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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 09/23/2009

Catching Up with a Greener Mario Van Peebles

By Liz Kelly

Mario Van Peebles. (Getty Images)

You may know Mario Van Peebles from his turn as Malcolm X in "Ali" or perhaps from one of his many TV roles (he's been on everything from "All My Children" to "Law and Order" and, most recently, "Damages"). Or maybe you remember him as the star of 1985's "Rappin'" or the director of 1991's "New Jack City?"

Courtesy of his mom and eco-conscious pals like Ed Begley Jr., Van Peebles is turning over a new, greener leaf. On Sunday his new show, "Mario's Green House," premieres at 6 p.m. ET on TV One. The show chronicles Van Peebles on his quest to reduce his family's (wife Chita and their five children) environmental impact. With President Obama's renewed focus on climate change, the show couldn't come at a better time.

Last week, I talked to Van Peebles about the show and his approach to environmental activism. Read the interview after the jump.

Liz: When did you start making green choices for your lifestyle and family?

Mario Van Peebles: I didn't. Initially my mother imposed them on us ... I was going to peace and freedom stuff and save the earth stuff with her and radical '60s Panther stuff with my dad [director Melvin Van Peebles]. I had really hip, out there parents. I didn't have Ozzie and Harriet at all.

Liz: So this was a subtext to your childhood?

Van Peebles: Yes, but then [my mother] met Ed Begley and fell in love with him. She'd say, "Why can't you be more like Ed?" And then what happened was ... I took my kids to see "An Inconvenient Truth" and as we were leaving my one son turned to me and said, "The world's coming to an end and I haven't even had a cocktail yet." So I thought this is 90 minutes of very heavy stuff and if we're not going to throw our hands up we need to focus on solutions. So how do you take a colossal bummer like climate change and make it bite sized?

They [kids] are going to be on this planet longer than us, so we talked about what if we could take a subject like climate change and put it in a pop framework -- a show with a crazy, fun, different kind of family and in each episode break it down. So you deal with water in one -- each one has a subject. We're clearly the learning family, not the know-it-all family. So we make mistakes and there are budget concerns.

So it was all this stuff we were bumping our heads on in real life and we wondered is there any way to have some fun with this and that became the basis of the show.

Liz: The premiere episode touches on diversity issues. Has the minority community been under-served by the green movement?

Van Peebles: It's more an income issue than a color issue. You can be doing the right thing and not understand there's a disconnect between how we live and how it affects the environment. So we do everything society tells us to do -- get the car, get the job -- and we don't understand the disconnect until climate change gets so bad and the levees break and you're in the 9th Ward and your home gets washed away.

So the people who tend to get hit first and worst are often African-American, Hispanic and lower income white folks. They're in the areas where the cell phone towers are, where the toxic dumps are, where the levees tend to break, where there are low taxes bases and a disproportionate amount of per capita pollution. So those people tend to think "I'm just trying to get my kid to school, I can't think about being green." Unfortunately that's not still an option. We're all in it together.

Liz: So what should we expect from "Mario's Green House?"

Van Peebles: That it's fun to be green -- that's much more powerful than saying "If you don't put in this fluorescent light bulb the world will blow up."

By Liz Kelly  | September 23, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Catching Up With..., TV  
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Mario's son has coined a motto for our time:

"The world's coming to an end and I haven't even had a cocktail yet."

Posted by: byoolin1 | September 23, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

But Kemit was still right. It isn't easy being green.

Posted by: reddragon1 | September 23, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

you interviewed mario van peebles and didnt ask the important question?

In Highlander III - you were buried in a cave by a rockslide for thousands of years... why did you dig yourself out?

We really need to look over your question list ahead of time Liz...

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | September 23, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Can I say that I love Mario's parents? It's so nice to hear about a famous kid of famous parents growing up not only normal, but thoughtful and productive.

Nice contrast to the Morning Mix.

Posted by: mdreader01 | September 23, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Melvin Van Peebles is my hero. Straight up.

The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

Posted by: gbooksdc | September 23, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Just heard an interview with him on Tell Me More. It was good.

Posted by: MzFitz | September 23, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

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