Help Maggie Q Save Rhinos From Extinction

It’s the middle of the day when Paul, the Editorial Director of Milk, tells me that in an hour I’ll have to go to the 8th floor to interview actress Maggie Q and photographer Greg Kadel, who have been shooting a new campaign for WildAid. Usually impromptu assignments can be overwhelming, but I’m incredibly excited for this feature, since it’s something I’m passionate about myself.

WildAid is one of the largest organizations dedicated to the protection and welfare of animal and environmental rights, so it only makes sense that Maggie Q – a woman who is as passionate about activism as she is about acting – would be amongst the faces of their new campaign. The photos target the Asian consumer, and aim to demystify the qualities of poached products like rhino horn and elephant ivory, which for years have been built upon erroneous ideas of luxury and magical (and often aphrodisiacal) qualities. Other campaign stars include Virgin founder Richard Branson and Chinese actor Li Bingbing.

“Thanks for doing this!” Maggie, who is as beautiful as she is intelligent, tells me as we sit down in the studio. She’s eating vegan sushi from Chelsea Market, and we immediately bond over our love of it. I tell her I’m happy to talk to her, since I’ve been a vegetarian for 8 years, and this is an issue close to my heart. “Yay! So this is perfect,” she says, as Kadel sits nearby, chilling with a beer after a day of shooting.

Maggie Q for WildAid.

I know you’re a big animal activist, but how did you get involved with WildAid?

MQ: WildAid actually approached me about seven years ago. I’m American, but I started my career, somehow, overseas in Asia. I was in this unique position where I had a voice in that market, which is the biggest consumer market in the world, and then I was building it in the United States. They saw it as a bridge between the two, and decided that I would be a good voice based on my background and the groups that I’ve worked with, and the things I care about. And they were right; it’s a perfect fit. Asian consumers are the most destructive consumers in the world because in numbers, when they decide something, they can do massive damage to the planet – and they are. My passion for WildAid is that they’re a consumer-based targeted organization that is trying to bring demand [for poached products] down through educational campaigns, which is really the only way right now. We can’t be on the ground saving every elephant, we can’t be in the oceans policing every shark that’s fished out – we can’t do it, it’s too big.

GK: Maggie’s been a close friend of mine for years. I’ve never met anyone with such a sense of rescue and fair treatment of wildlife and humanity. She’s the real deal, and really emotional about all of this stuff. I would do anything to help her accomplish that.

What was the catalyst that made you pursue a vegan lifestyle?

MQ: Compassion for the animals and cruelty is definitely number one, but the other thing is the environmental impact when people contribute to industries that are absolutely the number one destroyer of our planet. That’s not deniable anymore – the information is there. For me it’s global, it’s big picture, it’s not just the micro idea of having compassion for one or many animals; if we want the animals to sustain, we cannot eat meat at the level that we do. It’s not possible.

Maggie’s ad in a subway.

“I think that what people need to understand is that it’s not the one specific thing that they can do, it’s do anything.”

Absolutely, and there are a lot of small-scale things that people can do to have a huge impact, like Meatless Mondays. What would you say is the easiest change somebody who’s trying to take that leap can make?

MQ: I love the idea of Meatless Mondays, because I think that when something’s gradual and you can build up to the conviction then that decision tends to last longer. If people can gradually figure out that a certain lifestyle will genuinely feel better – not just about the decision you’re making to be compassionate, and the decision you’re making for the planet, but [that these decisions] actually [make you] feel better in your body – then they’ll stick to it. There’s really no person I’ve ever taken out for a vegetarian meal that afterwards said, “I feel disgusting, I feel worse than I did when I ate a burger yesterday” (laughs).

I think that what people need to understand is that it’s not the one specific thing that they can do, it’s do anything. If you can give it up one day a week, or one day a month, if you can give it up twice a week…the impact that you’re making on the environment is so big. I really want to inspire the consumer, because I think the consumer has been marketed to very unfairly for many years by a very powerful industry, and they’ve taken away our power without us even knowing it. Spending power is everything.

Greg, you’re mostly known for your fashion photographs. How do you think that fashion can have a marriage with environmental and animal rights?

GK: A lot of fashion people came out for this cause. You can look at the call list, and there are so many people contributing their day and doing it for the right reasons. Not only that, but I’ve seen some of the celebrity list and there’s tons of A-List people that are contributing. To me, it kind of goes hand in hand.

Would you ever refuse to work on a fashion story that was using poached products, such as ivory?

GK: I was very clear with Maggie that I’ve shot fur and that it’s in my portfolio. I didn’t want it to be a conflict, but the great thing about her is that she says, “That’s your decision, but if you can help me in my cause that’s incredibly helpful.” I absolutely would not shoot ivory; I think it’s just disgusting. Unfortunately fur does get snuck into fashion shoots, but ivory and any sort of big game hunting would be a no-go for me.

Maggie, you have such a prolific career in both television and film. What is the biggest difference from working in either, and which one do you prefer?

MQ: There’s pluses and minuses to both. Essentially the process is the same as an actor: you’re telling a story and you show up to set. Television, though, takes up your entire life. With movies, there’s a lot more freedom and you can move in and out and do different projects you like. However, with Television you get to build on a character over years, and that’s very interesting and very fun to do. But I think any actor will tell you that the dream is always to do film after film, because you can have breaks and you feel like you can have some semblance of a life (laughs).

What’s the last movie you watched?

MQ: Beast of No Nation. It’s fabulous, you need to see it. What these streaming channels are doing now is having a courage that studios can’t really have because they need a rating and they’re looking for a certain demographic. Netflix and Amazon are just making stuff because they’re doing what they’re passionate about, so it’s less filtered and it’s a bit more raw and real.

I know a goal of this campaign is to teach that there is no medicinal magic to these products.

GK:  The molecular makeup of ivory is that of a fingernail, so we’re spoofing that. One of the image types is all the celebrities biting their fingernails, and they’re basically saying, “If you want to kill this magnificent animal for the horn that suspiciously looks like an erection and is made as an aphrodisiac, it’s ridiculous, because it’s just like biting your nail.” They’re trying to dispel these myths, most of which are unfortunately for weird rich men who think that it’s an aphrodisiac. There hasn’t been a campaign like this in Asia, so there’s gonna be billboards everywhere.

What is your spirit animal?

MQ: I asked a Native American friend of mine how you know when it’s your spirit animal and he said it’s just something that you feel inside of you. I’ve always had this thing with wolves, where when I look at them something about us becomes one. I don’t know what that’s about, I’m not completely sure; there’s a mystery to them that I find fascinating.

All photos courtesy of WildAid. Visit their website for more information on the rhino horn trade.

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