On the Hawaii set of "The Descendants," "Sideways" director Alexander Payne's first film in seven years, Shailene Woodley tried to get the crew to give up plastic water bottles. "She had a little campaign to have everyone bring their own bottles and fill them up. How far do you think she got with that?" asks Payne. But for Woodley, who carried a glass water bottle into a room full of journalists drinking bottled Evian and Fiji, eco-awareness is part of daily life.
"I think it's important for us to realize that we're a part of the ecosystem and we are nature. I think a lot of human beings think that we're somehow disconnected from nature. If we want to keep thriving as a civilization then we need to keep every part of the ecosystem thriving," she said. "There's this whole big green movement going on which I think is great. But part of going green is actually preserving us as a species and starting to love ourselves again as well as the environment. So, yes, you can not buy plastic and you can turn off your water when you're brushing your teeth to help the environment. But it's on a bigger level than that. We're all a part of the ecosystem and I think we all need to start thriving as a civilization."
The actress best known for the ABC Family series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" is winning raves for her first big film role as George Clooney's rebellious daughter Alexandra, who must come to terms with a family tragedy and her relationship with her dad in the movie. She's being touted as an Oscar contender along with Clooney, Payne, Judy Greer and the film itself. "The Oscar buzz is crazy," she said, noting that when she's not promoting the film she's hiking in the mountains, forgetting about the hoopla. She has "zero expectations about the future," but remains grateful for the opportunity. "The four months I spent in Hawaii exceeded any expectation that I could've ever created for myself. Now I'm traveling to so many different festivals and meeting so many interesting people and talking about a film that I'm so passionate about. It's beyond the cherry on top."
Woodley had high praise for Payne, Clooney, the rest of the cast and the screenplay that was "so human and relatable. I didn't have to do anything to get myself to a dark place or a sad place, because the words were so emotional." She raved about Clooney's talent, humanity and generosity, telling a story about the crew chipping in to raise cash for someone on set who was hospitalized with an aneurysm. "George tripled it. He's just the kind of guy who does things like that and he doesn't boast about it," she said, adding that he recently drove more than an hour to show up at a benefit screening Woodley and her mother held, staying to do a Q&A and spend an hour more at a reception, mingling with delighted suburbanites.
Like Clooney, Woodley is passionate about philanthropy, and started All It Takes with her middle school counselor mom to help at risk and low-achieving students. "Part of it is the environment, part of it is health and part of it is social awareness and acceptance in schools," she said, noting that the goals include building self-esteem, combating bullying, "and at the same time we infuse the importance of things like composting and what they can do at a young age to preserve and help rebuild."
While she hopes to make more films, she's still happy at "Secret Life," now in its fourth year. "It's awesome. We're a family," she said, nevertheless acknowledging "a sense of strategy that people talk about: 'you're on the wave, you have to ride it'" — but not giving in to that pressure. "For me, acting is fun and it's about the butterflies that I get when I read a script. So until I read a script that I get butterflies for I'm not going to do another movie, even if that takes two years. I hope that it doesn't take two years, but if it does, it does," said Woodley.
"For me, it's not about the magazines that you're on. It's not about the dresses that you wear or that stupid F-word, which is 'famous.' It's about the passion and the art of actually being on a film set. So until I get those butterflies I'm going to study indigenous cultures or do something else."
"The Descendants" opens in New York and Los Angeles on Nov. 16; Boston, Toronto, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis, Denver, Houston, San Diego and San Francisco on Nov. 18 and in 50 more cities on Nov. 23.
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