08.18.11

Life After ‘Entourage’

Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays E’s love interest on HBO’s ‘Entourage,’ tells Marlow Stern about her journey from an Orthodox Jewish home in Canada to the bright lights of Hollywood, and what’s next now that the show is nearing its end.

It was a spring evening in 2006, and the cast of HBO’s hit series Entourage was dressed to the nines. The crew had cordoned off the main lobby of the trendy Roosevelt Hotel in order to shoot a big scene during the show’s third season, wherein Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), the series’ self-absorbed film star, agrees to be auctioned off for charity by his best friend's (and manager’s) girlfriend Sloan, played by the raven-haired beauty Emmanuelle Chriqui. When the crew took a little break from filming, Chriqui, clad in a strapless designer dress with diamond earrings, stepped outside the hotel just as the sun was setting, and stared down the palm-tree-lined street. 

“There’s the Walk of Fame stars along Hollywood Boulevard, I’m looking at Mann’s Chinese Theater, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this right now!’" said Chriqui in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I’m this little Canadian Jewish girl and I’m living my dream.”

Chriqui was raised in the decidedly palm-tree-free town of Unionville, Ontario—a small village just outside Toronto with a population of about 30,000. Her parents were Orthodox Jews from Morocco, and the family kept a strictly kosher, Modern Orthodox home in a very non-Jewish neighborhood.

“Friday nights, if there were school dances, there was always a fight to go out,” said Chriqui. “My parents would go, ‘But it’s the Sabbath!’ Even my friends were like, ‘Em’s gotta do that Friday-night thing.’”  

While her parents weren’t involved in the arts, there was always classical music playing throughout the house, and they regularly attended the theater and opera. When Chriqui decided at a young age that she wanted to be an actress, her mother, who was chosen to be Miss Morocco but was forced to decline because of her strict Orthodox upbringing, told her, “You will become an actress for the both of us.”

Her professional career began with a McDonald’s commercial when she was 10. At the age of 16, however, Chriqui lost her mother after a long battle with first colon cancer and then liver cancer. “They had given her a year or so to live, and she had three remissions, which was pretty miraculous,” said Chriqui. “She was such a fighter and such a lover of life. Literally, to the very, very bitter end, even if it took her five hours to get ready, she would do it. She is always guiding me.”

After her mother died and her father remarried, the family’s attitude toward Orthodox Judaism became more lax. Chriqui then left the Toronto area to move to Vancouver when she was 20, and starred in a series of Canada-based TV series such as Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal. After Vancouver, she briefly moved to Los Angeles, but was completely turned off by the city and escaped to New York.

“For some reason I had this really scary vision of L.A.,” said Chriqui. “When I got there, I refused to go on the freeways. I was so overwhelmed! All my fears about what Hollywood was: River Phoenix and the drugs, the craziness. It was all the things I never wanted to be.” She adds, “Now the irony is that I defend L.A. like nobody’s business."

She moved back to L.A. for the premiere of the 1999 comedy Detroit Rock City, which marked her Hollywood debut. Chriqui soon made friends and has been living there ever since, but still harbors a small-town fear of the West Coast party scene.

“I have seen people go down that path [of drugs and alcohol],” said Chriqui. “I’ve worked with Edward Furlong, Cameron Douglas—several people who I’ve adored who really, really struggled. It was heartbreaking to be so close to these people and love them so much and feel so helpless. Addiction is a scary thing to watch someone go through.”

"I always describe my career as something where nothing ever popped overnight."

Following a string of supporting roles in small films, Chriqui caught her big break when she was cast as Sloan McQuewick, the gorgeous love interest of Vincent Chase’s best friend/conscience/manager, Eric (Kevin Connolly), on Entourage. It was initially supposed to be a three-episode arc, but the show’s audiences and producers were so captivated by Chriqui that she became a recurring character in seasons 2–5, and then a cast regular in seasons 6 and 7.

“Initially the role was this Beverly Hills WASPy type, but [creator Doug Ellin] wanted whatever essence I had,” said Chriqui. “That role was important for me because people could see that I can be the everygirl, even though I have darker skin and dark eyes.”

Chriqui has often battled against Hollywood’s white-girl obsession, epitomized by Vanity Fair’s infamous “Fresh Faces of 2010” cover, which featured the likes of Kristen Stewart, Emma Stone, and Carey Mulligan … and not a single woman of color.

“They were all white girls—and I mean white,” said Chriqui with a laugh. “It’s incredibly frustrating when they’re just not sure where to put me. I’m a little too exotic or I just don’t match the family. I’m constantly up against it, and every so often, something like Entourage happens where it just doesn’t matter, or it plays to my advantage.”

Another instance where it played to her advantage was in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, marking Chriqui’s first lead role in a major Hollywood film. She played Dahlia, the Palestinian love interest of Adam Sandler’s titular Mossad superagent in the blockbuster film. That same year, she portrayed Revetta Chess, the wife of Adrien Brody’s character, in the underappreciated musical biopic Cadillac Records.

Now that they’ve wrapped filming on the seventh and final season of Entourage, Chriqui is looking to branch out into different roles. She had a three-episode arc on the racy Showtime series The Borgias, based on the influential Italian dynasty of the 1400s, and stars as a Georgian girl in Five Days of War—a Renny Harlin–helmed political thriller about the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. The film was shot on location in Georgia, which was a far cry from the Hollywood Hills.

“I learned that I absolutely hate gunfire!” said Chriqui. “I remember I had some casings from the bullets that hit me in the arm, and I had bruises everywhere. I got knocked in the head with a rifle. It’s hilarious how opposite this and Entourage is, but that was part of the thrill of it.”

She’s currently starring in the off-Broadway play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a collection of vignettes about clothes and flings from Nora and Delia Ephron, and has been quietly dating a man outside the industry. There’s even talk of an Entourage movie, which Chriqui says there’s “real discussion about” and she “really believes it’s going to happen.”

“I always describe my career as something where nothing ever popped overnight. It was just a steady climb upwards,” said Chriqui. “I feel as though now I’m still in the game after all this time, and I’ve seen people come and go and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I remember auditioning with them ... And I’m still here!’ As a woman you pray for longevity in this career. It’s been frustrating but interesting, and I feel like things are just about to get started now.”