Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson — Interview

Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson — Interview magazine spread Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson Interview

Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson — Interview by Chet Cooper

You never know what background will shape an environmentalist. The great American essayist and eco-warrior Edward Abbey spent his formative years in the lush forests of western Pennsylvania; in contrast, primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall grew up in the urban setting of London, England. The route to ecological awareness can be either direct or circuitous, and the diversity of influences can be vast.

For actor Ed Begley Jr.—the son of an Academy-Award winning actor of the same name—the glitter of Tinsel town seems like an unlikely catalyst for environmental consciousness. The 57-year-old performer, who is married to fellow actor Rachelle Carson, has had a lifetime of success in Hollywood, distinguishing himself as an actor of humor and depth, with a versatility spanning television, stage and film. From his five-time-Emmy-nominated performance on NBC’s award-winning St. Elsewhere (the progenitor of prime-time hospital dramas), to his comic ingenuity in Christopher Guest’s celebrated mockumentaries Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, to his skillful styling in David Mamet’s complex play The Cryptogram, Begley continues to impress audiences in every venue.

But perhaps his most satisfying work has been more personal, lending his face and his voice as a public advocate for protecting the environment. Begley feels this passion in his bones. He has a deep understanding of the intricacies of our planet, as well as the ways our collective lifestyles affect it. But his interest isn’t relegated to large-scale public policy issues; rather, he and Carson practice what they preach. They live each day in a manner that has a low impact on the earth’s resources, from powering their house with solar energy to being conscientious about what they drive. A much-valued and articulate spokesperson, Begley has received awards from some of the nation’s top environmental groups, including the California League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Coalition for Clean Air, Heal the Bay and the Santa Monica Baykeeper.

Recently, ABILITY Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chet Cooper sat down with Begley and Carson in their Los Angeles-area home to talk about their experience living an ecologically responsible lifestyle, now documented on their new reality television show Living With Ed. Debuting on the Home & Garden Television network (HGTV), the show is a quirky melding of environmentally conscious living, Hollywood antics and down-home family conflict (a green-hued This Old House meets The Osbournes). It promises to be a hit with an American public that is increasingly interested in both the concept and the nitty-gritty of living green.

When Cooper had last met Begley years earlier at an event in Las Vegas, the constraints of the actor’s ardent environmental lifestyle had caused him to arrive late. Opposed to flying because of jet fuel emissions, he had attempted to make his way more ecologically. However, his natural-gas-powered car had boasted only a 150-mile range, and he was not able to find enough natural-gas filling stations on the route. So the trip evolved into an adventure Begley joking refers to as “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Starting from his home in Los Angeles, he left his car in Barstow, hopped onto Amtrak for the second leg and then finished out the journey by Greyhound bus. It’s this indefatigability that best characterizes Begley’s brand of environmentalism. He’s a man who follows through on his principles. With that in mind, Cooper biggest dilemma when preparing for this new interview was how to get there…

On a fine California day, Chet Cooper has stowed his journalistic gear in a backpack. He cruises up to the home of Ed Begley Jr. and rings the doorbell

Chet Cooper (a little winded and dishoveled): Hi, I made it.

Ed Begley Jr.: You rode your bike? Imagine that! You’re the first journalist I’ve ever seen arrive for an interview by bicycle.

Cooper: Well, my Hummer is in the shop. Rachelle Carson (standing next to Begley in the doorway): (laughs) What a pleasant surprise. Come on inside.

The house is modest, a home any of us could have grown up in. But Begley has updated it by installing energy-saving features like the large solar panels on the roof. Inside, the rooms are decorated in warm earth tones.

Begley and Carson have a unique chemistry, both affectionate and argumentative at the same time. They often launch into talk simultaneously, finishing each other’s sentences and provocatively debating their different takes on the same story. Their mannerisms seem at times diametrically opposite, yet the man who grew up in the limelight of Hollywood and the woman from Georgia have something that can be described as a natural alchemy.

Cooper: While I catch my breath from racing up that big hill, why don’t you tell me how you two met?

(Begley and Carson look at each other and start to laugh)

Begley: We met at an environmental event.

Carson: It was 1993, and I was coming back to L.A. from living in Canada. I’d gone up to the Kern River with a group of friends who were all volunteering for an environmental cause. So I was at the event, and I decided to take a break. I was looking for an exit, and instead I found Ed. Little did I know, I’d found my exit—only not the one I was expecting!

Begley: (laughs) We’d actually met through friends a few years earlier, but we didn’t exactly hit it off the first time. Remember, Rachelle?

Carson: No, we certainly didn’t.

Cooper: Why do you think the two of you clicked this second time?

Begley: She’d lowered her standards quite a bit.

Carson: (laughs) I was desperate.

Cooper: And so the backdrop is the river, green trees and blue skies…

Carson: Yes, it was beautiful. But romantic or not, it was still a surprise that we hit it off.
Begley: An accident, really. And we’re still together 13 years later. How many times did we split up the first year? Thirty?

Carson (tapping the back of his hand): Everytime you mention our break-ups the number gets larger..

Begley: Okay, then—how about 20?

Carson: Twenty times in three years, not in one year.

Cooper: I guess we’ll call this issue of ABILITY the environmental version of The Enquirer. What made the two of you persist in becoming a couple?

Begley: (smiles) She just wanted to win, that’s all.

Cooper: Sort of like knocking bottles down at a fair—you got the prize?

Carson: (laughs) Mmm-hmmm…

Begley: And then once she got her prize, she seemed totally ambivalent! It was like she was thinking, “What have I done? Stay, or get out?” But then we had a baby. So it was like, “Yeah, I’m here.”

(Carson laughs, and her blonde hair bounces as she speaks)

Carson: And then I had to decorate. Oh, you should have seen this place. Not that it’s House and Garden now, but when we met, this place was a disaster. He lived like a bachelor.

Cooper: Well, he was a bachelor.

Begley (to Cooper): Thank you!

Carson: (laughs) Yes, you were a bachelor. But it was pathetic—it really was—so I made some changes.

Cooper: I saw the sign outside saying, No Bachelors Live Here.

Begley: (smiles) I like everything she’s done. She is a visual person who does a good job making things look nice. I have organizational skills. I’m constantly redoing the office supplies, because I’m very good at things like keeping the envelopes.

Carson: (laughs) I do what I can.

Cooper (to Carson): When you met Ed, were you involved in environmental causes as well?

Carson: Well, when I first got together with Ed, I was concerned about the environment, but I was more involved in other issues—women’s issues, children’s health, human rights, poverty—a lot of important social issues. Those were paramount for me at that time. I was talking about it all with the singer Don Henley one time—whether it’s a luxury to be concerned with the ecosystem when there are immediate needs like people who are starving. But one thing affects another. He said, “Without the environment, there’s nothing. It’s fundamental, isn’t it?”

Begley: It’s all interrelated. For instance, consider the new report that came out last week about most of the ocean’s fish. Because of the global climate change, pollution and non-sustainable fishing practices, much of the catch we know today will be fished out by 2048. There will still be fish, but those we like to eat—such as cod, haddock and flounder—will be gone if we continue along the path we’re on now. That would have a huge impact on people who rely on fish for sustenance.

Cooper: Do you plan to address environmental issues like that on Living with Ed?

Begley: In the format of the show, everyone who watches
—even people who have never thought about living a low-impact, environmentally conscious life—will be able to relate. They’ll come away with a raised awareness, but they’ll also enjoy seeing the differences between the Rachelle and me.

Cooper: So the show has the two of you as co-hosts, or co-anchors?

Carson: Well, it’s not really a hosting kind of show—it’s more of a voyeur kind of show.

Cooper: I see...

Begley: (smiles) It’s a reality show about living here, she and I. The cameras follow us around and show what it’s like living with a guy who has solar panels and rides a bicycle everywhere.

Carson: Who happens to live with a person who has some sense of style and likes to retain some of the creature comforts of the modern world—you know what I mean? So there’s a juxtaposition, a conflict. You can already feel it, can’t you?

Cooper: I felt it when I came down the street!

(all laugh)

Begley: I’ve been an environmentalist for over 30 years, and even though Rachelle and I have been together for 13 years, I still manage ....Continued in ABILITY Magazine

foreword by Kanani Fong


ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Ed Begley issue include Senator Harkin — Securing America’s Energy Future; Humor Therapy— Don’t Go There; Recipes — Healthy Drinks;Rights or Wrongs — Legal Stories From DLRC; Elegy For A Disease — A Personal History of Polio; Learning Katrina’s Lessons — Disaster Preparedness; Healthy Environment — Steps We All Can Take; Healing Our Soldiers — Hawaii’s MRPU; The Secret Vote — Making Voting Accessible; Book Excerpt — Widening the Circle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

Excerpts from the Ed Begley issue:

Ed Begley Jr. and Rachelle Carson — Interview

Service Animals — Barking up the Right Tree

Connecticut Dept. of Labor — Gift of Opportunity

Dystonia — Deep Brain Stimulation and Medtronic

Sound Technology — For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Better Off Dead — Suicidality

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