Celebrities love to attach themselves to higher causes. Leonardo DiCaprio goes green with Al Gore, Angelina Jolie hops the baby train to international adoption, and Pam Anderson gets naked for PETA (not that she needs much convincing).
Now MTV Canada is feeling the We Are The World vibe. Eight-part homegrown documentary series 4Real (Mondays, 8 pm) sends stars into the globe’s strife-torn hot spots to focus our attention on something besides what they’re wearing.
Cameron Diaz discovers there’s something about the Peruvian Andes, Joaquin Phoenix walks the line in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, and Eva Mendes hitches a ride to, um, Vancouver? Strange as it sounds, the city’s Downtown Eastside (known for homelessness, drug abuse and prostitution) is one of the most depressed parts of the country, and Mendes visits with community leader Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society.
Airing in 166 countries and in 53 different languages, the series, exec produced by Phoenix, will make money. Profits from the show are being split with the featured communities.
NOW spoke by phone with series co-creator Sol Guy and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who travelled to remote regions of Haiti.
How did the series come about?
Sol Guy: We were inspired to bridge the gap between entertainment and activism in ways we could all feel good about and that wouldn’t make your stomach turn. These kinds of shows have a history of missing the mark horribly. We decided to focus on meeting young leaders around the world who are working at the grassroots level to affect change in their communities. The celebrity aspect just sheds a brighter light on it.
Flea, you became involved through your friend Joaquin Phoenix, right?
Flea: Yeah, he thought this show was important and that I should get involved. I had the idea of going to Haiti. I’d read a lot about it and was fascinated by it. When I went, I was afraid, I was fascinated, I was excited and I was completely exhausted from being in the middle of a world tour. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Given your rock and roll lifestyle, it must have been very grounding.
Flea: I work as a musician for a living, but I don’t live a celebrity party life. When you meet people who have nothing, who are starving, who don’t have health care, you find people who are close to their spirits, who know themselves so well and are welcoming and kind. That’s grounding. I can’t walk in anybody’s shoes but my own, but I think it would be an equally powerful experience for anybody.
As a father, seeing children struggling to survive must have a very strong impact.
Flea: Yes, in every way – as a parent, as a friend. Kids are the same wherever you go. They’re learning, developing, finding fun where they can. They’re also facing enormous challenges in a way my daughter never will. Getting something to eat is not a major issue for her. These kids play soccer, and if they don’t have a ball they roll up some socks.
Sol: They’re taking care of each other in the best way they know how. Poverty is Zen, because you must deal with what is in front of you, in the moment.
How did the experience change you?
Flea: It changed my life by making me want to stay in touch with a reality outside my own. I started to think, why is my life so complicated? I need to start getting rid of stuff and live simpler, concentrate on the core values of my life.
This could easily have turned into a Sally Struthers commercial, but it doesn’t.
Sol: It’s very easy to show up and shoot the starving child with flies in his eyes, but you need to reflect the life and dignity of these people. They’re not just waiting to die. They are alive and engaged in living, and we need to show that, too.