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Alexandra Paul — Depths
By Gregory Von Dare

She modestly describes herself as a “working actress, one with a name, but a working actress nonetheless.” Yet Alexandra Paul is familiar to millions of TV viewers around the world as Lieutenant Stephanie Holden on “Baywatch.” Now don’t groan. Alexandra was the slender, serious, smart brunette who also happened to look great in a red Spandex malliot. She’s quite realistic about the exposure that “Bay-watch” gave her and the clout it created for her in the entertainment industry.

As much as Alexandra is a stunner — she started out as a teenage fashion model — she goes way beyond the stereotype of the bubble-headed TV actress and in fact, has surprising depth. Yes, she’s an accomplished performer, but she’s also a respected athlete and a very active environmentalist. She drives an electric car around Los Angeles and has come to see it as a desirable form of alternative transportation. For anyone who lives in that vale of tears, the L.A. basin, electric cars seem like a very good idea despite some real-world concerns.

She’s also passionately involved in population stabilization and has become a documentary video producer to help educate school children about the damage caused by too many people and too few resources. This well-rounded woman is even a certified emergency medical technician and is qualified to work on an ambulance.

Right now, she’s most visible on the high-voltage last episodes of “Melrose Place.” Alexandra plays Terry O’Brien, the former sister-in-law of Ryan (John Haymes Newton). It may not be Shakespeare, but roles like this on highly visible shows provide an actress with career longevity and enable her, eventually, to choose roles with more substance.

ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine recently spoke with Alexandra and found her to be intelligent, engaging, and personable. She has a viable career in a difficult and treacherous field, she’s in love, and she’s committed to leaving this world a better place than she found it. Not a bad résumé.

Alexandra took to the entertainment industry with the speed and ease of a natural. She was modeling at 18 when she was cast in a successful TV movie, “Paper Dolls.”

“They were looking for someone who was 19 but could play a 16-year-old model,” she said. The Connecticut native was modeling in New York at the time she was cast, and when the TV movie became a hit, she quickly made the move to Hollywood.

In Los Angeles, Alexandra worked hard and partied hard but didn’t get involved with drugs or the wilder elements of show business. After a few years of studying acting and getting small roles on TV, her big break came with “Baywatch.” She was in her late 20s at the time.

“David Hasselhoff liked me because I was tall and because I was a little older,” she said. Because she had been a junior lifeguard as a teen and was a strong swimmer, she brought more credibility to the role, something the producers responded to. Overall she loved the “Baywatch” experience. She makes a point of speaking well of her coworkers: “People think that because a woman is blonde and big-breasted she is automatically stupid. But absolutely none of the women on the show were like that.”

She has also worked steadily on the big screen. Alexandra appeared opposite Kevin Costner in American Flyers, was a romantic interest for Tom Hanks and Dan Ackroyd in Dragnet, gave a powerful performance in the thriller Eight Million Ways to Die with Jeff Bridges and Andy Garcia, and had fun in Spy Hard. A believer in the power of independent films, she also recently appeared in an assortment of “indies”: 12 Bucks, Arthur’s Quest, The Reunion and Naked in the Cold Sun.

In recent years, Alexandra was teamed successfully with Pierce Brosnan for TV productions of Allister McClaine’s “Nightwatch” and “Deathtrain.”

As Alexandra herself says, if all they can put in your obituary is that you were in this movie and that movie, what’s the point? So she has a life. An interesting one. Depth.

In 1997, she took nine months off from her career as an actress to compete in the World Ironman Triathlon, held in Hawaii. She very candidly admits that she was invited to participate and it was a business deal.

“I’m a plodder,” she says with a giggle, “and I never could have qualified on my own.” But she’s also a serious person and she set out to make a good showing. She hired a personal trainer and worked hard at conditioning. Her boyfriend, Ian, a professional athlete himself, trained along with her, and she reports that they had a wonderful time. Her composite time for the triathlon was a respectable 13:18.52. And that’s for a 112-mile bike ride, a 2.44-mile swim, and a standard 26.2-mile marathon run. We’re exhausted just writing about it. The event seems to have been a good business decision as well. She gained a number of sponsorships and endorsements after the Ironman and tells us that even today many people mention it to her. “I think more people remember me for that than ‘Baywatch,’ ” she jokes.

“For a long time I was a gym rat,” she reflects, “but you know, it gets to be a habit, a part of your life. And you can’t imagine going without it. If you’re still training in your 30s, people think you’re a jock!”

Her General Motors EV1 electric car is a source of pride to her, and it’s not the first one she’s owned. Alexandra began, as did many people who drive electric cars, with a conversion. The process is simple. A shop takes a gasoline-powered car, usually a compact or subcompact, and removes the piston engine, often leaving the transmission in place. Then a battery pack and a charging system are added. Voila! You now have an electric car. In most cases, these are livable vehicles with about three good years in them before the batteries (standard lead/acid batteries from cars and trucks) need to be replaced. Such vehicles make up about 75 percent of all current electric cars and trucks.

Alexandra had a Datsun first, then a VW Rabbit, both electric conversions. “Those were just shells of cars,” she says. She’s not a fanatic about it but is quietly intense in support of her electric car.

When asked if it imposes any restrictions or requires any sacrifices, she quickly replies that breathing polluted air is a bigger sacrifice. In the long run, she has learned to schedule her daily routine around the range of the electric car, and if that doesn’t work, she has a fuel-efficient Toyota that she drives occasionally.

Those who lease the EV1, like Alexandra, get booklets with locations of charging stations. In Los Angeles, there are quite a few, but of course it’s nothing like having a gas station every three blocks. During the gasoline shortages in the 1970s, diesel-powered automobiles had a brief fashion and owners of those smoky machines received similar pamphlets with the addresses of filling stations that sold diesel fuel. At that time, Alexandra was the president of the energy club in high school and wrote a detailed paper about America’s spiraling energy consumption.

Alexandra and Ian are currently shopping for a gas/electric hybrid vehicle to replace Ian’s car. With current new models from Honda and Toyota and upcoming products from VW, Ford and others, they should have a wide choice. Alexandra shows an appreciation of advanced technology when she says that she sees the electric vehicle as an interim solution, with exotic, non-polluting vehicles powered by hydrogen in the distant future.

Her interest in the environment has become a serious avocation. “Growing up in the country,” she says, “you just can’t believe that someone wouldn’t care about the environment.” In her typical, deliberate way, Alexandra has taken a more thoughtful approach to the problems we face with natural resources. She believes that a root cause of pollution of the air and sea and the destruction of rain forests is overpopulation.

She knows this is a sensitive issue and describes how many environmental organizations glance over the problem in their materials for fear of offending anyone.

“When I was born,” she says, “there were three billion people on Earth; now there are six billion. The population has doubled in my lifetime!” She also relates overpopulation to the status of women, quoting a study that links the educational level of women worldwide to the number of children they have.

To help make her message clear without going overboard, she often speaks at Southern California high schools. And she is pleased that she has never had a single complaint about her presentation. Not long ago, she was appalled to discover that there was only one video about overpopulation, a five-minute-long animation, in the entire Los Angeles school district. So she decided to create her own video for teenagers. It required that she become a producer and co-writer, jobs she didn’t relish but took on because they had to be done. The result was Jam Packed, an informative documentary that has won several awards and is still being played on PBS stations across the United States. She’s at work on a sequel of sorts that will be called The Cost of Cool: Finding Happiness in a Material World.

This extraordinary woman also spent five and a half weeks marching across America on the Great Peace March and has been arrested many times protesting at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site. She means what she says. Alexandra also refuses to use cosmetics or other products that are tested on animals, and she is a committed recycler.

In the future, she plans to continue her acting career as long as she can.

“ ‘Baywatch’ had a really high demographic of six- to eight-year-olds,” she said. “And when they are in their late 20s, I’ll be ... uhhh, 50. And maybe they’ll remember me the way I remembered some of the great performers I saw on TV when I was a kid. And that will give me longevity.”

She would like to star in another TV series but admits that it’s very hard work: long hours, lonely locations and often harrowing physical work. So guest-starring roles, like her current stint on “Melrose Place,” may be the ideal, but she’d like to take the step up in visibility and prestige that a star vehicle would give her.

Even as she talks about the high-power world of Hollywood and the high ground of TV stardom, Alexandra stops to add that she would like to tutor teenage girls, to teach reading and other subjects. She feels that education is the key to women making better lives for themselves. For some teenage girl today, with luck, looks, determination, and a truly good heart, she might turn out to be a lot like Alexandra Paul.