'Zohan' Star Not Just the Girl Next Door

"I'm telling you," says Emmanuelle Chriqui, leaning forward over the table at Gemma, a rustic Italian eatery. "I'm convinced that I was an Indian princess in a past life. Everybody thinks that I'm Indian."

Actually, she's French-Moroccan-Jewish, and her multiethnic look has cost the Canadian-born actress some roles.

"There have been times when I've been completely passionate about something and got beat out by the blonde," says Chriqui, 31. "And that hurts. In America, I think it's still the choice that people will gravitate to -- the girl next door."

Chriqui (pronounced "shreeky") is wearing a strapless, sarong-style dress and softball-size silver earrings. She carries amulets, chakra stones and a figurine of Hindu god Ganesh in her purse. She's the furthest thing from the girl next door, but this time it landed her a part opposite Adam Sandler in "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," out this weekend.


Sandler stars as Zohan, a top Israeli military operative who dreams of becoming a hairstylist, so he fakes his own death and flees the Middle East for New York. He finally finds work at a struggling salon owned by a young Palestinian woman named Dalia (Chriqui).

"He's a dream," she says of Sandler. "He's the nicest guy in Hollywood. He's got the biggest heart, and he just commands an enormous amount of respect. He's definitely doing something right, and you can see why audiences love him."

Flush with ethnic stereotypes, Zohan satirizes the strife between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Though the film is a comedy, Chriqui says it has a profound message.

"I want audiences to have the thought of, 'Yeah, we can coexist,'" she says. "That's what I want them to walk away with."


But she insists she doesn't want to be political.

"I came to it from a creative place, not a heavy political one," she says.

That she's Jewish playing Palestinian raised a few eyebrows, she says.

"People are right away like, 'Oh, my God, really?'" she says. "[But] I'm an actress first and foremost. So if I have the ability to portray someone Palestinian, Italian or Spanish, I'm going to do it. It's about the character."

Chriqui, who up till now has been best known as Kevin Connolly's girlfriend on HBO's "Entourage," is prepared for a profile boost if Zohan is a success.

"If the film does what Adam Sandler films do, there's a strong possibility that most anonymity will vanish," says Chriqui. "The only way I look at it is, 'Great, I wonder what roles I'm going to get to do now?' It just excites me on a career level."

But the actress, who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles, isn't leaving "Entourage" yet. She'll be back in at least one episode when the series returns in the fall.

"I don't know when or what it is yet," she says. "But yes, there's definitely room for Sloan and E to explore things."