How Ted Danson, Cobie Smulders and Mary Steenburgen Are Fighting for the Oceans

Christopher Patey
From left: Sam Waterston, Cobie Smulders, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson and Keith Addis

Danson says he doesn't even like to get wet, while wife Steenburgen claims she is scared of the ocean. But along with other supporters of Oceana, these Hollywood A-listers are now making waves for the environmental underdog.

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Ask Ted Danson, 67, about his connection to the ocean, and he's quick to admit he's actually a landlubber. "I'm not a boat guy. I don't even like to get wet," he says. ("He doesn't shower; he dry cleans," quips his manager, Keith Addis.) "I like to talk about water," adds Danson, "from inside ballrooms, fundraising."

Yet here he is, steps from the Pacific, to talk about Oceana, the largest advocacy group in the world working to protect Earth's oceans. With an annual budget of $35 million, Oceana works with communities and legislative groups in 170 countries to change policy. "The most pressing issue is overfish­ing," says Danson. He and Addis — the 64-year-old founder of Industry Entertainment and president of Oceana's board of directors — are joined by another Addis client and board member, Sam Waterston, 74 (in L.A. for season two of Netflix's Grace and Frankie); advisory board member Cobie Smulders, 33, who wanted to be a marine biologist long before crusading as one of The Avengers; and Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen, 62, aka Mrs. Danson, who grew up in landlocked Little Rock, Ark., and admits, "I'm kind of scared of the ocean," even though she has been an Oceana "wave maker" since Danson merged his American Oceans Campaign with the larger organization (and joined Oceana's board) in 2002. "One of the things I fell in love with about my husband is his beautiful commitment to the ocean in a town where people tend to adopt a cause and forget about it two years later."

For Danson — who'll join the cast of CSI: Cyber in the fall, as well as FX's Fargo — environmental activism has been a constant in his life since the Cheers years, when he moved his family to Santa Monica and took his daughters to the beach one day in 1987, only to find it closed to the public because of toxic runoff. When the girls wanted to know why they couldn’t go in the water, he had no answers, so he started asking questions and a marine conservationist was born. He has traveled to Spain, Chile and other countries on behalf of Oceana. "One of the coolest things about working with this organization is that the problems of the ocean are global," says Smulders, who filmed an Oceana PSA in Belize in 2014. "They really have their finger on the pulses of all these other cultures and countries. They're focusing on getting the entire world involved and educating people on how to fish safely." Adds Danson, "If you take the stress off of the land by making sure the ocean is harvested properly — meaning you stop bottom trawling, destroying nurseries, stop throwing overboard fish you didn’t want and you use scientific quotas to set how many fish you take out — we can make a healthy ocean. We know how to do it."

Addis, who originally got involved in the cause to get to know his then-new client, says he was hooked by "the underdog idea — that oceans were so underrepresented." Oceana now has protected more than 1 million square miles of ocean — one recent victory was a one-year ban on commercial sardine fishing on the West Coast; overfishing had contributed to the death by starvation of 90 percent of this year's sea lion pups. "The ocean responds well to good treatment — and quickly, because fish reproduce like mad. So there's hope," says Waterston. "It feels like a winnable thing." 

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