On Being a Good Dude: 15 Minutes with Adrian Grenier

On Being a Good Dude: 15 Minutes with Adrian Grenier

Actor Adrian Grenier from "52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World " poses for a portrait at the Village at the Lift Presented by McDonald's McCafe during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2015 in Park City, Utah.

SourceLarry Busacca/Getty

Why you should care

Because Vincent Chase recycles. 

You’d recognize Adrian Grenier — dark features, wavy hair, blue eyes that can probably rip your clothes off — most as Vincent Chase on Entourage, the eight-seasons-long show about a douchebag film star (Vince) and his douchebag posse in a douchebag city.

But these days he’s putting his time into advocating for environmental sustainability. Sure, it can seem like every celebrity wears a philanthropic endorsement these days, like an accessory. And while some celeb efforts have been embroiled in controversy (cf. Wyclef Jean), others, like those led by Rainn Wilson and Leonardo DiCaprio, have found more success. (Grenier says he’s “been keeping an eye on” Leo as an exemplar.) This year, Grenier teamed up with Dell, and so far, they’ve executed a Tech Takeback, for recycling electronics, and produced a 360-degree underwater virtual-reality expedition for Grenier’s Lonely Whale Foundation.

OZY caught up with Grenier, who is at SXSW, to talk about the challenges of celebrity activism, the pressures to measure effectiveness and the risks of partnering with for-profit businesses. The following has been condensed and edited for clarity.

OZY: As a celebrity, where some see actors shopping around for causes as slacktivists, how do you navigate the skepticism and maximize your impact?

Adrian Grenier: I don’t let people write my speeches. I write them myself. It’s an opportunity to make sure I understand the issues and reiterate in my head so I can have a better command over what I’ve learned and what I know. It’s about having the discipline and the will to truly participate.

Just because an actor or a performer gets behind a cause, they can play a role as a spokesperson, they have a reach, but I would argue their reach would be better served if they can speak in their voice about a cause. If they’re just regurgitating messages they don’t believe, I think it gets lost. I try to speak in my own voice and what I know to be true.

OZY: How’d you come to care about recycling and reducing waste?

A.G.: My mother taught me when I was very young the valuable lesson to clean my room. I’ve taken that into adulthood, and now my room is a house, a home, a neighborhood, a community, a planet. We have to pick up after ourselves. When we throw things away, it doesn’t go away. We have to take responsibility for that. It’s not just pollution and greenhouse gases, but it’s also plastics.

OZY: Do you think social causes need to use forward-thinking approaches to raise interest, like virtual reality?

A.G.: With my work as Dell social good advocate, our mission is to find ways to use technology to improve our lives and be more effective in the social good work we do. Technology not only makes things more efficient, but also technology can help us communicate big ideas. The virtual-reality experience called “Cry Out” gives people an opportunity to dive with the Lonely Whale. It’s a way Dell’s helped me to really bring people into a fully immersive experience underwater.

OZY: Why attach yourself to a company like Dell? Who sought whom out? Did you ever think of setting out on your own?

A.G.: One of the obvious benefits of working with a company like Dell is their scalability. If they do something, it has a massive reach and a massive impact. They can put resources behind improving the world. Not only is it commendable and awesome, but it also has the potential to change the world. The impact is massive. I think we saw each other across a crowded room. It was sort of fated. I was somewhere talking and Dell was at the same conference.

OZY: How do you actually make a tangible difference? How do you measure that?

A.G.: That’s something that Dell and I have made sure of. The virtual-reality experience is one measurable result. You can see it, experience it — it’s real. We did a Tech Takeback to promote Dell’s e-recycling program through Goodwill, in which, any day, anybody can take any electronic equipment and bring it to a Goodwill to be upcycled or recycled into new computers. Overall, the lifespan of the program is quite large. We collected over three tons of e-waste in partnership with Uber and Goodwill.

OZY: Your character, Vincent Chase — does he recycle?

A.G.: I think Vince probably has other people doing that for him. I sure as hell hope he does, but I never asked him.

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