Jennifer Siebel: a love of conservation
Actress Jennifer Siebel talks about
her love for conservation—and what she, in the acting community, is
doing about it. It’s beyond lip service
photographed by Charles Thompson
issue 7 of Lucire
GOT to have passion to save the world.
And, that’s become more and more clear to me as I’ve been exposed
to world leaders, thinkers, and celebrities.
For most of my life I have enjoyed
the unique opportunity of being actively involved with the dynamic
environmental organization Conservation International (CI). In high
school, I spent a summer working for them in the rainforests of
Central America and have since worked for CI in Africa, Latin America,
Europe, and at CI’s DC headquarters. Today, I remain involved in
introducing future conservationists and philanthropists to this
incredible global conservation leader.
CI is dedicated to preserving the world’s ‘Hot
Spots’, 34 regions designated as the planet’s most threatened areas.
Seventy-five per cent of the world’s mammals, birds, and amphibians
survive within this habitat which covers just 2·3 per cent of the
Earth’s surface. An estimated 50 per cent of all vascular plants
and 42 per cent of terrestrial vertebrates exist only in these Hot
Spots. Not long ago, CI began to focus heavily on the oceans and
is working diligently to protect 10 coral reef Hot Spots that have
been identified as seriously at risk of destruction.
CI was founded by one of my favourite people in
this world, Peter Seligmann. As CI’s founder, Chairman and CEO,
Peter’s vision, infectious enthusiasm, passion for conservation,
tireless energy and commitment to preserving this planet has guided
CI from a handful of dedicated individuals into one of the most
respected and powerful conservation groups in the world today.
I’ve probably been involved with CI since I first
met Peter at the age of five. My father was on the board of California’s
Nature Conservancy and Peter was working there at the time, living
in the San Francisco Bay Area. My father was looking to buy a ranch
that he could partially set aside as a conservation easement. I
recall my Dad losing a bid against Clint Eastwood and deciding to
look for property in Montana. I remember the day when my Mom, Dad,
older sister Stacey, and I flew up to Montana with Peter and went
swimming in what is now our ranch’s stream. It was pure heaven—an
old cattle ranch that since then we have nurtured back to health
and which serves as a home for not only teems of wild flora and
fauna but several farm animals. It’s probably my favourite place
on this planet aside from eastern Africa’s open plains and Botswana’s
Not long after, Peter was running the Nature Conservancy’s
international division and realized that one needed to provide economic
incentives to local communities and developing nations if one was
to have any success with conservation overseas. At the time, the
Nature Conservancy was basically buying up properties in the third
world and putting fences around it, and this wasn’t biding well
with the locals. So, Peter left the Nature Conservancy and, with
the support of a few loyal employees and board members, including
my Dad, Peter founded Conservation International.
As one of its founding missions, he determined
that conservation would only work if local communities and governments
had economic incentives to protect their natural ecosystems. CI’s
been moving and shaking up the conservation movement ever since.
Its commitment to using the best science, economics,
and politics in order to achieve its conservation goals is unprecedented.
The organization’s efforts towards team-building and cooperation
within the conservation community is breaking ground in the environmental
movement. In fact, the organization attracts some of the smartest
minds and most accomplished talent from around the world, in not
only its employees’ base but also its board members. We call it
the CI family.
So why did I leave CI and return to business school
and then enter the Hollywood arena? Maybe it’s the Gemini in me,
but I’ve always had multiple interests, and whilst business school
satisfied my curiosity in and passion for entrepreneurship, Hollywood
has always attracted me given my love of film, storytelling, acting,
singing, and dance. And, there is something so powerful about this
entertainment medium … Sure it’s escapist, but you can transform
someone’s energy, their emotions, just like that, through film.
You can give them hope, you can inspire them, you can educate them.
You can do many negative things as well, but there is so much potential
for this medium to effect positive change on this planet.
In all seriousness, I saw the success that Harrison
Ford had in terms of raising dollars for CI and increasing its awareness
around the globe. I thought to myself: I have always loved acting;
maybe I can combine my passions, and if I achieve any level of success,
be a role model and mentor to young girls and women around the world
(and men if I’m lucky), and demonstrate the importance of charity,
activism and giving back. Maybe I can motivate people to be the
best they can be. Maybe I can even tell stories as an actress, writer,
or producer that highlight women of tremendous bravery, strength,
accomplishment, or integrity; maybe I can inspire a young girl in
an impoverished third world country to educate herself, challenge
herself, and ultimately leave her mark on the world. Maybe I can
be involved in a larger movement that seeks to bring about change
in the world, change for the better, a world full of peace, love,
and joy … a world less violent, less greedy, less harsh.
Am I a dreamer? Sure. But, strangely, I think
people in Hollywood are becoming more and more open to and supportive
of others coming into town and trying to make a difference via this
medium. We’ve certainly seen an influx of movies with a social conscience
or message being greenlit. My dear friend Jeff Skoll (of eBay acclaim
and founder of Participant Productions) is doing just that and he’s
got major Hollywood players signing on to make and participate in
his films. Who says you can’t make movies with a message?
They have been making them for years and not necessarily
calling them that, but I suppose with the current state of the world—global
tendencies towards violence, materialism, and abuse of power—there
is a greater need for material that educates, encourages, and inspires
its audiences to make a difference, make the world a better place.
And, as our world becomes smaller, and cultures clash and bump into
one another, it’s even more important that various voices and perspectives
are shared and told such that there isn’t one ideal, but a global
embracing and acceptance of it all.
That said, when asked if a celebrity status helps
with conservation causes and whether it endows them with "cool",
I suppose it’s obvious. The answer is yes. Look at Harrison Ford,
Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, etc. Does it make them
"cool"? Clearly it makes them more interesting.
Having a life outside of work creates balance.
Add to that a passion or a hobby outside of the business, and I
would think one would be more well-rounded, a tad saner and certainly
happier. God knows you’d go insane (and many do) with so much focus
on oneself. The ego is huge in Hollywood and being such a narcissistic
business, it requires strength of character to not get sucked in.
There tends to be a get-famous, get-rich-quick mentality, and people
are known to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. Then
there is that follower mentality where once one is famous, many
people surrounding you appear to be "yes" men, enabling the celebrity
to lose all sense of reality and normalcy.
I actually get why some of my favourite movie
stars have homes overseas, or in New York, Montana, Wyoming, etc.
These homes away from home are necessary to cultivate their creative
spirits, rejuvenate them, give them a sense of community, normalcy,
and balance. By the way, I get that as an entrepreneur (which I
think you ultimately have to be to get ahead in this business),
that you have to be laser-focused. And, despite my proclivity for
variety, I am extremely guilty of just that. One may call it selfish,
but I’d prefer to classify drive and being an entrepreneur as different.
Now, I suppose some celebrities choose a cause
for reasons unnatural to me, but I know artists in general are passionate
people. So if they are real artists and not just fame seekers, I
would imagine they truly care about that which they are backing.
Case in point, one of my close girlfriends, role models and favourite
people in this business is Daphne Zuniga. Daphne achieved a level
of success early on in her career with The Sure Thing and
Melrose Place. Since then, she has turned her attentions
to various causes related to the environment, including writing
articles for Oprah on mercury poisoning and getting involved
with organizations such as Waterkeeper Alliance and NRDC. And her
career is still kicking and screaming with the success of a recurring
role on American Dreams and a new TV show called Beautiful
What does that say to me? Really that you can
do it all and that you can turn your celebrity into something that
is not only entertaining but good for the world. Daph happens to
be one of the healthiest, wisest, most interesting women I know.
And, am I grateful to have her in my life! She’s a true leader.
And I am grateful to have her in my life. I really don’t know many
actresses in this business who are as special as her. I hope others
will follow her example. I know she inspires me!
And, I guarantee with the success of her new TV
show, that she will be inspiring many more girls out there in the
At the end of the day, it all comes back to passion.
It’s contagious and if you love life and love what you do, and are
doing something for other people, you are bound to be successful
and leave your mark on the world. At least that is what I am trying
for: to help make the world a better place. •
Siebel was originally proﬁled in a 2004 issue of Lucire.
Her ofﬁcial site can be found at www.jennifersiebel.com.
She currently stars in the romantic comedy The Trouble with Romance.
Above: Jennifer Siebel in Maggie Norris
Couture dress, with jewellery by Helen Yarmak. Left: In Alessandro DellAcqua.
Sure it’s escapist, but you can transform someone’s
energy, their emotions, just like that, through ﬁlm. You can give
them hope, you can inspire them, you can educate them. You can do
many negative things as well, but there is so much potential for
this medium to effect positive change on this planet