The cherubic Fiona Gubelmann is best known as Wilfred’s owner, Jenna on the FX show, Wilfred. Over the course of our friendship, I have found her commitment to animal, social, and environmental issues inspiring. Since this coming Monday, April 22, is Earth Day, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to introduce you to this adorable goofball, to ask Fiona about her favorite charities, what it’s like to live with so many food allergies, and how she tries to live a conscious lifestyle.
Q: A self-proclaimed ‘crazy cat lady,’ you are a big supporter of animal issues. What are some of your favorite organizations?
A: I love the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Not only is everyone involved amazing and kind and fun to work with, but I love that the organization tackels issues legislatively; they’re out in Washington and they’re trying to pass laws and change things here both in the U.S. and internationally.
I’m also a big fan of the awards that HSUS gives out – The Genesis Awards. It’s kind of like the Academy Awards for animal issues and animal rights, because they celebrate entertainment media and news media work–like documentarians, news shows, even comedy news shows like the Daily Show and Bill Maher, who are raising awareness for animal rights. It’s really cool to be there because I love events that celebrate people’s work to make the world a better place.
My local favorite is The Stray Cat Alliance, cuz I’m a crazy cat lady, (She laughs), but also because the woman who runs it is a saint. She dedicates all of her free time to running this organization. She has a full time job as a real estate agent, but the rest of her time is spent helping cats here in the city. She goes to inner-city areas where they offer free spay/neuter programs to reduce the feral cat problem. They have food programs where they offer cat food in neighborhoods where people can’t afford to feed their cats. They also go into all the kill shelters and find all the cats on death row and find them homes. I got one of my cats there, Tiger Lily. She was on death row. We’ve had her for seven years now, and she wakes me up every morning by kneading my belly. The thought that she could have been put down breaks my heart, so that organization is really special to me.
Q: You plugged away at acting for a long time before catching your big break, and now you’re reaping the rewards. Congratulations on the 3rd season of Wilfred! Do you find that because it did not come easily to you, that you appreciate the success more?
A: I definitely think I can appreciate the success because I worked so long and so hard for it. I know how hard it is to get it, so I don’t take it for granted. Everything I’ve had in my life I’ve had to work for: I worked through college; I had to work to buy my car. I found that you understand the value of the things that you work for and you earn, so you’re just going to treat them better and appreciate them. It reminds me of a necklace I have: The Giving Keys. Have you seen those? They’re these old keys that this artist Caitlin Crosby finds – like car keys or home keys, and she employs homeless people in Downtown LA to help make them into jewelry. Each key has a different word on it. You wear it ’til you feel like you own that word, and then you pass it on to someone else. My key says ‘GRATEFUL’, and that’s my mantra. I know how lucky and blessed I am, but sometimes that key just reminds me of that when I’m feeling unhappy, feeling jealous or feeling frustrated, that I need to be grateful for what I have.
Q: What advice would you give to younger women following in your footsteps?
A: I think the entertainment industry is such a hard industry to break in to, but I think what really makes it easier is having an amazing support system, whether it be your family or friends. I think you really need people who support you and are positive and encouraging. I think that’s true for anything you do in life. You really need people that are healthy influences, that bring out the best in you, and inspire and love you no matter what. There is so much rejection in this industry. There can be so much negativity, so I think you need people that remind you how unique and special you are.
When you go into an audition room, there may be a hundred people that look like you, and you constantly hear conflicting reasons why you do or don’t book a job: “You’re too pretty.” “You’re not pretty enough.” “You’re too skinny.” ”You’re not skinny enough.” ”You’re too this, you’re too that.” There’s always a reason you don’t get something, and rarely will you hear the reasons why you did or didn’t get it, so it’s good to remember what’s unique and valuable about you, to love and embrace that. Let that shine through. I was always trying to fit a mold and idea of ‘what they want’ but when I stopped doing that is when the shifts happened and I started working.
Q: You recently found out that you have a number of allergies including gluten. Do you need to plan your meals differently to accommodate your diet? How do you deal with situations where you don’t have as much control over the food around you, like going out to eat with friends or eating on set?
A: Basically I’m allergic to myself. (She laughs.) So, I won the golden ticket in the allergy department. At first I was really grateful to know what I was allergic to. Four years ago when I first found out that I was allergic to gluten, I thought, “FINE, I can stop eating that because now I’m not in pain anymore; I don’t feel sick anymore; this is great.” So, I didn’t care so much about giving it up, but now with all these additional allergies, it’s been a lot more challenging and a little more frustrating. It definitely makes it very difficult to eat out and makes it a challenge sometimes to even eat at home, because there are so few things that I can eat. My doctor literally handed me the list and said, “I’ve never seen this many.” So, I’m just trying to avoid the severe intolerances right now and then they’re going to re-test me.
I find that if I’m going out to eat with friends, I just need to make sure that there’s going to be something that I can eat there. I’ve learned to always have food on me, to always have protein bars or something in my purse that I know I can eat. When I work on set, even though they’re really great with me and try to accommodate me, I still like to bring my own food because at least that way I know that I’m not going to get sick to my stomach. When I’m working, I have to know, because I can’t risk getting sick and have that affect my whole day. Then I’m not performing like I want to.
Overall, it just takes more planning and time. It’s a lot of cooking. I’ve been taking cooking classes which are amazing! So on Sundays, I’ll make a lot of food that I can reheat over the course of the week. I think the only time that it’s difficult is when friends invite us over for a dinner party. I don’t want to put anyone out, and I find it kind of embarrassing. Knowing how much of a challenge it is for me to figure out what I can eat, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone to try to accommodate me when they don’t have any of those allergies. So, I usually offer to bring a dish that I know I can eat as well so I can hopefully alleviate that pressure from my host. Then it’s fun because I love cooking now and I love to try new recipes and invent things, so I try to make the best of it.
Q: How would you describe your style? What role does fashion play in your life?
A: My style is vintage-girly meets surfer-tomboy. I have always loved vintage clothing, especially since my body type is of the curvy variety, so vintage clothing tends to fit me a little better. It embraces my curves! I’ve always loved lace and feminine things. I’m definitely a girly-girl and pink is one of my favorite colors. But I also grew up on the beach by the ocean, so I’m super comfortable in just a dirty t-shirt, some shorts, flip-flops and a bikini. To me, that’s amazing.
Q: You and your husband take great care to live a socially conscious lifestyle. What are some of the choices you have made and what have you found to be the difficulties and rewards?
A: We try to buy organically. We try to buy from the farmers market. We try to live as humanely as possible. I think what it comes down to is that I have this belief that you should treat everything: people, the environment, animals, your work, everything you do, should be treated in the way that you would want to be treated. So for me, I just want to live in a way that tries to make the world a better place. I want to spread positivity and peace and love, and every action you take reflects that, so if I am walking down the street and I litter or if I’m being destructive to our environment, since we are all part of the same thing, it would just end up being destructive to myself.
Even as a vegetarian, I don’t have a problem with people eating meat. I originally became vegetarian for health reasons. I just think my knowledge of how livestock are treated has changed me. I think when it comes to people eating meat, it is important to be aware where your meat is coming from. It is factory farmed? How were the animals treated? Is it something like foie gras, where the animals are literally abused?
The difficulties are that people can really resent you for making these choices. People judge you. There is also a challenge when you really want something, but know deep down that you shouldn’t buy/eat/do that because it might be bad for the environment, or because it causes pain and suffering. Sometimes the easy way is not necessarily the moral way. Whether it’s recycling or bringing your own grocery bags, those things take work, effort and planning. And sometimes I just don’t want to do it. And it’s frustrating when you see things that are sad and you can’t do anything about it. I don’t beat myself up about not being able to do everything, I just try do my little piece. I think that you just have to know that we’re all going to do positive things in our own way. So that’s why I try not to judge people who aren’t necessarily doing the things that I’m doing, because there are people who are dedicating their entire lives to saving children in other countries and then I feel like I’m such an asshole. So you just gotta celebrate what you do and know that that’s great as long as you keep trying to do something positive or think of what you can do to improve our world. The reward is how I feel every time I save an animal or I see people that have been helped when I volunteer. It just radiates through you and your soul so that makes you feel better.
Q: How do you see your future?
A: My future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. (She laughs.) But only because I have blue sensitive eyes.
Seriously, I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun and I’m really, really excited.