In Fox’s new series “The Passage,” Jewish actress Emmanuelle Chriqui plays the ex-wife of a federal agent working at a secret medical facility where doctors experiment with a cure for diseases.
The controversial show includes topics such as the prison industrial complex, child experimentation, race and medical integrity. Chriqui plays Dr. Lila Kyle, the ex-wife of Brad Wolgast, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, a federal agent working at Project Noah.
The storyline follows the relationship between Wolgast and Amy Bellafonte, a 10-year old African-American girl, whose DNA is the key to saving the human race from a man-made virus. Wolgast turns to Dr. Kyle, his ex-wife, for help when his conscience gets the best of him, stopping at nothing to keep Bellafonte, played by Sinayya Sidney, out of harm’s way.
“The Passage” is shot in Atlanta and while here at SCAD aTVfest, Chriqui took time to talk to the AJT about her role, the show, her Judaism, and what she likes most about the city. She said there’s nowhere on earth like Atlanta.
“I love it here; I think it’s a cool, interesting place to be. I lived by Ponce City Market and I love Inman Park,” Chriqui said. “Culturally it’s such an interesting place.”
Chriqui is known for her roles as Sloan McQuewick in “Entourage,” Lorelei Martins on “The Mentalist” and Dalia in “Don’t Mess with The Zohan.” She said she chose “The Passage” role because she gets to show the world other aspects of her work.
“Lila really spoke to me because it’s a really different role in a genre piece,” Chriqui said. “The connection the audience is going to have is her and Mark and Saniyya’s storyline because they’re the family and there’s such an emotional thread.”
In the series, Chriqui’s character is described as a ride or die, or someone known for their fierce loyalty. She is always ready to do anything for Wolgast, a characteristic, Chriqui says, she identifies with being Jewish. She says she intuitively thinks about family and her Jewish upbringing when playing Dr. Kyle.
“Lila will stop at nothing, and she’s fully committed and devoted to doing whatever she can. She’s a doctor, she’s smart and she’s kind of fierce. As the show progresses, you really see her in that role,” Chriqui says. “Certainly in my upbringing, and what I know to be true, is that element of family was everything growing up, and I feel like Lila has that.”
Deeply connected to her spirituality, Chriqui negotiates the high holidays into her contracts. “I never work Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur,” she says.
She stays connected to her Jewish roots, even visiting Israel, which Chriqui says is surprisingly laid back.
“I loved that it’s this super progressive, hippie super cool, not what you would expect country, … and the beaches.”
Chriqui’s parents were from Morocco with Spanish, Portuguese and Italian ancestry. They immigrated to Canada, where they raised three children in a modern Orthodox home. Keeping her Jewish tradition has become increasingly important because she lost both her parents. For her, observing the holidays is a way to honor their memory. Though she doesn’t attend synagogue often, she lights Shabbat candles every Friday night with Judaism being the core of her spiritual life.
“I also think that the journey of spirituality ebbs and flows and I feel like I strayed very far away before coming back to what was in my own backyard,” Chriqui says. “I think at this point in my journey, Rosh Hashanah is the new year, it’s seasonally and symbolically all the things that Judaism incorporates. I think in my quest for spirituality, I found a lot of answers in it. I really just have a deep appreciation for it.”
Now that she’s older and surrounded by “an amazing tribe,” the almond-eyed actress says she feels like she hasn’t even reached her peak. The role as Sloan in “Entourage” put her on the map, which she says created more opportunities, giving her more value in the industry. Chriqui’s career has experienced a “lovely longevity,” mostly played out on cable television, and now that she has the freedom to choose better roles, she’s taking full advantage.
“It gives me a stab at doing other things, because it’s not an A-list name, but it’s not a no name, so it gives me more opportunities. I feel like I’ve just had the opportunity to play more complex roles, which I think is giant. The older I get the better it is, and the more interesting, complex characters I get to play,” Chriqui explains. “I just want to keep going. I want to be able to be 80 years old and be like wow, I still haven’t done that and that. I love my business; I love acting and I feel so lucky to get to do what I do.”
Her role in “The Passage” is a significant step in her acting career because she is bringing to life a script that embodies several hot button political issues. The pedigree behind the project is “other level,” she says, pointing out that the executive producer is a woman.
The girl power represented combined with the political themes makes “The Passage” relevant, says Chriqui. According to her, “It’s art imitating life,” where film and television have always been a reflection of the zeitgeist.
“Television is a dinner conversation and there are so many issues in “The Passage” to discuss. … you’re talking about experimenting on children,” says Chriqui. “ I think there’s so much to talk about in all these issues and I think that’s the beauty of entertainment.”
“The Passage” airs Mondays at 9 p.m on Fox/WAGA.