Environmentally minded celebrities including Ed Begley Jr., Sophia Bush and Michelle Rodriguez gathered at a private home in the Hollywood Hills to honor activist Ric O'Barry and his Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project at a benefit aiming to raise awareness and funds to fight the dolphin hunts in Japan (as portrayed in the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove") and anywhere dolphins and whales are threatened.
"Anywhere you have captive dolphins, you have me," said O'Barry, who'd been on a typical globe-hoping jaunt from Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Singapore, and Thailand to Miami and was feeling the jet lag to prove it. "When I leave here, I'm going to China, because most of the dolphins that are exported from the cove in Taiji go to China and we want to do something about that. We were able to get Hong Kong Airlines to issue a statement saying they will no longer fly them. Because of pressure they backed off and promised not to do it anymore."
Proud that he has made "a big dent" in the Solomon Islands, getting the government to end the dolphin hunt there, he described his effective methods. "We don't show up like a bunch of cultural imperialists, and tell them what they can eat and can't eat, what to do and what not to do. No nation has the right to force their belief system on another nation. It's really about listening and learning and looking for an opportunity to offer alternatives. That's what we do wherever we go. In the Faroe Islands, we're trying to find people who are interested in alternatives to killing pilot whales." He's in touch with "Cove" filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, who's currently shooting a documentary about the rapid extinction of species, accelerated by humans. "I'm told we're losing 30,000 species a year," O'Barry noted.
Ed Begley Jr. met O'Barry more than a decade ago, and has been an admirer of him and his work ever since. "Whenever he's doing something, I will show up," he said, recalling the first time he saw "The Cove," calling it "very powerful, very moving and very emotional." The admiration is mutual. "He walks the talk," O'Barry said of Begley. "I now ride bikes almost exclusively because of Ed."
Begley is in the early stages of building a LEED Platinum-certified home, "trying to take it to another level. We did everything you can do with a 1936 inefficient home — and you can do a lot — but now I want to show what you can do from the ground up. We're putting in the rainwater tank that will capture 10,000 gallons of rainwater underground. We haven't begun any framing or anything like that. It will probably take a year from right now," The process will play out in the Web series "On Begley Street," and "I'll have a party and a benefit for Ric when it's done," he vowed.
Work-wise, he'll be in upcoming episodes of "Raising Hope," "Common Law," which premieres on USA May 11, and "Rizzoli & Isles," returning to TNT this summer. He has several films awaiting release including "Insecurity," a comedy about security cops starring Alan and Adam Arkin. "I play Officer Krupke," he said. (Those who know "West Side Story" will get the joke.)
"I think that once you're educated and you really know what's happening to the dolphins, you can't not care. It's truly an example of cruel and unusual punishment," said Sophia Bush, adding that "The Cove" "is something everyone should see, to understand how dolphins relate to one another and how they understand what's happening. It's gruesome and it's cruel. And then you look at the environmental aspect it's having not only on the oceans but on humans, because dolphin meat is so mercury toxic. It's poisoning people. The whole situation makes no sense."
Bush, who has stopped using single-use plastic bottles and cups and paper plates, composts, recycles, drives an energy-efficient car, and buys local produce, believes "it's about being conscious with your consumer dollars — it's the way we tell people what's important to us. You can promote change by putting your money where your mouth is."
Back in L.A. after wrapping the series finale of the CW's "One Tree Hill" last November in Wilmington, N.C. (it airs April 4), Bush is thrilled to be home with family and friends "and wake up in my own bed." She next joins David Krumholz and Michael Urie in the CBS sitcom pilot "Partners."
Michelle Rodriguez, who volunteered to DJ at the event, is a supporter of organizations like CORE, UNICEF, the Sea Shepherd Society and others "that actually do things with the money they raise." The Cove" really got to her. "It hits that spot in your heart," said the "Avatar" actress, who recycles at home. "I'm really surprised to find out that a lot of people don't, especially in big cities, and I find that weird. In Europe they have recycling bins on the street," noted Rodriguez, who's currently preparing to do a sixth "Fast & Furious" film.
"This is obviously a great cause. Anything kids and animals, I'm in," said former "Biggest Loser" trainer Jillian Michaels, admitting that she wasn't able to watch all of "The Cove." Her latest priority? "Bringing my daughter home," said Michaels, who has adopted a baby girl from the Congo.
Eric Balfour ("Haven") lent his support "because the issue of protecting our oceans and sea life is not just important to me from the humanitarian and spiritual standpoint. Dolphin and whale populations are vital to our survival. The oceans' ecosystems are very fragile and the more that we mess with the natural balance of things, the more we hinder our own existence. The motivation to bring awareness to these causes is not purely unselfish. As much as I think that whales and dolphins are amazing creatures with incredible intelligence, I want my children and my grandchildren to survive. It really is a question of survival."
He found "The Cove" particularly heartbreaking. "It would be no different than watching children and families being slaughtered," said the actor, who spends a lot of time surfing while he's on hiatus from his Syfy series. It goes back into production next month in Nova Scotia.