TV and movie actor Ed Begley Jr would like to go off-grid but my wife and daughter are not ready for that, he told us in an exclusive interview between takes for his new reality series, set in his own home and co-starring his wife as the reluctant partner in his drive to go eco. He thinks everyone should try to go off-grid right now. It would radically change everything and solve a host of other problems.
I’m connected to the grid, but use it rarely, since I have 6.5 KW of solar on my roof, he said via email. Of course he does squander a fair amount on powering the cameras needed for his House & Garden Cable docu-soap. All of the grid power that I do use is derived from the L.A. DWP Green Power program. All of that power is from Wind, Solar and Geothermal. But Ed has not been using his bicycle as much lately, what with the new show, plus filming for Boston Legal and a new series called Veronica Mars.
Known as the greenest man in Tinseltown, Ed rides his electric car to the beach and powers his morning coffee with his stationary bike. But Living with Ed and his environmentalist passion isn’t always a walk in the park for wife, Rachelle. This first-of-its-kind reality green show chronicles life with an earth-friendly fanatic.
“I’d say we’re about 90% solar,” he says of a cluster of 117 60-watt panels positioned on his roof. “When I was single, my electricity bill was only about $100 a year.” Rachelle rolled her eyes, no doubt having heard her husband say that many times since they wed in 2000. Rachelle Carson is a talented actress in her own right, recently completing roles in the independent films, He’s Such a Girl, Mazedo and the soon-to-be-released Pittsburgh with Jeff Goldblum. Other features for Carson include Tripping Forward, Stateside, Going Down, Net Games, Diary of a Sex Addict, But I’m a Cheerleader, Steal Big Steal Little and Eating.
Somehow, Begley doesn’t come off as holier-than-thou during the reality show no small feat given his near-perfect energy efficiency that precious few Americans can match.
“I don’t curse the darkness, I light the candles,” he said. Begley himself never asked for the role of an environmental hero. He said: “I don’t know if it’s trust, or just that I appeal to common sense. I try not to focus too much on the environmental impact of it. I generally say things like, for example, ‘You’re going to save money right away with a compact fluorescent bulb and here’s why.’ ”
Begley recently had recurring roles on Six Feet Under and Arrested Development. He has also guest starred on such series as The West Wing and The Practice in addition to David E. Kelly’s latest show, Boston Legal.
Begley also starred in the West Coast premiere of David Mamet’s Cryptogram at the Geffen Playhouse in the role that he first performed in Boston, and then in New York. He also starred in Mamet’s production of Romance at the Mark Taper Forum.
The new series for H&G will likely be copied all over the world, wherever the makers can find a couple where one is greener than the other. In the pilot episode, for example, Ed times his wife with a stopwatch during what he considers a lengthy hot shower, reprimands her over not recycling properly and lectures her on how to save energy.
While the premise sounds gimmicky, the show rarely becomes mired in petty arguments between the two. TV executives are hoping Begley’s personality, coupled with energy-saving tips on how to have a truly “green” home, will turn into a reality hit this year.
“Ed is so green, and green seems to be an increasing part of the national consciousness,” said Andy Singer, vice president of original programming at HGTV. The show and its corresponding website offer tips for aspiring eco-friendly homeowners, including simple tricks like using fluorescent lightbulbs and more esoteric ways to save energy.
“This seemed like a good outlet for me because it’s entertaining,” Begley said of “Living With Ed,” which he was initially reluctant to do. “How else are you going to get people’s ear and get them to maybe try a solar oven or start up a compost bin?”
Begley said he and Carson have essentially been doing the show for years whenever guests visit their modest home.
“We can’t help but do our ‘Bickersons’ routine when people come over,” he said, “but will others find it funny? I don’t know.”
“Everything that I’ve done since 1970 has been not just good for the environment, but it’s also been good for my bottom line,” said Begley. “It will be great to reach the environmental crowd, but we don’t want to preach to the converted. We want to reach people who maybe just want to save money.”
Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems for the layman to boast a $600-a-year electricity bill like Begley’s it takes big cash up front to shell out for the expensive solar panels that are hooked up to batteries in his garage. But once he starts talking about solar energy, it’s easy to see why stars such as Larry David, Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow and Leonardo DiCaprio call him for advice.
I’m this horrible consumer, Rachelle told one interviewer. I’ve always cared about the environment. I’m Southern, I like my creature comforts. So, yes, there’s a conflict going on. It’s a different lifestyle we lead, this urban setting, and getting used to Ed. Ed is a very unique person. I think in any setting. In Ithaca, NY, he would be unique. But with regards to getting used to it, I’m always in awe of his ability to conserve and his discipline.
Not everybody is going to buy a hybrid car, an electric car, put up solar panels, or maybe even do solar hot water that may be out of people’s budgets even though it’s a lot less than solar electric. But people can afford a light bulb. They can afford a thermostat if it’s going to put them into profit in six months. They can afford perhaps some insulation, if they have a little piece of dirt in their backyard or front yard, they can plant some vegetables, they can afford to compost, or ride a bike or take a bus. Those things are quite affordable; indeed they’re quite cost-effective.
I have to say, it’s more second-nature now. I think twice before I throw anything away. And I always check with Ed, can I throw this away? We have various cans around our house that all hold paper, and then we have recycling, we have the composting it’s a little more effort, but it’s doable and it just becomes a part of what you do. I mean, the point of the whole show is that if I can do it, anyone can do it. Because, I can definitely tell you at the drop of a hat that I’m very self centered and selfish! I like things a certain way, I like things to look a certain way; and while I don’t like to go out of my way, I can and it’s very doable. That’s maybe not a great confession
Of going off-grid, Ed says It’s no sideshow. It’s the main event. It’s something that we should all aspire to WHEREVER we live.
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