November 21, 2018

Emmanuelle Chriqui: Comedy With a French Twist

Emmanuelle Chriqui’s credits include many television and film dramas, “The Borgias,” “Shut Eye,” “Fort Bliss,” “Killing Jesus,” and “The Mentalist” among them. But she’s most often recognized for her roles in lighter fare like the romance “In the Mix” with Usher and the comedies “Entourage” and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” She returns to the comedic genre in the sequel “Super Troopers 2,” a role she almost turned down when director-star Jay Chandrasekhar offered it.

“Though I saw and loved ‘Super Troopers,’ this is big, broad comedy. This is not my wheelhouse,” Chriqui told the Journal. But the plot about a border dispute between the United States and Canada made her laugh. And ultimately, so did the comedian-heavy cast on the set in Massachusetts. “It was a month of pure laughter. They cracked me up all day long,” she said.

In the plot, Chriqui, who is from Montreal, speaks French and French-accented English as Genevieve Aubois, a cultural attaché in the middle of the conflict. Rob Lowe, with whom she previously worked when she guest starred in his series “The Grinder,” plays her boss, the mayor. “Her storyline is pretty fun,” she said. “There are some surprises.”

Chriqui set her sights on performing “at 3 or 4. I was such a little ham, always entertaining the family. From the moment I could talk I knew I was going to be an actress, singer, dancer, artist–something in the arts,” she said. “Then when I was 7, I did my first play, and that was my ‘aha!’ moment.”

While enrolled in a performing arts high school in Toronto, she landed the lead role in a show for the youth cable channel YTV. “From that I got an agent and started doing commercials. That was the start for me,” she said.

“From the moment I could talk, I knew I was going to be an actress, singer, dancer, artist — something in the arts.” — Emmanuelle Chriqui

Chriqui, now 42, moved to Los Angeles at 20. Her parents, Moroccan Jews, passed away years ago and her older brother and sister live in Canada, but she has a close group of friends here. She has a “Shabbat crew” that gets together at least monthly, and she celebrated Passover with what she called “a liberal seder. We took a lot of the passages—like the ten plagues—and [talked about] how they applied to inequality, racism, abuse, everything that’s going on now,” she said.

“Then on the last night of Passover I went to a traditional Moroccan Mimouna. It was a joyous, festive night, with a giant food spread and music. All the doors are open on this night and people come and go,” she said. “It was so lovely and fun. It turned into a big dance party.”

Chriqui’s connection to Judaism has gotten stronger and become more important over time. “Oftentimes religion is a thing that’s imposed on us as youngsters and we have to do things that we don’t want to do. I grew up in a household that was so steeped in tradition and honoring that tradition is a way of honoring my parents’ memory,” she said. “Whether we’re practicing or not there’s this beautiful feeling of being part of the Tribe. For me, [Judaism] has always been a moral compass. I’m not religious but I’m deeply spiritual and Judaism bridges tradition and ritual with my spirituality.”

Chriqui has two independent drama films awaiting release, the “modern film noir” thriller “Hospitality” and the murder mystery “7 Splinters in Time,” in which she plays a psychologist. She also shot the pilot for a Fox dark fantasy series called “The Passage,” a post-apocalyptic vampire saga based on a trilogy by novelist Justin Cronin.

Parallel to developing her own projects to act in and produce, Chriqui hopes that meaningful roles in Emmy- and Oscar-worthy ensembles with top producers, directors and writers come her way. She’d love to get to use her French again, and is open to exploring all genres. For her, it’s “always about the material. Big comedy is scary to me,” she admitted. “But it’s something I keep doing.”

Reflecting on “the good fortune” of 26 years of employment in the career she loves, Chriqui acknowledged that she’s had “so many tremendous moments. But I feel that this just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “Moving into my forties, it’s really exciting because I’m getting to play characters that I can really sink my teeth into. I feel that it’s just beginning.”

In her off-screen life, Chriqui is “playing the single card right now,” she said. “I think about having a partner, maybe adopting kids down the line. I’m open to meeting my king.”

She is happiest “when I’m very relaxed about my career, when I’m working and creatively fulfilled and when I feel good about myself, my family and friends are healthy and there’s a sense of joy in my life,” she said.

For Chriqui, “It’s about determining what brings me joy and what doesn’t, and if it doesn’t just let it go,” she said. “That’s the ultimate for me.”