Elizabeth De Razzo

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Upward Bound

Elizabeth De Razzo’s Infatuation With a Female Character and a TV Show Develops Into an International Outreach to Those in Need
by Dann Dulin

Photo by Russell Baer
Elizabeth De Razzo’s character, Maria Janowski, in the HBO series, Eastbound & Down, is from Mexico, so in the beginning she didn’t speak very much until she adapted to English. In real life, though, the actor has always had plenty to say. Indeed, many of Elizabeth’s words reverberate about the organization that she co-founded.

Ms. De Razzo is a colossal X-Files fan and as a teen she was even an extra on one of the episodes. Several years later, after coming to Hollywood from her native Laredo, Texas, Elizabeth befriended the X-Files alum, Gillian Anderson, and counts her as a role model and an inspiration for pursuing acting. Enthused by Gillian’s prolific charitable contributions, Elizabeth and a couple of friends had an idea one night at dinner for a charity and started scribbling notes on a napkin. Those notes turned into the nonprofit organization IBG, which stands for, “Inspire, Believe, and Give.”

To date, IBG has dispersed over $100,000 to charities worldwide, such as Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), South Africa Youth Education for Sustainability (SA-YES), Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), and Share Our Strength: Ending Childhood Hunger in America.

“The group focuses on utilizing the power of philanthropy through the arts to benefit a wide range of organizations around the world,” Elizabeth says, one recent luminous day in Los Angeles. “IBG acts as a fundraiser facilitator. We raise money for microfunded organizations around the world by reaching out to the entertainment industry.”

The organization holds events like auctions, plays, concerts, and screenings to raise awareness for a particular charity. A recent event took place in June at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a staged reading of an original work, My Letter to Fear, a collection of personal essays, which benefitted East L.A. Women’s Center. “The essays ranged from comedic to heartbreaking,” elaborates Elizabeth. “The stories told within are ones that tap into the female perspective by offering commentary on and firsthand accounts of everything from what a woman’s worth, to finding inner peace and self-confidence, to abuse, and misguided relationships.”

IBG reaches out globally, especially for their annual All Things Marathon that took place this year from April–July. X-Files fans hosted a gathering in their town to watch the episode, “All Things” (seventeenth episode of the seventh season) plus two Gillian Anderson movies, charging $10 per person entry fee. The group that raised the most dollars would receive a personal prize from Gillian Anderson. To generate more interest, the host can be very creative by expanding his or her event to include raffles, playing games, and so on.

Elizabeth gravitates toward strong, independent women, which is what attracted her initially, as a child, to Gillian Anderson. She also considers Hillary Clinton [A&U, April 2005] among those she looks up to. (“She’s the epitome of a strong, intelligent, and independent woman.”) Several years ago, Elizabeth produced a PSA tribute entitled “Legendary,” to honor TV’s Smallville character, Chloe Sullivan, played by Allison Mack. “Chloe was written as a strong, independent role model for young women. In today’s television climate that lacks such female role models, I felt like it was a worthy project so I produced the spot for them,” she explains. “The CW aired it in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago and there was also a simultaneous campaign attached to raise money for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.”

When Elizabeth talks about her organization, IBG, she’s dynamic and passionate. “I always knew that I wanted to give back in some way and IBG was an opportunity to do just that. And the way it’s structured, I can be more involved with more worthy causes,” she boasts. “I care because I’m a part of this world and I want to have a hand in helping it change for the better by doing my own little part.”

Indeed, Elizabeth has been involved with AIDS Walk Los Angeles and attending various AIDS fundraisers over the past several years. Not long ago she filmed a PSA for Break the Silence Campaign, a product of the Positive Young People Foundation (PYP), which is a public awareness crusade that focuses on HIV prevention. On July 1, a new fundraising initiative RAFFLE365 was launched, sponsored by Fiat and the support of the organization’s partners, where for just $3.65 a month, individuals can join in on the fight to end AIDS. (For more information, visit www.breakthesilencecampaign.org.)

Elizabeth first learned about the epidemic in the film, Boys On the Side, with Whoopie Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, and Mary Louise Parker (whose character dies from complications due to HIV/AIDS). “It was very powerful for me,” reminisces Elizabeth in a strong tone. “I’m so lucky though because personally nobody that I know has died from AIDS. Still, I’ve read about how much it affects so many people. I understand that every nine seconds someone in the world is infected and that also HIV in young women is on the rise. This is so scary….”

This concerns Elizabeth immensely, as does the continuing rise of HIV in the Latino community. “It all starts with education. I know all the information can be

De Razzo’s Maria with her Eastbound & Down hubbie, Stevie (Steve Little). Photo by Fred Norris/HBO
daunting but knowledge is power,” she says, adding that her Laredo, Texas, high school AIDS-prevention education was not as extensive or informative as it could have been. “I hope that schools today are spending more time on this important topic. I think it’s time that we’re as honest as we can be with kids today. A conversation needs to begin. Kids are smart,” she stresses emphatically. “If given the proper information, I think they will make the safe choices.”

Though not currently in a relationship, Elizabeth admits that she herself hasn’t always been safe. “A few years ago, my best friend and I decided to go in together and be tested. Ever since then, I get tested about every six months.”

Eastbound & Down, which follows a major leaguer who returns to his hometown to teach phys ed, has finished filming for the season. Not one to rest, Elizabeth is now more focused on her activism. What’s her approach on HIV prevention? “With this epidemic we need to keep having conversations about it—like we are now!” she exclaims. “Television and the Internet are great tools to get the message out. When it comes to HIV/AIDS, education is key. I especially want young women to start making smarter choices. We need to take care of ourselves…and our health.”

For someone who just a short time ago landed in Hollywood (she’s racked up quite a résumé with roles on United States of Tara, Six Feet Under, and Cold Case), Elizabeth is already making a mark—not only as an actor, but as a spokesperson and humanitarian, as well. What can we expect in the future—and beyond!—from this talent? No matter which way Elizabeth goes, east, west, north, or south, the HIV/AIDS community can only benefit.

Dann Dulin is Senior Editor of A&U.

August 2012