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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)

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

You know if you have anything close to a curious mind this kind of opportunity is a boon.

What is your behind the scenes role in the show? Do you get to decide what topics will be covered?

Yes sure, absolutely. It’s a very small group that works on the show. We have myself, and a producer, a director of photography and a sound person; and we all work on it together. We all pitch in.

You seem to enjoy joking around with the curators?

The easiest way to make a difficult topic accessible is through humor. I think there was some trepidation at the beginning -- you know, "Who's this actor?" But once they found we were taking the subject matter seriously they began to enjoy it. There is no rule against having fun while learning.

Is the humor improvised?

I never script it. It just comes to me. I have to say, the curators are more than an even match for me.

How did you become involved in the issue of malaria eradication?

I spent part of my childhood in Africa, and I had malaria. Not a severe case, but my sister had a pretty severe case. So it was a natural fit for me. Also, I played basketball in college. My work for this foundation started when I read an article in Sports Illustrated about how we can save lives by buying these mosquito nets. It was a foundation called it “Nothing but Nets,” which is a basketball expression. Today, seeing the results just spurs me to do more. When you look at how the mortality rates plummet with the simple act of giving out a net. It’s like one good thing happens and leads to another.

Any plans to incorporate your interest in malaria eradication in the show?

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About Beth Py-Lieberman
Beth Py-Lieberman

Beth Py-Lieberman is the museums editor, covering the Smithsonian Institution in both print and online. She has been a member of the Smithsonian team for more than two decades.

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