were perceived at the time the Constitution was written, when women were the property of their husbands or fathers. I think we’re in peril right now.
When attorneys asked your profession at the January trial, you described yourself as an activist first and an actor second.
I was an activist long before I was ever an actress. We were raised as activists. Our parents took us to Diablo Canyon when they were going to build a nuclear [plant] near the San Andreas Fault line. We’ve been participating in social justice causes our whole life.
Acting really makes me happy and joyful. But to be an activist is to change the things that you think are unjust in the world. Acting is a celebration of the human condition. They’re very different aspects of me.
Do the two meet?
They do. In acting you can play a bad guy, but you have to love the bad guy. I could fight really hard as an activist against someone and then as an actor I could turn around and play that person. I try to remind myself that everybody’s whole and everybody hurts and everybody has all the same feelings as everybody else. We could change the world so much if we bring that out in each other more.
You’re a regular on the Hill. What’s it like after the flashy news conference when you go behind closed doors and actually get to work.
I don’t think people recognize how much outside groups do. You bring in a lot of information [so that] the staff can do a deep dive. Sometimes when you think you know something it doesn’t necessarily mean your representative knows. One of the things I was advocating for was getting all these unprocessed rape kits that had been sitting on the shelves for years processed. I was shocked at how few members actually knew they even had that in their states. That was really disturbing to me frankly. Don’t assume when you go in there that they know more about their state than you might know.
Are you sick of talking about your political Oscars speech in 2015?
[Long pause] I don’t know. I don’t really think about it like that. It’s just the way it is, we talk about it.
Okay, so in the aftermath of that speech you said you thought it’d cost you jobs in Hollywood. Has it?
I think that there’s always a price to pay for speaking the truth. But it’s worth it.
What scares you?
It scares me that people won’t do the right thing and that our kids will pay a price. I look at these little girls who are about to enter the workforce and it makes me really sad. If things stay the way they are today they’re going to retire with a lot less money. In all likelihood, they’ll be in poverty when they’re elderly. The idea that we just need to be willing to wait 40 years or a hundred years? That’s absolutely unacceptable.
First lady Melania Trump and first daughter Ivanka Trump have made “women’s issues” part of their respective platforms. Would you be willing to work with the White House if asked?
I would. I clearly disagree with him on many, many issues. But I think we can work together on that. I suggest that Ivanka meet with Lisa Maatz of AAUW to see where we’re at state by state, what’s not working, what is working and what would clearly be helpful.
Are you hopeful?
A lot of people are activated right now and that’s exciting. There are so many good people working hard to make things better.