Q and A: Smithsonian Channel Host Tom Cavanagh

Actor Tom Cavanagh discusses what it is like to go behind the scenes of the Smithsonian museums

With a degree in English, biology and education, actor Tom Cavanagh holds his own on Smithsonian Channel's award-winning series, "Stories from the Vaults." (Smithsonian Channel)
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Actor Tom Cavanagh, 45, is host of the Smithsonian Channel’s award-winning series, “Stories from the Vaults.” Cavanagh, best known for his role in the TV series, “Ed,” spoke to Beth Py-Lieberman.

What’s the goal of the program?

To entertain, simply that.

How does it feel to get access to parts of the Smithsonian that most people don’t?

I take that responsibility very seriously because it’s not just a pleasure jaunt. I want to bring a unique experience to viewers and track down artifacts that they would find especially interesting. What we're aiming to do is to bring that behind-the-scenes experience to the visitor that can’t go backstage.

You have degrees in English, biology and education. Do you draw on this expertise in the show?

Funny guys can be smart. At least, sometimes. I can hold my own when we’re discussing the environment, invertebrate zoology or biodiversity. I think it sometimes surprises the museums’ curators that I have an accurate or working knowledge of say, photosynthesis. It’s not a prerequisite, though, for the job.

You do your own research?

Yeah. On the nights before filming, it’s like cramming for a college exam all over again. I might not know much about mummification, but I’m going to spend three or four hours finding out everything I can. That way, I can ask pertinent questions—and show that I respect the curators’ expertise.

Have you become a practiced detective in ferreting out great behind-the-scenes Smithsonian tales?

About Beth Py-Lieberman
Beth Py-Lieberman

Beth Py-Lieberman is the museums editor, covering exhibitions, events and happenings at the Smithsonian Institution. She has been a member of the Smithsonian team for more than two decades.

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