Costars in the excellent new movie Invictus and participants in the History Channel special The People Speak, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon have even more in common — they both care passionately about the environment and water-related issues in particular. Honored by Oceana at its annual SeaChange party in August, Freeman became concerned about the oceans via a favorite pastime. “I’m a sailor. I have a 44 ketch in the Caribbean,” he says. Damon is on a mission “to bring clean water to everybody in the world who doesn’t have it” via Water.org, which his group H20 Africa became after it merged with Water Partners International. “Every 15 seconds a kid dies because they don’t have access to clean water and sanitation. It’s staggering,” says Damon, who conscientiously conserves water at home. “My kids do, too. They get it,” he says. “They turn out the lights when they leave a room.”
Clint Eastwood’s masterfully directed Invictus casts both Damon and Freeman as real-life figures, Damon as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks rugby team and Freeman as South African political prisoner-turned-president Nelson Mandela in the true story of how the two men helped their formerly fractured country heal via sport. Damon spent six months working on his accent and with daily weight training workouts, losing the flab he acquired for The Informant! Freeman had been preparing much longer, having tried to get a Mandela film made ever since the South African leader announced he’d want Freeman to play him if his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, became a movie. Although the book was more difficult to adapt than expected, Freeman met with Mandela many times over the years, so he was ready when Invictus came his way.
Nevertheless, “I had a lot of pressure in trying to bring a character like that to life,” admits Freeman, who had picked up Mandela’s mannerisms. “The danger is caricature. The biggest challenge I had was to sound like him.” For his part, Damon signed on to work with Freeman and Eastwood and be part of an uplifting true story. “This team exceeding expectations is a metaphor for what the country needed to do. I think it’s a good thing to put out there, especially now, for the holidays,” he says.
Two days after its Dec. 11 release, Damon and Freeman take part in The People Speak, along with — to name a few — actors Sean Penn, Marisa Tomei, Sandra Oh, Viggo Mortensen, Don Cheadle, Rosario Dawson, Josh Brolin, Danny Glover, Benjamin Bratt, David Strathairn and musicians Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne and John Legend. Based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, the special brings history to life via readings. “It’s the actual documents, speeches, diaries and journal entries,” notes Damon. “It’s really powerful.”
In addition to using energy-efficient light bulbs, radiant heat “and anything we can do to try to conserve,” at home, Stanley Tucci is eco-conscious on the road. “I just bought a diesel car that can accept biodiesel. If only there were some biodiesel gas stations where I live,” says Tucci, who’s winning raves this year for two polar opposite roles. So good as Julia Child’s loving husband Paul opposite Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, Tucci is equally good as the murderous neighbor in The Lovely Bones, which opens in limited release Dec. 11, expands Dec. 25 and goes wide Jan. 15. “The more subtle he is, the more banal he is, the more terrifying he is,” says Tucc, accurately summing up the heinous Mr. Harvey.
Playing such an evil character “was hard in every respect,” says Tucci, who hesitated to take the role at first. “I have kids and I can’t really read or watch anything with kids getting harmed. I don’t like anything with serial killers.” Director Peter Jackson assured him there would be nothing gratuitous in his adaptation of Alice Sebold’s “beautiful story about an exploration of loss,” but he nevertheless had a tough time inhabiting the character, especially when he had to shoot the harrowing murder scene. “It was one of the last things I did in the movie and I was glad when it was over,” he confides, calling the part “the most difficult thing that I have ever done as an actor. I looked forward to going into the makeup trailer, taking the makeup off and having a martini at the end of every day.”
For chef Gordon Ramsay, running a green kitchen starts with energy-efficient appliances, turning out lights, and reducing waste, but it goes way beyond that. “Wastage is one of the most ignorant things to ever take place in a kitchen,” declares the Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares star. “We have designated recycle bins, we compost, and we don’t have a lot of peels — we don’t peel our carrots. We’ve allocated half the garden to growing our own vegetables,” says Ramsay, stressing the importance of setting a green example for his kids. “When kids know it’s from their back garden and they’ve planted it, they’ll never waste it. There’s a great appreciation.”
In the Fox one-hour special Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live on Dec. 15, Ramsay will show America how to make angel hair pasta with shrimp, steak Diane with potatoes and peas, and tiramisu for dessert. “Cookalong Live was a huge hit in the U.K. and it worked brilliantly because it helped to remove the stigma attached to cooking good food honestly and having a bit of fun,” the restaurateur relates, noting that the kitchen is more popular than ever. “It’s a time when everyone is short of money and there’s a lack of confidence in restaurants. Staying in is the new going out.” Of course, the volatile Ramsay, whose restaurant-saving Kitchen Nightmares returns to Fox on Jan. 29, is mindful that the special will be played live (EST). “I promise not to swear,” he says.
“I've been driving a hydrogen-fueled Chevy Equinox as part of Chevy's test program. It's awesome! I feel like George Jetson!” proclaims Ian Ziering (aka the jock Steve on the original Beverly Hills 90210), who stars with Madeleine Stowe and James Remar in the Lifetime Movie Network original The Christmas Hope, premiering Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. Ziering plays a doctor who makes a discovery key to the plot about a couple that heals from a tragic loss with the help of a child that unexpectedly comes into their lives. Ziering also has a film comedy awaiting release called The Legend of Awesomest Maximus, a sword-and-sandal spoof in which he plays a character called Testiclees.
Tune in: Following two medical mysteries ultimately traced to environmental toxins, the Planet Green special Toxic Files premieres Dec. 12 at 10 p.m. EST.
Additional photo credits: Stanley Tucci courtesy of Paramount Pictures; Gordon Ramsay by Miranda Penn Turin/Fox; Ian Ziering by Apega/Wenn.