Stars of USA Network's series gathered at a "Characters Unite" event called "A More Perfect Union: Stories of Prejudice and Power," presented in conjunction with storytelling nonprofit The Moth. Hosted by Nathan Lane and featuring appearances by Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Paralympian/actress/model Aimee Mullins, educator Tim King and comedian Greg Walloch telling personal stories about discrimination and bigotry, the evening was capped by an after-party with a performance by John Legend.
"It's important to start a dialogue about racism and homophobia and sexism, things that are in our society. The only way to get ourselves out of it is to start talking about it, share personal stories," said Mehcad Brooks, whose "Necessary Roughness" returns to USA this summer. A member of the Environmental Media Association, Brooks just became the mentor to an urban garden at Eliot Middle School in Altadena, Calif. "I told them, next time I want a salad waiting for me," he laughed.
His co-star Scott Cohen has his own organic garden. "We grow lots of vegetables and have apple and pear trees. We have salad and dessert — lots of pear and apple tarts," said Cohen, who also recycles, takes shorter showers and skips toilet flushes, "which is annoying to most people in my house." As a big fan of storytelling who envisions himself as a Renaissance minstrel in an earlier era, Cohen was eager to attend the event. He doesn't know much about the "Necessary Roughness" second season yet, other than that "there's surprise, intrigue and romance" in store. He likes the mysterious nature of his character, Nico. "You don't know too much about him, and I love that," said Cohen, who has had a recurring role on "Pan Am" and recently shot the movie "3 Weeks to Daytona," a race car movie with Jorja Fox and Rip Torn in which he plays a driver angling for a comeback. Getting to drive a racecar in it was "a total rush," he raved. "I was not going 280, but fast enough."
Tifffani Thiessen keeps busy with Petit Nest, her line of eco-friendly, made in America children's furniture and bedding, when she's not working on "White Collar," which resumes production next month. She loves that her character Elizabeth "is extremely passionate, sassy and smart. She tends to have her priorities straight in life. Very grounded. I love that she's career driven and loves her husband. They have an amazing relationship, a great marriage and a fun marriage — all the things that I strive to be myself."
Several stars talked about eco-friendly home builds, additions and renovations. While "White Collar'" star Tim DeKay is dealing with the paperwork involved in getting his LEED platinum certified home built, Bruce Campbell (pictured left) is "going off the grid this year. We can do wind power because we're up on a hill," said the "Burn Notice" star, who keeps his Oregon property sustainable by practicing land stewardship, cutting back forest and getting rid of non-native species. Heading back to Miami to resume shooting season six next month, he never gets bored playing Sam Axe. "He's a guy that I'd hang out with," he said, noting a shared style. "I wore Tommy Bahama for years before I was on 'Burn Notice.'" On the big screen, he'll appear in "Oz the Great and Powerful," a 2013 "Wizard of Oz" prequel, causing "big problems" for James Franco's title character.
Campbell's co-star Coby Bell juggles shooting "Burn Notice" and BET's "The Game," schedules for which sometimes overlap. The former shoots in Miami, the latter in Atlanta, and he lives in L.A., so he spends a lot of time on airplanes. He tries to counter that energy consumption by driving a Honda Civic hybrid, buying local and organic produce, and recycling "like a crazy person." He gets something different from each of his TV roles. On "The Game," "The character is such a jerk. He can say anything and get away with it. It's a lot of fun to play. 'Burn Notice' is great because it has a little bit of everything — drama, action and some comedy as well."
"Characters Unite is a great campaign and I think it's great that the network is supporting important issues," said "Suits" star Gabriel Macht (pictured above, left). He drives a Prius, keeps a vegetarian home, recycles "everything we can," and recently wired his house for Ethernet in order to eliminate the need for wireless Internet. "The electromagnetic field isn't good for our systems," believes the actor, who's also putting gin a high-efficiency water heater. But he grew up in a carnivorous family and hasn't had any luck in converting his parents, mom Suzanne and actor dad Stephen — who accompanied him to the event (pictured above, right) — to a green lifestyle, he confided. "Suits'" second season will introduce a new law firm partner, noted Macht, who hopes to get his dad on the show as a guest, perhaps as his fictional father. "We haven't seen Harvey's family yet," he reminded.
His co-star Gina Torres is looking forward to having her own character, Jessica, fleshed out as well. "You'll learn a little more about her, maybe a couple of her secrets," she said, noting that there will be 16 episodes, five more than in season one. Sporting a soft cast and sling on her left arm due to rotator cuff surgery needed because "all those scenes of action finally caught up with me," Torres is enjoying her time off before going back to work in mid-April. As a concerned mom, she shops for local and organic groceries at Whole Foods. "I try to keep it as clean as possible for my daughter," she explained.
"White Collar's" Marsha Thomason recycles, uses dish towels instead of paper ones, and is "thinking about starting to compost' for her garden. She's having a blast playing "badass" Diana on the series. "She takes no crap from anyone and I really love that," she said. She promises a "huge cliffhanger" in the Feb. 28 season finale. "We're dealing with Neil's (Matt Bomer) sentence maybe being commuted and being free which is obviously a big issue for me," elaborated Willie Garson. "There will be some answers that will lead to more questions. You have to keep people wanting to come back," said the actor, who recently sold a reality show idea to VH1 for 2013. He's happy that his son has been learning about the environment in school. "He's like, 'You're wasting water! Turn off the light! Let's recycle more.' It's a great thing."
"We're pretty good about recycling, using recycled things," said "Psych" star Corbin Bernsen. "We go to flea markets for recycled furniture, used furniture, we take old furniture and paint it, we try not to throw away a ton. We try to use what we can. We take our leftover fruits and vegetables to compost." In his seventh year on the series, he's still enjoying playing his "faulted" character Henry. "He's so stuck in his ways. He knows he has to change but doesn't know how to do it." Also a director and screenwriter, he's completed the films "25 Hill," "Rust" and "Barlowe Mann" and will appear in "Lay the Favorite" next fall with Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughn as Rebecca Hall's father. He's also in the horror film "Lizzie," also due in the fall.
Christopher Gorham has been driving a Prius since 2005, but had to replace his last one because "rats ate the wiring. We got the Prius V, the bigger version. I can fit all three kids' car seats in the back with room to spare. It's awesome," he said." His spy series "Covert Affairs" goes back into production in a month, and when it returns, "The first episode is going to be big. We're expanding our international locations. And they're going for more serialized storylines. Each character is going to have a really strong story arc that's going to last all season." The show left off with the heightened possibility of romance between his character Auggie, who's blind, and Annie (Piper Perabo). "Auggie couldn't see what was on her face, so he has no idea how she felt, and we're going to play with that in season three," he said.
Gorham has received "overwhelmingly positive" response from the blind community about playing the character, despite the fact that he's sighted. "I think they know I take it really seriously," he said, describing Auggie as "one of the extraordinary few. He comes from Special Forces, he's like one of those SEAL Team 6 guys. He's the best of the best and has been through things that 99.9 percent of the population can't even imagine. I love his strength and that he's great at his job, but he doesn't like to reveal a lot about himself. I'm looking forward to exploring that with regard to a relationship because I imagine Auggie would be a very difficult boyfriend."
Gorham guest stars next month in an episode of "Hot in Cleveland," playing "a missionary who shows up at their vacation home. It's a big farce, and it provided great Twitter fodder because I was taking all these provocative pictures with Betty White, in bed, suggestively rubbing my shoulders. We 'broke up' at the end of my week there and took a picture of her slapping my face. She's the best," he raved. "I want to be Betty White when I grow up."
Mark Feuerstein, who takes part in the recycling program at his daughter's charter school every Monday, promised a big cliffhanger in the Feb. 22 third season finale of "Royal Pains," with the tension between his character Hank and his brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) intensifying. "If you thought that the brothers Lawson were having some issues, just wait. They've never been at each other more," said Feuerstein, who begins shooting new episodes March 21 in Savannah, Ga., standing in for New York's Hamptons in summertime. "We're going there for two weeks because the trees have leaves on them," he explained.
Photos: Casey Rodgers/USA Network, Evans Westal Ward/USA Network (Gina Torres), Gerri Miller (Marsha Thomason, Scott Cohen, Macht family)