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October 20, 2011

An Interview with Bones Star Emily Deschanel

Actress uses her celebrity to draw attention to issues close to her heart

All Animals magazine

  • Tony Chang/Chang Photography

For Emily Deschanel, star of the hit TV series Bones, the eye-opener came in high school, when she watched Diet for a New America, a documentary about factory farming. “That changed my life in a lot of ways,” she says. “Seeing the suffering that these animals were going through, I just couldn’t live with myself contributing to that. And then it kind of expanded from there, where it became an environmental issue and then became a health issue for humans.”

Deschanel has since remained an active voice for animal protection. She’s a regular presenter at The HSUS’s annual Genesis Awards and a member of the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s National Council. She’s helped raise awareness for anti-dogfighting measures, and she’s even pitched animal-related storylines to Bones producers.

In this edited interview with All Animals assistant managing editor Michael Sharp, Deschanel describes how her cause and her career intersect.

Did you grow up with animals?

We had dogs growing up. And we had a rabbit, and we had a bird at different times. I think we all start to love animals with the animals that are in our home, and then you start thinking: “This dog is pretty awesome, and I consider him a part of my family. And what’s so different about that than these animals that people are doing experiments on, or raising for food, or using for entertainment?” So I think you kind of start with those animals and extrapolate from there, and you realize, “Oh, wait a second, there’s something wrong with this picture.”

Can you give an example of a storyline you've pitched?

Well, I keep pitching things, and then they never use what I pitch, but then they end up coming up with great ideas themselves.

I pitched ones about exotic animal trade. I think out a whole scenario, and I pitch it to them, where somebody discovers maybe some big cat that’s been smuggled into the country. And they find that the cat has eaten some human remains---because you always have to come back to human remains on my show.

We had a chicken episode [about factory farming]. We had a dogfighting episode. We had an episode where someone’s killed with a bolt gun at a pig farm---not just anyone, but it was discovered my character’s mother was killed that way.

What’s been the response to those episodes, like the one about the chickens?

People who are already in the know are very happy to see the episode. We don’t need to preach to the choir, so I’m always excited when I hear people say, “Oh, I had no idea, and I’m not eating chicken anymore.” That’s a small victory. I have come to the conclusion that all or nothing is not necessarily the answer---it’s more like something is the answer for everybody, whether it’s Meatless Mondays or just being aware of your food and eating less meat or dairy products. Or it’s, “Oh, I’m not going to the circus anymore.” Each step and choice we make makes a difference.

Why is it important to you to use your platform to speak out for causes you find meaningful?

I think it’s important if you do have some platform of any kind. I’ve spoken out for Women for Women International and have done different events for them. And then encouraged everyone---a lot of women I know---to become sisters to women in Congo. I just think that when you become aware of certain issues, it’s important to speak out and make sure that they fit your principles. I work like crazy, so I see my job as mainly bringing awareness.

You were honored last year with The HSUS’s Humane Advocate Award. What was your reaction to winning that?

I was really blown away. I don’t think I deserved it. There are people doing much more impressive work. But it was very kind of the Humane Society, and I am always a big supporter of their work. And I was very honored, but humbled. It certainly encourages me to speak up for animals in any situation.

And I think that’s important. I think anyone can make a difference, just opening people’s eyes to certain animal issues that maybe people aren’t aware of. And the fact that animal issues are human issues, and they’re environmental issues, and they affect all kinds of things. They don’t just affect that one animal that may be suffering at that time; they are issues to all of us. And people can make a difference in really small tiny steps---and maybe bigger steps as well.

I hope I do much more impressive things in the future for animals, but I’m just beginning.

Read more from this issue of All Animals.

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