Maria Menounos

On taking action, rescuing dogs, and relaxing at the dentist

I consider myself to be a busy person. A juggler. A multitasker. Or, at least, I did. That all changed when my phone rang and it was Maria Menounos on the other end. Special Correspondent with Access Hollywood, contributor to The Today Show, correspondent for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, host of Hollywood Green, film producer, entrepreneur, author, humanitarian, and passionate animal issues advocate, Maria taught me a lot in a single hour. Like, for a truly busy person, there’s nothing more relaxing than a trip to the dentist.

MD: So, you’re a bit of an underachiever. Don’t you ever get the urge to actually do something with your life?
MM: I know!
MD: You’re originally from Greece?
MM: My parents are. I was born just outside of Boston.
MD: Is it true you didn’t speak English until the third grade?
MM: Well, it was probably more like the first grade when I really started getting a grasp of it. My parents didn’t speak any English. I taught them.
MD: I understand you worked as a janitor in nightclubs? Do you think that explains your work ethic?
MM: Yeah, definitely. We did that as a family. My parents couldn’t afford babysitters so they brought us with them to the nightclubs. It was just out of necessity. From the time I was old enough to hold a broom, that’s what I did. But I made it fun. I would have little competitions to see how fast I could put the trash bags in the trash barrels. I would bring my roller skates and listen to Material Girl. I learned how to work hard from a young age.
MD: What is it about a hectic schedule you gravitate towards today?
MM: I’ve always found I’m happiest when I’m red-lining. Even though in the moment you’re freaking out, you’re so excited about the accomplishments. And for me, right now [in addition to on-air work], I’m producing a feature film, writing a book, and I just launched an eco-clothing line called LIV GRN. Every minute of my day is jam packed until midnight. I am so blessed to be able to do all this—to be healthy enough to do all of this—and to have the opportunities. I don’t know how long all of this will last, so I might as well cram it all in and get the most out of it. You never know what tomorrow brings. So if I want to pull my hair out once every month or two, so be it.
MD: You sound pretty convivial for someone who’s redlining.
MM: I had a dentist appointment before this and it was like a vacation. I got to sit in the dentist chair and watch TV. I was like, this is amazing! I never get to sit down for two hours and watch TV.
MD: Ahh, the dentist. It’s like a facial for your teeth.
MM: Exactly!
MD: You remain the only journalist to conduct an interview with the entire Obama family. What did that interview mean for you?
MM: It rounded off six months of interviews with candidates and their kids. When I finished the Obama interview, I remember going to the airport, and my eyes were welling up because they were really genuine people. They were genuinely warm. And the kids were absolutely darling. I loved them. For me, it was just a really nice end to months of these interviews.
MD: At 22, you were one of the youngest people to host Entertainment Tonight. What advice can you offer when it comes to achieving dreams?
MM: My dad always used to say that you could do whatever you put your mind to. And growing up cleaning nightclubs, I had nowhere to look but up. So I believed him. If you put your mind to it, and stick with it, and know that it’s not always going to be easy…you’ll get there.
MD: Can you tell us about Take Action Hollywood?
MM: My motivation to start Take Action Hollywood was a trip to South Africa. I did a three-part series on the AIDS epidemic. It was an emotional trip. I came back and realized there was something bigger I could do. So I co-founded Take Action Hollywood with my business partner. Our mission is to raise social awareness through the entertainment industry—a pooling together of the resources of Hollywood. To get people talking and to contribute. I wanted it to be an umbrella for many social causes. I didn’t feel comfortable with it being about one thing when I’m passionate about so much.
MD: What animal issues are closest to your heart?
MM: All of them! But pet adoption is the biggest. I really try to encourage people to rescue rather than purchase dogs. When I first came to LA, I didn’t know there was this huge pet overpopulation problem, but I started volunteering at the Humane Society, got a posse of dogs, and have been spreading the word ever since. Dogs bring us so much joy every single day. They deserve to be treated well. Right now, with the economy, there are so many beautiful dogs being turned in [to shelters] because families are struggling.
MD: How many dogs do you have in your posse?
MM: I used to have five. I only have four now, unfortunately. I lost my baby Noelle in January. She was a quadriplegic apricot Miniature Poodle. She was like my infant. It was horrible, I’d never lost a dog.
Right now, the four I have at home are Baby and Benjamin—they’re Bichons. I have Athena, a Poodle. And Apollo is a white German Shepherd; he was thrown out of a moving car in front of the shelter. It was tragic.
Athena’s is the real story though. I was doing a segment about puppy mills for the Today Show. As we pulled up to this shelter that had rescued dogs from a local puppy mill, I looked at my producer and made a pact with him that I would not take a dog home. So we decided we would do all the interviews outside. And who walks by me for her walk, but Athena! She was in rough shape. She was at the puppy mill for five years. She was a breeding female stuck in an over-crowded kennel. She just came over and collapsed in my arms and… she was my dog. I flew her from Pennsylvania to California. She’s an incredible girl. MD: In the movie of your dogs’ lives, who would you cast to play each of them?
MM: Apollo is brave and courageous— he has rescued my Bichons out of the pool. So we’d need an action hero who is always happy. Gerard Butler! He is gorgeous and you can tell he’d be there in a moment to save you. Benjamin just wants to be on someone’s lap. He’s very loyal and he doesn’t leave my side. Maybe Seth Rogen. Baby is… well, I guess I would play Baby. She’s an independent tomboy, but she also likes being in a princess dress. And Athena is soulful and delicate and has had so much pain in her life. Charlize Theron would be Athena; she has the depth.
MD: What do you tell people who might otherwise not consider rescue?
MM: I always tell them the myths are false. There are dogs out there that have been dumped because of horrible circumstances… people going into old age homes, or having to downsize… these perfectly wonderful animals that lived on a velvet pillow are now in the big house. I have beautiful babies that are rescues. Each of my dogs is amazing. I have a special bond with them all.

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