Talking to Hollywood’s Mr. Environment, Ed Begley, Jr.

April 19, 2022

Green Is Good Symbol

From the Green Is Good Archives

Originally aired on April 20, 2015

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Inspired by the works of his Academy Award-winning father, Ed Begley Jr. became an actor. He first came to audiences’ attention for his portrayal of Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the long-running hit television series St. Elsewhere, for which he received six Emmy nominations.

Since then, Ed has moved easily among feature, television and theatre projects.

Ed co-starred in the Woody Allen movie Whatever Works with Larry David, as well as the Seth Rogan/Judd Apatow film Pineapple Express and a number of Christopher Guest films, including A Mighty Wind, Best In Show and For Your Consideration. Other feature film credits include Batman Forever, The Accidental Tourist and The In-Laws. On television, Ed just completed Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, an HBO movie with Christopher Plummer, Danny Glover and Frank Langella. He is one of the Governors of the Motion Picture Academy and he lives in a solar-powered home and drives an electric car.

Ed and his family are currently documenting construction of a LEED Platinum-certified home for Begley Street, a television and Web series produced by Make It Happen Productions. Both shows are set to launch later this year.

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. This is the Hollywood Goes Green is Good edition with my good friend and partner and co-host, Debbie Levin, the President of the Environmental Media Association. We’re so honored to have with us today the Mr. Environmentalist from Hollywood, Mr. Ed Begley, Jr., the famous actor and activist and environmentalist. Welcome to Green is Good, Ed.

Ed Begley, Jr.: Thank you so much for having me on.

John: It’s an honor to have you on. Let me tell you something. We’re so honored to have you, after seven years, to have you on. We’ve been dying for you to come on all these years, so thanks to Debbie for making it all happen with Hollywood, you’re on here today.

Ed: We’re a good tag team, she and I.

John: You guys are amazing.

Debbie Levin: We have a whole routine. We do this really well. We even do schools.

Ed: We’ve done schools, weddings, bar mitzvahs.

Debbie: Ed is a long, longtime board member of the Environmental Media Association, and obviously, dear, dear, friends. The truth is that Ed is, I would say, the beautiful face of Hollywood environmentalists. He is what we all strive to be. Like I always say, if there’s a scale of 1-10 of how you are an environmentalist in our industry, Ed is the 12 and we’re all on the road, but in the most gracious way. John, you have all these questions.

John: It is so amazing how you’re of part of Debbie’s and my generation. We’re all the same generation.

Ed: You guys are much younger than me. You’re being very kind.

John: You’ve been a Hollywood icon for years, but now I told my son last night, who’s 22, that you’re coming on the show, and he relates to you in Pineapple Express, Whatever Works, Arrested Development. You’re relevant across generations in Hollywood.

Ed: I had no idea. This is the great. I’m calling my agent to ask for more money.

John: Ed, I met you, literally, and I was so honored to meet you, 10 years ago when Debbie invited me to one of the first EMA events I’ve ever gone to. You had ridden your bike there, and I’m like, this is crazy. This is amazing. Hollywood really is into the environment. But as I learned quickly, you’re really ground zero for Hollywood’s environmental activism. Where has this evolved since you got involved 35 or so years ago with activism and environment and Hollywood? Debbie and you have paired up to morph it to young Hollywood. How has this whole movement morphed and evolved over these 35 years?

Ed: It’s really gotten very good in that we’ve engaged, thanks to Debbie, a lot of young people. When I started, I was quite young. I was 20 years old the first Earth Day in 1970. We talk about all the challenges and we need to keep talking about them, climate change and the plastics in the ocean, the groundwater contamination and loss of the aquifers, all important to talk about our challenges, but we also have to remember the good news. What’s happened since 1970? What’s happened in LA? The air is much cleaner than it was, John. We all did that with catalytic converters on cars, combined cycle gas turbines, spray paint booths. All those things, big and small, made the air cleaner. We hoped to clean up the air, and guess what? It did. And guess what? Businesspeople like to breathe clean air too. They want their kids and their grandkids to breathe clean air. It’s been good for the economy, good for the environment, cleaning up LA air. They need that kind of technology in Beijing and Hong Kong and Shanghai and these places and Bangkok, you name it. They need that good technology. We could export it to them. There’s a lot of good news out there, but engaging the young people is so important. I do my little area, which is personal action, and I do that fine, but occasionally I cross over to the very important John Quigley, which is a real activism, getting out there. He’s sitting in trees and doing things that I’ve never dared to do. I went and visited him for like half an hour up there in the tree. It’s like, get me out of here. God bless him. He was sleeping up there and staying up there for months on end. That’s real activism. I don’t mean to diminish what I do; it’s all part of it. But he’s right, there’s three legs to the stool. We need the activism, we need to get our elected leaders involved, and our corporate responsibility. You need steadying on all three to make that happen. Each influences the other.

Debbie: And we message.

Ed: We do. Debbie messages very well with EMA. They’re great at getting a good message to engage people and to do the right thing. In Hollywood, a lot of people write. Many years ago, they took us to task. Hey, you talk about us cleaning up the environment and us conserving, what about you guys with your big Hollywood limos and all your stuff and the waste on the set? We set about changing that, and now nearly every movie set and TV show is very, very green, thanks to EMA.

John: Where was your epiphany? 45 years ago when you got into it and it’s 1970, did you grow up that way, or did something happen in college or something happen in Hollywood that made you say, “Hey, enough of the old way. We’ve got to change our ways. I’ve got to be the beginning of change myself.”

Ed: Proving that it’s a non-partisan issue, today is my dad’s birthday. He died many years ago. He died in 1970, but he died within a few days of the first Earth Day. I did all this stuff to honor him as much as anything. He was a conservative, the like to conserve. Imagine that. He did that. We turned off the lights, we turned off the water, we saved string, we saved tin foil. He got me in Boy Scouts to see nature up close and personal. I decided it was worth preserving. He was the son of Irish immigrants. He lived through the Great Depression. The model of Teddy Roosevelt, he was that kind of conservative, and we need that now. I got involved, really, because of him. I really did. He had set the stage because one thing he said to me, because I was complaining about the smog in the fifties and sixties, and finally the late sixties, before he passed away, he said, “Eddie, I know what you’re against. You’re against the smog. So am I. But what are you for? What is your plan? What are you going to do to make a difference?” So I bought an electric car, started riding my bike more, I took public transportation. Rather than what are you against, interesting, important, but what are you for? What are you going to do to change that? What are you going to make less drilling in Ecuador? What can you do to accomplish that? We all have a role in that with our consumption.

Debbie: And Ed is that person who is not only talking about this, but you will see Ed not only on his bike around town, but on the bus, on the metro, on the subway.

Ed: Debbie, thank you for bringing it up. Here’s my senior pass, and it’s good to save the environment. I’m all for that, but what does it cost? Off-peak is 35 cents. At the peak rush hour, they’re going to hit me bad, it’s 75 cents. You can’t park downtown for 75 cents or in Hollywood, so this is about saving money too.

Debbie: This is also his other favorite thing, about how being an environmentalist is because he’s cheap. That’s your other favorite line.

Ed: Yes, Rachelle busted me years ago. You don’t care about the birds so much. You’re just a cheapo guy.

Debbie: I have quoted you so many times in the last 15 years, I can’t even tell you.

John: You not only take your bike to EMA events, but you actually took your bike to the last Oscars.

Ed: I did. I rode my bike to the last Oscars.

Debbie: In the rain, everybody.

Ed: I was a little bold, going in the rain. It was drizzling when I got there, but I left my cell phone where I was changing my clothes. I rode over the Cahuenga Pass, not in a tux, of course, in shorts or what have you. I went to Hollywood and Vine to BiteSize Studios, where we’ve done stuff together, and I went there, and I changed. Great, it’s only a mild drizzle and I’m almost there. I’ll meet my friends, the Lumleys. Wait a minute. Where’s my phone? I had to go back, and by then, it was a downpour and I was like a wet dog.

Debbie: The best thing is that on his wife’s Facebook, it’s like, “I’m getting in the car. My crazy husband is on his bike in the rain.”

Ed: That’s right. She carpooled in a Tesla with someone who was going anyway, Bill Taylor from the effects department. He’s a governor in the effects branch, and so there was no extra carbon her riding with him, and she met me there. She looked just fine. I was like a wet dog, but I dried off quickly.

Debbie: You know, that’s the benefit to being a boy. That’s the good part.

John: We used to follow all that’s going on in your house when you had your own television show. What now is going on? I understand you’re building a new house that’s all LEED certified or something? What’s going on in your home now, with regards to all the green things that you and Rachelle are doing?

Ed: We’re building a LEED platinum home right now in Studio City. That’s the rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council. They have a rating system of LEED silver, gold, and platinum. We’re going for the highest level. I figure if I don’t do platinum, who the hell is? There’s a lot of platinum office buildings and what have you, but residential platinum is more uncommon.

John: Is this from the ground up, or a restore?

Ed: That wasn’t supposed to be, John. This is what they call mission creep. We started off with a simple mission. We’re going to invade here and they’ll greet us with flowers. Not so. We’re going to do a remodel on this house, and we realized there’s a beautiful oak tree to the south. We knew it all along, but when we really saw with a proper instrumentation the way it was going to be shaded near the winter solstice, we had to go up to a second story. Wanting to go up to a second story, we realized the old house couldn’t support it. We were going to have four walls we were going to save, we were going to save three, two, one, we’re going to save the chimney, we couldn’t save any of it. Because there was so much water damage and termite damage, foundation damage, we had to go to a vacant lot. We figured that will be fine, but it’s taken a long time because we didn’t want to put the old house in a landfill, John. We wanted to recycle it, so we had a company come, Habitat for Humanity came and took the easy pickings, the stove and the microwave and the doors and the windows, took all that, and then this company, IRS, not the tax people, a different IRS, Industrial Recycling Services, came and took the house apart and took all the wood apart and all the bricks and everything, and they sent it down to Mexico and they built a church out of it.

John: No way.

Ed: Yeah. Why waste all that?

John: That’s amazing. Our listeners out there can recycle their house if they want.

Ed: Yeah, rather than just have the bulldozers come and knock it all down in a big pile and put it in big dumpsters, we put it on trucks and what have you. The thing that made it economically feasible, we sent the wood down to Mexico with all the nails in it. They had the time and the inclination to volunteer for the church and take all the nails out and knock all the mortar off the bricks. Here, it would cost you a lot of money to do that.

John: Listen. No matter what denomination you are, that’s got to be good luck for your new house to build a church out of your old house.

Debbie: Yes, seriously good karma.

Ed: But it took a year to do that. We had to find the right people to do it, so that was a delay. We’ve taken a while to do this.

John: So where are you now in the journey?

Ed: We’re very near the end. I can see the finish line up ahead, John. I’m nearing the tape. I’m going to bust through soon.

Debbie: I literally keep e-mailing Ed, are you there yet? Are you getting close?

Ed: We’ve got drywall up, we’ve got insulation in, the electrical, the plumbing has all been done. We’re waiting for the flooring. Another delay, but worth it, we’re going to have an old barn out of recycled oak wood. We’re having that milled right now from an old barn, and that’s going to be used for our flooring.

John: What is your and Rachelle’s goal?

Ed: June. I’m saying June.

Debbie: He’s been saying June for a while, so I’m going to go with June.

Ed: June of 2013, June of 2014, now it’s June of 2015.

Debbie: This is so not even a joke.

John: So let’s talk a little bit about Begley’s Best. I want you to be able to share with our listeners what you’re doing with Begley’s Best now.

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Ed: I had a wonderful company for years called Begley’s Best, and sadly, with the 2008 slowdown, the recession, depression, whatever you want to call it, that company could not survive. A lot of stores hunkered down and just stuck with the bigger selling ones, and we were not one of them. I folded that company up. We folded up our tent, declaring success because we had given a lot of money to charity through that company and had wonderful green products. But another company came along and said, “Ed, I love Begley’s Best. I want to do what you did, and we’ll vet all the products. You’ll help us vet them, make sure they’re green or greener than yours. We’ll get EPA Design for the Environment certification, which you didn’t have, Ed, and other certification. We’re going to have a whole lot more products.”

John: And what’s that brand?

Ed: It’s called Begley’s Earth Responsible Products.

John: And how do our listeners and viewers find out about Begley’s Earth Responsible Products?

Ed: You can go to I still kept that website. You can go there. They have it at Gelson’s.

Debbie: They have it everywhere.

Ed: They have it a few other places. It’s going to be in a lot of places very soon, but Begley’s Best has it.

John: And they can buy it online too.

Ed: Yes, you can.

John: So, you can buy all of your new products right online.

Debbie: And they’re very pretty.

Ed: It’s better than what I had. I was doing it out of my garage. I was filling up bottles like this.

John: It’s hard to compete against the major brands when you’re just doing it like that.

Ed: Yeah, I was shipping myself. It was a lot of work, and I finally ran out of time to do it.

John: Your career right now is – what, you’re 40?

Ed: I’m 65.

John: 65, is hotter than ever. My son is 22, and he asked me to ask you what’s next for you? When he sees you in Whatever Works and Pineapple Express and Arrested Development, you’re the hot guy in Hollywood at 65.

Ed: You’re very kind.

John: What’s next and what are you working on that you’re excited about?

Ed: Right now, yesterday, and again Friday, I’ll be working on a show with the wonderful Patrick Stewart and the equally wonderful Jackie Weaver from Silver Linings Playbook, the wonderful actress, and other fine actors and actresses. Richard Lewis is in it, and we’re doing this show called Blunt Talk. It’s a Seth MacFarlane show. Tell your son that Seth MacFarlane has a new show and I’m in it and it’s called Blunt Talk. I think it will air something like June.

Debbie: And that’s on what?

Ed: That will be on Starz.

Debbie: OK, great. And then the TBS show.

Ed: The TBS show, that’s coming out April 7th, and that is called Your Family or Mine with Richard Dreyfuss and JoBeth Williams.

John: Richard Dreyfuss.

Ed: The wonderful Richard Dreyfuss. I’ve known him since we were teenagers.

John: Unbelievable. Talk about the legends of Hollywood teaming up and doing art together. This is great.

Ed: Yeah, there’s great stuff happening in TV. You see Kevin Spacey and the wonderful movie stars doing TV shows now. Breaking Bad is one of the best shows you’re going to see in your life.

John: Talk a little bit about that. The whole Breaking Bad, Kevin Spacey and Breaking Bad phenomenon, where Netflix and AMC and all these amazing – The networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, are still wonderful those brands, but now there’s so much more product that’s needed to fill these pipelines. Is that what’s giving great and amazing artists like you and Richard Dreyfuss and Kevin Spacey all these new opportunities that didn’t exist 20 years ago?

Ed: I think so, because you have two things. Again, I think network TV is just fine too. There’s some good stuff. I worked in it for years myself and probably will again, but what you get with these cable venues, Starz or HBO or AMC, you don’t have the same kind of censorship, number one, and number two, they pretty much leave you alone. I worked for Amazon too, and they hire good people and say, “Hey, you’re Vince Gilligan. We’re AMC. We’d love to have your kind of style of stuff, Vince Gilligan. Do this show. It sounds good, Breaking Bad,” and they don’t interfere much. They kind of let them do their show.

John: Didn’t Amazon just hire Woody Allen or something?

Debbie: I think so. I heard something like that.

Ed: And look at what they have with the Jeffrey Tambor show.

Debbie: Right, that’s amazing. It’s just such a beautiful show.

Ed: It’s a beautiful show, a really great show. They’re doing great stuff in the cable world and the internet world. There’s not really even a cable provider. I still have AT&T U-verse. To my kids and to my 15-year-old, I’m like a dinosaur. They just use Netflix to watch stuff. They’re watching stuff on Amazon Prime and Netflix. They’re not using the cable hookup. They’re going straight through wireless.

Debbie: What’s so great is that there’s so much desire for content, and that everybody wants it. I don’t know if it’s great, but people are just watching so much. They’re watching TV, and they’re watching at home, and they’re watching when they want. No one knows what anything is on; no one cares. They’re just watching good stuff.

Ed: Yeah, it’s a search for, let’s see – Jeffrey Tambor.

John: Ed Begley.

Debbie: Exactly. And you can just watch, and so I think that’s attracting amazing talent. That’s where people are going, and I think for feature films, it’s just a little bit of a different audience. You’re kind of getting more families, kids, big special effects kinds of things. In TV, you get to see more character-driven.

John: Did you ever think 20 years ago that, at 65, you were going to be busier than ever in your career?

Ed: No, I thought just a year ago, when I had a long period of not working, I was bitching to her, I thought it’s over. Honey, Debbie, it’s over. I’ll be flattening aluminum cans, not to protect the environment, I’m flattening aluminum cans to get the money. I’m out in the park.

Debbie: I have to say that we have this conversation every couple of years, and then I’m like, please, you’re going to start working tons.

Ed: She said that every time, but this time was the longest. I’d never had a nine-month period. I had a nine-month period with one day work for scale, and I never had a dry period that dry ever. I had never had more than three months with one day’s work.

John: You thought maybe this is it.

Ed: I thought it was it. They finally figured me out. They know I’m a fraud. I knew it all along.

Debbie: I had confidence, and look.

Ed: She’s correct. Let the record show.

Debbie: I did. Quietly, I got him all these jobs, so don’t tell anybody.

Ed: She did.

John: Your career is busy. You’ve got these two amazing series coming out. What is on the horizon for the environment? Everyone says this, but we live in interesting times, really, with climate change, with water scarcity, and with the revolution coming, with SolarCity and Tesla and all these cool brands coming, how do you feel today? Hopeful, hopeless? What’s going in your mind, because you’ve had such a richness of history involved as an activist and really doing real stuff? What do you feel, where we are right now?

Ed: There’s so much you could be involved in, and they’re all important. You could certainly devote your life to climate change, and that would be time and money well spent, whatever you would do in that area. You could devote yourself to dealing with the gyres of plastic out in the ocean, and I’m involved with both those issues. But I’m also focusing a lot these days on water, specifically here in Southern California, throughout the West, and many parts of the world, there’s extreme drought. We’re having this cycle of drought, and whatever happens, even if we’re in luck and we have a few wet years again, and I hope we do, we have to begin to save our rainwater, number one. We have to begin to use our greywater, number two. Number three, we have to get our agricultural friends, people in the world of agriculture, to use different practices and better practices for growing crops. And maybe we have to investigate if it’s really the best idea to grow some of these very thirsty crops in California, a place where all the water is coming from outside. Again, talk about a stool, like I said before, the metaphor of the stool with three legs. You’ve got three legs on the stool of Southern California getting water – Colorado River, the Owens Valley, and you have the San Joaquin delta, three legs. If one of them even just gets knocked off an inch or two, it’s going to be wobbly and we’re going to fall. If something happens to one of those, and that’s coming, we have to be prepared. We could meet, according to Andy Lucas, who knows water issues very well, and many other experts in hydrology, we could meet half of our demand in LA from rainwater, if we collect our rainwater and stop letting it go down these concrete channels out to the ocean. We can capture it in two ways. One, with rain tanks like I have buried under my property of my new home, a 10,000-gallon rainwater tank, or you can have it permeated into the soil, another good way, and then clean up some of these wells and what have you. We have a lot of trichloroethylene and bad things in well water, in groundwater, clean that up in the San Fernando Valley, clean it up in the San Gabriel Valley, and use that water more by letting it percolate down. That’s what we need to do.

John: Ed, we’re going to have you back on again to talk about your new series, next time you have a new series coming out, to talk more about the environment. Debbie and I are going to have you back on to continue this discussion. For our listeners out there, look up Ed Begley, Jr. and all the great work he’s done historically, and his two new series coming out, or buy his responsible environmental products on For Debbie Levin, I’m John Shegerian. You’re on Green is Good and, Ed Begley, Jr., you are truly living proof that green is good.

Ed: Thank you, John.