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Exclusive Q & A: Gilles Marini at Kiehl's LifeRide for amfAR Troy, Mich.

Photos of Gilles Marini 2014 LifeRiders at Kiehl's for amfAR in Troy, Mich.-slide0
Valerie Hulet McCarty for Lori Melton

It’s quite extraordinary to see a parade of celebrities, artists and corporate leaders ride motorcade-style in the middle of the day through a busy shopping mall on decked out Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It certainly grabs attention and that’s exactly what Kiehl's Since 1851's LifeRide 5 for amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) is intended to do.

Actor Gilles Marini participated in Kiehl's Since 1851 LifeRide5 for amfAR.
Actor Gilles Marini participated in Kiehl's Since 1851 LifeRide5 for amfAR.Valerie Hulet McCarty for Lori Melton

According to the UNAIDS Fact Sheet 2014, 35 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS in 2013. Of those, 2.3 million people were living with HIV in Western and Central Europe and North America, with 56 percent of those people living in the United States.

While AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 35 percent since 2005 and the numbers of new HIV infections have decreased 38 percent since 2001, there were still 2.1 million people who became newly infected and 1.5 million people who died from AIDS-related causes worldwide in 2013.

These statistics are staggering and the fact that 240,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2013 is not only tragic, but utterly frightening.

Gains have been made, though, and a creative reflection of that came through Director Ryan Murphy’s brilliant and critically acclaimed HBO TV film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony Award-winning play “The Normal Heart,” which garnered 16 Primetime Emmy nominations this year. The film, like its source material, takes a sobering look at the onset of the AIDS crisis in the early ‘80s and the lack of education, understanding and treatment of the disease. It also makes a very pointedly drawn political statement about the government’s refusal to help fund HIV/AIDS research or fight for a cure at that time.

Thankfully, Murphy’s gripping film is a retrospective on the way things used to be. We’ve come a long way in terms of government funding, research, drug therapies and protocols, prevention education, public awareness and public perception of HIV/AIDS.

Regardless of how far we’ve come, a cure for HIV/AIDS has not yet been discovered. Until a cure is found, many lives continue to be at stake. And sadly, millions of lives are still lost. Therefore, the battle against HIV/AIDS remains urgent and Kiehl’s Since 1851 is a proud champion of the fight.

Kiehl’s has evolved over the course of its 160 years plus history from an old-world apothecary to an iconic skincare company. Maintaining that kind of longevity across more than 16 decades in virtually every kind of economic climate is an incredible feat. It arguably also says something about the company’s core values.

Beyond producing a high-quality line of skincare products featuring naturally derived ingredients, a remarkable thing about Kiehl’s is the ongoing dedication to give back to the communities surrounding their stores. Supporting children’s well-being and amfAR’s HIV/AIDS education, prevention and research are two prime examples.

Since its founding in 1985, amfAR has established itself as one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations for AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education and AIDS-related public policy advocacy.

As such, amfAR reportedly invested 366 million dollars over the course of its 25 year history, in programs which have helped generate “numerous significant advances in HIV prevention, treatment and care. These accomplishments have helped extend, improve, and save the lives of countless people around the world living with HIV/AIDS or vulnerable to HIV infection."

Now in its fifth year, Kiehl’s LifeRide puts a fun, exciting and far-reaching spin on raising funds to support amfAR’s innovative, life-saving efforts. For the second year in a row, Kiehl’s has teamed with Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals to provide motorcycles for Kiehl’s and amfAR leaders and their fellow celebrity LifeRiders for 2014’s 11 day cross-country, multi-state trek that will raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.

LifeRide 5 launched on Aug. 2 from Harley-Davidson’s headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and riders are currently blazing a 1,600 mile trail toward a New York Aug. 11-13 end, making six stops at stores along the way to meet fans and help support Kiehl’s amfAR fundraising effort. As of 2014, Kiehl’s has donated over one million dollars to amfAR.

Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

This year’s LifeRiders include Chris Salgardo President Kiehl’s USA, Kevin Robert Frost CEO amfAR, Tyson Beckford model, Ben Cohen World Cup Rugby Champion, Jay Ellis actor, Conrad Leach artist, Vanessa Marcil actor, Gilles Marini actor, Scott Niemeyer producer, Grant Reynolds actor, Katee Sackhoff actor, Milissa Sears actor, Teddy Sears actor, Jesse Lee Soffer actor and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

Envisioning the journey and actually being on hand to witness part of it are two different things and taking part in the charged-up atmosphere at one of the Kiehl’s stops for this important cause is a unique and inspiring experience.

On Aug. 6, the charismatic cyclists rode gallantly through Somerset Collection in Troy, Michigan and parked their stunning Harleys in front of Kiehl’s Somerset Collection location. The crowd cheered at their arrival and honored guests included Troy Mayor Dane Slater who proclaimed Aug. 6 as “Kiehl’s LifeRide for amfAR Day.” Michigan artist Daniel Cascardo was also on hand for a live art action experience in which the audience and the riders took turns painting on a canvas commemorating LifeRide that would be donated to amfAR. Even young little artists had fun lending a creative hand.

Watching Kiehl’s President Chris Salgardo present amfAR Vice President of Development Eric Muscatell a check for $150,000 dollars marked a victorious moment filled with more applause and cheers. The enthusiastic road warriors cheered as well and then amicably mixed with the crowd to snap photos, sign autographs and chat about the ride and the cause.

Former "Switched at Birth" star Gilles Marini is well-known for his tireless support of many different charities, including HIV/AIDS and Cancer prevention and awareness. I caught up with Gilles at the event (where incidentally, he looked incredible arriving on a shiny royal blue Harley, with jeans, a black cardigan over a Kiehl's LifeRide tee, riding boots and an American Flag scarf). He was charming, as always, with the twinkle lighting his eye when he smiled his dashing, dimpled smile. We had a short chat about the amfAR ride, Angelo’s dramatic death on “Switched at Birth” and his recent trip to France.

E: How has your amfAR ride been so far?

GM: It’s been good, we hit a little bit of rain, which is a little bit of danger factor. We’re going to do more than 1600 miles in the entire trip. Last year we did close to 2000. I’ve been driving around parts of the country that I’ve never really been, so it’s been amazing to do something of such magnitude in a place a lot of people have not talked about or seen. For me, it’s very important to pass the message in the realness of America. I think in Michigan there’s like 20,000 people with HIV. Because we have medicine that will prolong your life, people forget it’s a deadly disease. 35 million people have got AIDS (in the world) today. So, it's something that needs to be addressed and needs to be cured.

E: How many rides have you done with amfAR?

GM: This is the third one. The first one I did three years ago on the East Coast from Florida to Washington, D.C. and I stopped in North Carolina, because I was working on Switched. The second one was last year and this is the third one.

E: Speaking of “Switched,” your final episode was so brilliant, Gilles. You did such a phenomenal job!

GM: I’m very proud of the performance. Sometimes you need something drastic for writers to give you substance. I’m an actor, I’m a puppet. Give me something and I’ll do it. So you need writers to be creative, to be able to concentrate on your character and to be able to shine. Maybe fortunately or unfortunately, my character died. But, I’m very proud of the performance. I’m very happy to now be on “Devious Maids.” It’s going to be very good for you guys. It’s very meaty.

E: Has “Devious” been officially announced?

GM: If everything goes well, they’re going to announce, early September, a pick up and they would make an announcement at that time about what I’m going to do with the show.

E: You went to France recently to see your family, right?

GM: I went to see my mom, because she’s the most important woman in my life. (smiles)

E: And Georges is still there visiting?

GM: He came with me and I left him there. This bad boy told me 'Dad, this is really cool. Somehow, the girls go crazy for him over there.

E: I wonder why (laughing)

GM: I wonder why too, because here he’s not like Mr. Popular. He’s very shy and reserved. When he gets there, he says "Bon Jour," and he has an accent. So, the girls go for it. (smiling)

Visit Gilles Marini and his fellow celebrity riders, including Teddy Sears (“American Horror Story,” “Masters of Sex”), Milissa Sears (“Masters of Sex”), Jay Ellis (“Masters of Sex,” “The Game”) and Ben Cohen World Cup Rugby Champion at one of the remaining Kiehl’s LifeRide Stops.

Click here to find out more about donating to amfAR.

Follow @LifeRideNYC, @KiehlsPrez and @GillesMarini on Twitter to get updates about the rest of the 2014 LifeRide.