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Interview: Eco-activist Emmanuelle Chriqui

09/19/2013 11:19 am ET | Updated Nov 19, 2013


Emanuelle ChriquiAs Sloan, she played the love interest on HBO's rabidly popular Entourage, and now she portrays Lorelei on The Mentalist. In her free time, actress Emmanuelle Chriqui is an environmental activist: She helps plant school gardens in low-income neighborhoods, takes life-changing trips to places like Africa, and, since 2007, has helped run the Environmental Media Association, which promotes eco-efforts in the entertainment industry. Read on to find out how her path toward greenness was paved with persistent throat infections and homemade apple tarts.

What made you get
involved with the Environmental Media Association?

Years ago, I was shopping for a new car and was excited about the Prius. Someone put me in touch with Debbie Levin, the president of EMA. We hit it off famously. She saw my inclination toward living a natural life and asked if I'd be interested in joining. I'd already started doing stuff
that was important to me on my own, but the association is amazing because it
uses the media to create awareness. I was coming off Entourage, and there was sort of a lot of heat at that time, so I
thought I could add something. I've been working with them ever since.

What was it like to host their 2011 awards ceremony?

Just a ton of fun. And so amazing to see what a movement has
been created -- that there's really a consciousness rising. It was nice to honor
all those people who want to be green on their productions. It's such a
cool event, and the fair after is amazing. 

There's
a fair after?

Yeah. Maybe "fair" isn't the right word, but there are food stands and products and all this stuff that's natural
and organic. It just grows and grows every year.

You mentioned Debbie Levin, but who else in the
organization has inspired you?

Amy Smart. She's a full-on environmental activist. Some people just have a passion to spread the word, and she's one of them. 

What were those green things you were already doing on your own?

There was a series of events that
occurred. About 10 years back, I was getting frequent throat infections, and it
was really starting to affect my life. I saw a kinesiologist, who told me I was having a terrible time absorbing vitamins because of the water we drink -- the chlorine and all the stuff in it. From that,
I developed a hyperconsciousness about water. Also, I've always eaten organic food and done the small things you can do at home, like recycling.

Before the health
issue, was there something else that influenced your thinking about environmentalism?

It started in how I grew up. My mom had a beautiful garden and always made everything from scratch. We didn't have packaged foods. We had a salad every night with dinner, and dessert was fruit or maybe a homemade apple tart. Also, watching An Inconvenient Truth just floored me. I was like, "Oh, hell no. I am not sitting back."

Is the
entertainment industry getting any greener?

I don't know if you've ever been on a film set, but imagine all
the people it takes, the amount of paper and resources and
electricity that are being used in ways you can't possibly fathom. Some production companies are really aware and are, say, trying to
do revisions by email so that they're not printing all this paper. Some are using refillable water stations instead of having plastic water bottles everywhere.
They don't let the generators run uselessly. When you
think of all the productions that there are, it makes a major dent. So yeah,
the big powers that be are definitely catching on.

In addition to
production practices, is the content of film and TV changing toward the more
environmental?

Definitely. When you're watching a family sitcom and
the dad's going off to work, he's in a Prius. That messaging is hitting the audience. And the more it's
integrated into the script, the bigger the impact. The media has truly become everything. We're bombarded with
it. So it's great if environmental messages can be incorporated.

Have you been in shows or films with an environmental message? Do you plan to be?

I can't say that there's been anything that stands out. Of course, if the opportunity comes up, yeah, that would be amazing. If I
get the opportunity to produce something, I'd say, "Let's make this production
as green as possible."

Do you ever say that to
people?

It's hard when you're just an actor coming onto something
that's already been established. You can do your part, like bringing your own
refillable bottle or refusing to use Styrofoam. But it's hard to
just show up and be like, "Alright, gang. Let's be green." Then they're like,
"Uh, who's the freak show?" 

Were there any green measures on the Entourage set?

Yeah, there was definitely
an awareness. At lunch there was always cutlery and porcelain plates.
Part of it was because Adrian Grenier is super green and a giant activist.
One year, for wrap gifts, he got everybody energy-efficient light
bulbs. He's full-on. It's kind of awesome.

You're a big proponent of school gardens. Why do you have a passion for that?

It's a shame that the less fortunate have no access to any kind of healthy way of being. And the education of it just isn't there. So a garden is an amazing way to teach these kids the importance of the outdoors, of the fact that it's important to eat fruits and vegetables. There's a real pride when they're growing their garden -- and it teaches them all things: If you're planting a garden, you're learning science, math, geography. It's such a brilliant idea that I hope ends up serving kids all over America, regardless of whether they're rich or poor. 

Do you have a favorite object that has a connection to the environment?

I have
this amazing quartz that I found in Kenya. It was in the ground. On one side, it's white crystal quartz, and
on the back, it's dyed with that red earth. It's really powerful. When I look at it, I think of
Africa.  

Most women in your
shoes would take contracts with big-name beauty companies like CoverGirl
and L'Oreal. How did you come to be a spokesperson
for Mineral Fusion?

It's an amazing product, and something I use daily. When it comes to endorsement, I have a strong inclination to represent something I believe in, something that's in line with who
I want to be. My dream is that one day, Mineral
Fusion or a company like it becomes mainstream. Having said that, I also use non-natural makeup for work. There are just some things that
deliver better for the camera. 

Would you consider a contract with CoverGirl
or L'Oreal if they came knocking?

I'd never say never to a big-money contract. I think about what I could do with that
kind of money. I could go and build 20 water wells in Africa. And so much else. So
I would never judge anybody that does it. I'm just really happy that at this point in my life, I found a company that I'm
so proud to endorse. But I think it's important not to judge anyone's reasons for doing
whatever they're doing.

What's your favorite place outdoors?

Kenya honestly changed me. I've never felt so insignificant -- but in a positive way. I realized that this land does not belong to us. You see these giant, roaming animals, and you're like, "No, this is theirs."

-- interview by Avital Andrews / photo courtesy Naj Jamai

This article originally appeared in Sierra magazine. 

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