Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, talks with Jane Goodall, who stars in the NatGeo documentary “Jane,” which has been nominated for seven Emmy awards, including cinematography, directing, editing, writing, and documentary filmmaking.
Listen to this week’s podcast for free below and at Apple Podcasts:
The doc, which was written and directed by Brett Morgen, was compiled from footage long considered lost of Goodall’s first days in Africa, as a young scientist who would go on to make groundbreaking discovering about chimpanzees.
The trip down memory lane was “revisiting the best days of my life,” says Goodall. She’s been the subject of numerous documentaries before, but she says “Jane” stands apart — and not just because the footage was shot by her late ex-husband, Hugo van Lawick. She praises Morgen’s work for capturing “the feeling of how it was when I first there,” she says, as well as for using her voice as the narrator, “instead of some commentator who really didn’t know anything about it.”
“It took me right back,” she says of the final product.
Goodall admits, though, she was reluctant to take part at first, but ultimately agreed because it would benefit the charity that bears her name, the Jane Goodall Institute. A promised three-hour interview, though, turned into three days, she says. “[But] my mother always said, if you’re going to do something, do it properly.”
As a young woman nearly on her own in Africa recording the chimpanzees’ every move, Goodall says she had no fear, having always wanted to work with animals. “It was my dream come true,” she says. “But the awful part was that the chimps kept running away.” At first her research project was only funded for six months, so she was worried she won’t accomplish anything and be sent home empty-handed. But then one of the chimps warmed to her, and she was able to watch him up close — and saw him use tools, which was a breakthrough at the time.
Goodall credits her mother for always supporting her dreams and her love of animals (even when she brought earthworms into her bed), her then-boss Louis Leakey, who encouraged her to pursue her Ph.D. — as well as her dog, Rusty. “I learned that we’re not the only beings that have personalities, minds, and feelings,” she says.
Sixty years later, her focus and her passion is still on protecting the chimps — along with the environment. “The sad thing is that we’re destroying the planet,” she says. “Obviously we’re the most intellectual being that’s ever walked on planet Earth. How come we’re destroying our only home and we’re destroying it so fast? It seems we’ve lost the wisdom of how a decision we make today affect people generations ahead.”
That’s why at 84, she still spends 300 days a year on the road giving lectures, working with youth and trying to reach decision makers. “I’m afraid of what we’re doing to the planet. I’m afraid of what some of our politicians are doing. I’m afraid of the swing to the far right,” she says.
She points to the Trump administration, which has been overturning checks and balances that have been put in place by previous administrations. “I’m totally shocked,” she says. What would she say to President Donald Trump, if given the change? “I’m told I would have 30 seconds max to get any point across, and I’m not sure what I could say in 30 seconds that would make the slightest bit of difference.”
Let us know what you think of Variety’s podcasts: Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to offer comments, suggestions, and ideas for interview subjects you’d like to hear from.