Erika Christensen bounces into Café Rodeo at the Luxe Hotel dressed casually chic. Her hair is pulled up on her head, and, like a magnet, her engaging smile draws everyone near. She has a sweet cherub-like face that looks much younger than her 30 years—lucky her. The staff begins to notice her as that actress—you know the one—and the buzzing begins.
The Seattle-born star, who plays Julia Braverman-Graham on NBC’s Parenthood, is dressed in a Steven Alan men’s heather gray button-up, a pair of vintage Chloe sling-back platforms, and a loose-fitting Riller and Fount skirt (that she unashamedly wrestles completely around to read the label). She waxes lyrical of the shows extremely diverse viewership, “That’s one of the most rewarding and amusing things about it. It seems that no matter who you are, you can relate to some part of his group of characters. The actors are so damn talented it’s a joy and major source of pride to work with everyone from Craig T. to Dax and Sam Jaeger to the remarkable Monica Potter and Mae Whitman.”
I ask what's in her Tory Burch handbag and pulls items out one by one, editing as she goes. “Here are some YSL sunglasses, airplane pretzels, receipts, L’Oreal lip-gloss (in Cardinal Plume), and L’Oreal Voluminous mascara. There’s a packet of Justin’s peanut butter, an afro-pick, and some Truvia sweetener.”
Most know Erika from her spot-on performance as Caroline Wakefield in the 2000 crime drama Traffic. In one unforgettable scene, her father, played by Michael Douglas, catches a hooked-on-heroin, drugged-out Caroline in a seedy flat about to do the deed for drug money. The 17-year-old Erika nailed it, like she really was on heroin, or at least extremely drunk. “I did research. I spoke to an ex-user who spent his life overseeing the Narconon drug rehab. I had a lot of questions. If I do a line of coke, how long does it take before I feel it? What does it feel like? What does it look like? How long does it last? When I come down, what does that feel like? What does that look like? It’s funny because it is sooo far from my reality. To me, Tylenol is a drug—which I only did once, when I crashed on my bicycle.”
You also won’t catch this starlet with a Bellini in her hand or any OTC drugs in her medicine cabinet. She attributes not drinking and staying in the Los Feliz area—far from Robertson and Rodeo Drive—as the reasons you won’t find TMZ cams stalking her.
Chalk Erika’s beautiful, clear skin up to a lot of nothing—just good genes. “I do absolutely as little as possible. I wash my face with water. I used the products you gave me today [at the shoot we gifted her with some Sircuit Cosmeceutical products]. The cleanser and the scrub and dry oil. It was all very nice. I also wear very little makeup.”
Like all young women who don’t need Botox—yet—and talk of growing older gracefully (yeah, okay, let’s revisit this in ten years). “I feel like I’ve looked 12 my whole life. So hopefully, some day I won’t look like an old 12-year-old, I’ll look like a woman.”
When asked for her most embarrassing fashion moment, she perks up like she’s been waiting for this question all afternoon. She drops her fork, claps her hands and says, “I have it! So I was wearing a bikini top and a skirt, and Jacob the Jeweler was there with all his crazy bling. So I was joking around and I put them on—all of them. I had all these chains down to my belly button—and bracelets, watches and rings,” she says, fanning her hands as if all are covered in jewels. “What was really the nail in the coffin, was when I started making gang signs,” she says cringing, “And then this story comes out about ‘white people who think they’re black.’” The photo, by the way, is still on the internet to haunt poor Erika in perpetuity.
The lucky man in Erika’s life is Cole Maness, a bit of a celebrity in the cycling community. An avid cyclist herself (yes, she’ll admit to wearing the full-nerd Lycra getup), the two met at a bike race. “He knew who I was, and I knew who he was, so both of us were playing it cool and wouldn’t talk to each other.” So, as any modern relationship goes nowadays, Erika got in touch with Cole via Twitter. Long story short, it took him about three weeks to finally ask her out. Trouble was, she was in New York. Finally, while back in California, she pulls a pretty ballsy texting move. She messages Cole, referring to him in the third person with, “I wonder if I can trick Cole into asking me out to dinner.” Erika attributes the text to one thing: “Being willing to get hurt in love. I’ve been very willing to put myself out there. I’ve even given my number out to strangers. I’ve pursued people.” Cole got the message and the pair has been together for two years since—recently they moved in together.
Erika says she owes her dauntless attitude toward vulnerability to her lifelong Scientology training. Both her parents have been involved since they were young. “I knew with my religion that I could fix myself up no matter how badly I got hurt. If I got my heart broken I would be able to fix it and go on. So that allows for a kind of fearlessness artistically, and in love, and in life in general.”
So what is the deal? With all the good it’s done for Erika and her family, why does her controversial religion get such a bad rap? “Fear of the unknown. It’s so funny because you can go to Barnes and Noble and read Dianetics for like eight dollars. But if you don’t care to learn about it, then you’re left with this unknown. Also, it’s fashionable to make fun of things.”
Not knowing much about it myself, I’ve wondered if Scientology is based on faith, but Erika quickly sums it all up with a food analogy. “My understanding of the word ‘faith’ is ‘belief without proof,’ so then I would say no, Scientology is not a faith. Scientology is like baking a soufflé. Here’s the recipe, check it out, you’ve made a soufflé—good for you. If you ruin the soufflé, then go back and check the recipe. But otherwise, it’s not like I believe that there will be a soufflé—there’s nothing theoretical about it. So then people can hold whatever beliefs they choose about their views on God. I know there are Christian Scientologists, Jewish Scientologists, and a lot of Muslim Scientologists.”
On the joy of cooking, this vegetable-loving girl takes it up a notch. “The fantasies I would have about men would be cooking for them. Here’s one: I’m making French toast in ‘his’ New York City apartment with pomegranate arils and maple syrup on top. We must assume I’ve spent the night there, since I’m making breakfast. And of course, he loved it. I don’t want to say who he is—I would be too embarrassed. It would be hilarious, but it would be too soon. So give me ten years. We’ll do this interview again when I’m 40. We’ll revisit Botox and my cooking fantasy, okay?” Okay.
Food: This is too practical an answer, but…eggs. I can eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Poached, over-medium, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled, frittatas, omelets, and tarts, with savory goat cheese. I love eggs!
Restaurant: The Gorbals. Founded and chefed by Ilan Hall. It’s really creative and adventurous. If you’re looking for something light or vegan, this isn’t the place. It’s Scottish-Jewish, but I don’t know what that means. It’s comparable to Animal.
Candy: Dark chocolate. I’m into Dagoba.
Quote: “To infinity and beyond!”
Vegetable: Brussel sprouts
Color: Gray or turquoisy minty green
Movie: Fight Club
Actor: Mark Ruffalo
Musician: Nina Simone
Places: Griffith Park or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. “When you see something so beautiful, so overwhelming, you cry. To me, that’s what spirituality is.”
Art Director: Stephen Kamifuji
Photographer: Andrew Matusik / AndrewMatusik.com
Stylist: Amy Astar / AmyAstar.com
Makeup: John Stapleton / AimArtist.com using MAC Cosmetics
Hair: Judd Minter / AimArtist.com for Sebastian Professional
Manicure: Elisa Wishan / The Rex Agency for Butter London
Stylist Assistant: Guido Morales, Jr.
1st Photo Assistant: Bryant Walton
2nd Photo Assistant: E’Starr Vilson
Post Production: digitalretouch.net
Location: Aesthesia Studios, Culver City / aesthesiastudios.com