With a name like Forest, it’s almost obligatory to be green. “I have hybrid cars, I try to keep the lights off and conserve water. And I support different [eco] organizations,” says Forest Whitaker, who joined Leonardo DiCaprio in lobbying Congress to institute more green policies. The Academy Award winner for The Last King of Scotland who is best known for his dramatic roles takes a comedic turn in Our Family Wedding (March 12), about squabbling black and Latino fathers whose dadzilla behaviors threaten to ruin their offsprings' big day.
Whitaker enjoyed his role as a sharp-dressing radio deejay, and the chance to spread a message about “community, cultures and being able to look past stereotypes.” Whitaker, who’s producing a documentary called A Single Shot about aging inmates in an Angola prison, next stars in the sci-fi action movie Repo Man with Jude Law, and will direct and star in the Louis Armstrong biopic Satchmo. He’s also starring in a spinoff of CBS’s series as the leader of a team of clandestine behavior analysts who’ll be introduced on the April 7 episode of Criminal Minds. As busy as he is, why do a TV series? “They approached me at the right time,” says Whitaker, who wants to be home more for his two youngest children. “I just like to create, and I think this is going to be really fun. I’ll do a movie a year, not two.”
Playing Whitaker’s Wedding son (and America Ferrera’s fiancé) is Lance Gross, portraying a more responsible character than the one he plays in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, “who relies on other people to succeed. Marcus is college-educated, fresh out of med school, volunteering for Doctors Without Borders. He stands on his own and has a plan in life,” he explains. Gross admits he has to make a bigger effort where the environment is concerned. “I need to be more conscious. I recycle but there’s more that I can do,” he acknowledges. “I have to be more mindful.”
The mission of The Cove, winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, will continue on TV. Animal Planet has ordered a series tentatively called Dolphin Warriors, following dolphin activist Ric O’Barry’s continuing efforts to stop the slaughter of the creatures in Japan. The series will likely premiere in the fall, after The Cove’s summer debut on the channel, and coincide with the beginning of the killing season. O’Barry plans to return to Japan then, possibly accompanied by celebrity supporters, including Daryl Hannah, Sting and Ben Stiller.
Triple Oscar winner Avatar’s eco-theme was echoed at the award ceremony, where director James Cameron’s wife Suzy Amis wore a flowing blue gown designed by the winner of the Red Carpet, Green Dress concert — Michigan State University design student Jillian Granz. It was made from peace silk, so named because the process doesn’t kill the silkworms.
Amy Brenneman (pictured left) took advantage of time off from Private Practice to participate in a PSA shoot for the Creative Coalition to promote arts education. Invited by her friend and co-star Tim Daly, director of the spot, Brenneman had already posed for a portrait and submitted a handwritten note for the Coalition’s Art & Soul book (one of more than 200 celebs to do so). Happy to take part in the PSA, which airs next month, Brenneman told us that in junior high and high school, “doing plays saved my life, gave me an outlet.”
On Private Practice, future episodes will involve her character Violet finally connecting with the baby she spurned. “It’s been a long time coming and very necessary,” said Brenneman, who in her off time blogs for Momlogic.com and is writing an autobiographical play she’ll mount this summer at a theater near her vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard. She reports that her garden is “still a work in progress, but we have compost now, and my daughter is 8 so she’s learning about recycling.”
Post-PSA, Brenneman stopped by Backstage Creations’ Oscar week Celebrity Retreat next door, where celebrities like Camryn Manheim, Joe Mantegna, and Joely Fisher were gifted with luxury items and a four-night stay at the Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa in French Polynesia, a particularly eco-friendly parcel of paradise. We’re told they’ve installed solar panels on the thatched roof bungalows.
The eclectic group of contestants on this season’s edition of Celebrity Apprentice vying to avoid being fired by Donald Trump includes Sharon Osbourne, Rod Blagojevich, Cyndi Lauper and Poison frontman and reality veteran (Rock of Love) Bret Michaels (pictured right), who signed on “to show I have another side, that there’s more than drunk mayhem” and bring creativity and ambition to the tasks. But he quickly learned how much hard work and long, early-rising days were involved. “I’m not a morning person. It was tough for me to adjust,” admits Michaels, noting that the first challenge had him revisiting his days as a restaurant busboy, with comical results. “It was a great learning experience,” he says of the show, which premieres March 14.
Michaels, whose latest single Nothing to Lose features Miley Cyrus, whose cover version of his Every Rose Has its Thorn which he produced, is the father of daughters ages 9 and 4 and has taught them to be eco-conscious of “taking little steps” like turning off lights and water. “They realize it’s their planet and they’re going to inherit it — much more aware than we were as kids,” he says.
“I certainly recycle. I take that one step,” says Joseph Mazzello (pictured left), who portrays Eugene Sledge, one of three Marines whose World War II experiences are the basis of the 10-part HBO miniseries The Pacific, premiering March 14. A sort of sequel to Band of Brothers, it was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, with whom Mazzello worked on Jurassic Park when he was 11. That didn’t buy him a pass. “I wasn’t going to get a $2 million favor because of us working together 15 years ago,” points out Mazzello, who researched voraciously, talked to the Sledge family, and spent 10 days in soldier boot camp to prepare for the 10-month shoot in Australia.
“I lost 12 pounds in 10 days. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. We were doing everything from carrying 40 pounds of equipment on our backs to digging ditches to sleeping three hours a night. One guy broke his collarbone. Another got stabbed in the foot. People were dropping like flies from heat exhaustion and dehydration. It wasn’t just the physical aspect. The subject matter was emotionally exhausting. But it was so worth it,” he asserts, privileged to honor men like his late grandfather, who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in the Pacific.
This October, Mazzello stars with Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, about the creators of Facebook. After the grueling Pacific, he says, “it was nice to be a computer nerd.”
“I try in my daily life to do what I can and minimize my giant Bigfoot imprint on the world,” declares Tyler Labine (pictured right), star of the new sitcom Sons of Tucson. “Recycling everything is a very big part of my life. I compost,” and he’s been considering converting his car to biodiesel. In the Fox comedy, premiering March 14, Labine plays a slacker type hired by three young boys to pose as their dad. “We all act like little misfits on set,” he admits. “I have a certain childlike quality that gets brought out very easily when I’m working with children. I play video games with them. I goof around with them like I’m 12.”
Tucson’s producer Justin Berfield knows what that’s like — he played Reese in Malcolm in the Middle and will appear in episode 13, the season finale. “I play a neighborhood bully who never quite grew up. He still lives with his mom,” describes Berfield, who drives a fuel-efficient Mini Cooper and has instituted eco-practices on set. “When we have a script change, we just give the new page instead of printing a whole new script. That saves 30 pages. We have big water jugs on the set. We bought the crew refillable cups.”
Best known as the sheriff in Deadwood, Timothy Olyphant (pictured left) plays an old-style lawman in a white cowboy hat working as a U.S. marshall in rural Kentucky in the FX series Justified, based on an Elmore Leonard short story and premiering March 16. Also known for Damages and the recently released The Crazies, Olyphant drives an electric car, recycles and composts for his garden. “We try to do our part,” he says.
Tune in: Airing March 14 on MTV, Summit on the Summit: Kilimanjaro documents a January 2010 expedition by Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch, Elizabeth Gore, Alexandra Cousteau and others to the top of the world to raise awareness of the global clean water crisis.
Additional photo credits: Oscar statue by Scott Olson/Getty Images; Andrew Eccles/ABC; Bret Michaels by Mitch Haaseth/NBC; Joseph Mazzello; Tyler Labine by by Matt Carr/Getty Images; Timothy Olyphant courtesy of FX. MNN homepage photo: J. D. Ebberly/Flickr