Shailene Woodley: On the Ascent

When Shailene Woodley breezes into our December cover shoot, I am immediately taken aback by her warmth as she greets each of us with a hug, and is genuinely enthusiastic to be there. And she’s game. Having initially been suggested that she would style herself using her own clothes (in an effort to avoid promoting consumption), she is soon scouring the racks of our sustainable wardrobe, and graciously agrees to be photographed in her favorite pieces.

At 20 years old, Shailene is incredibly grounded and seems wise beyond her years, whilst still possessing a refreshing youthful exuberance and an infectious passion for life. Education and the environment excite her, and she is embracing living in harmony with nature, carefully considering her impact on the planet. Choosing a lifestyle inspired by indigenous culture, and studying the effect of diet on both health and the environment, she is extremely knowledgeable on the subject, and even draws her own spring water firmly believing in its wellness properties.

With a Golden Globe nomination for her role in ‘The Descendants,’ Alexander Payne’s hot Oscar contender, Shailene is remarkably unaffected by the attention she is receiving. In an industry not known for placing a value on role models, she stands out as a talented force unwilling to compromise herself in the pursuit of fame, instead choosing gratitude and conveying a wisdom that belies her 20 years.

In ‘The Descendants,’ she plays Alexandra King, the surly teenage daughter of George Clooney’s Matt King, who has to cope not only with a boating accident that leaves her mother in a coma, but also exposes her unfaithfulness to Alexandra’s father. This girl can act, and handles the emotionally charged role with a maturity and intelligence that defies her age. We couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say…

Shailene, I know you’re excited to be here. Can you tell us why you wanted to shoot with Coco Eco today?
I think anything that has something to do with the environment, and anybody who is passionate about educating the public about what can be done to live more sustainably and in stride with nature, is amazing. To be able to shoot with a magazine that has integrity about what it means to be eco-friendly is exciting. I’ve honestly been so looking forward to this shoot!

Thank you. What inspired your passion for the environment? Did your parents raise you to be eco-friendly?
No. I was raised in a family that said, “We’re not going to eat white bread, but we’ll eat wheat bread,” but of course that still has artificial colors and flavors. My parents knew the basics about health, but not the depths of really eating healthy, or about the environment. I’ve always had this thing for trees; I think they are just so profound, so when I was about fifteen and in high school, I was watching the trees and the leaves blowing in the wind. The juxtaposition of the wind blowing, and the leaves and the trash from the school lunch in the air, made me so mad. Ever since then I have just had this really intense passion for educating myself and other people, on the environment and what we’re doing to the planet. We are part of the environment. There’s this big green initiative right now, which is exciting and great, but I think people forget that we are nature and so if we intend to treat our planet with love and fix it, we have to fix ourselves and treat each other with love. It’s more than just recycling or picking up a piece of trash, or turning off the water when you’re brushing your teeth. It’s about treating everything with compassion and love, including humanity.

Well if you don’t love and respect yourself first, how can you love and respect anything else?
Exactly, and each other. There’s so much hate in the world toward other humans, and I think if we plan to fix our environmental problems we have to also fix our human problems.

You mentioned health. We always say that if it’s bad for the planet, it’s bad for you, and vice versa. When did you actively decide to combine your passion for both your own health and that of the planet?
It was probably about a year ago. I’ve always been fairly health conscious and would eat a lot of vegetables, but I would eat chips that are all genetically modified nowadays. I read a book called “Farm Sanctuary,” and it was about how animals are treated. I always knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad. This book describes how when chicks are born, a machine plucks them from the egg, they don’t even walk. They get thrown on a conveyor belt and human beings look at them, and if they are males they get tossed in a blender, chopped up and fed back to the female chickens. We don’t eat male chickens. When you go to the grocery store, they’re all female, and males don’t lay eggs so few roosters get to survive. That right there, and then everything else with the cows and the pigs, made me start researching. I started watching a lot of documentaries on genetic modification, and about animal treatment, the transportation of meat and how it’s soaked in ammonia to kill E Coli. It’s an amazing journey that I have been on, and when you start researching one thing, so many things get thrown in your life that reinforce your passion for it.

Recently I have been meeting a lot of people who study indigenous cultures, and learning how their diets affect their bodies and the environment, so that’s where I stand. That, and the fact people will go to a drive-thru and get a burger, and with that burger comes a paper bag, the paper the burger is wrapped in, a bunch of napkins, the straw and the lid for the cup, the actual cup, and the paper the straw is wrapped in. The amount of waste we have is so frustrating, so at home I try to only buy bulk, and I only go to the farmer’s markets. The amount of waste is what inspired me to start researching health, and what we can do to live more minimally.

How do you handle your frustration, for example, about the meat industry? I listen to you speak, and I get it, but what about the billions of people in the world who don’t? People who are affected by hard financial times, or lack of education or resources?

That’s the thing. I was speaking to a family friend the other day about the importance of eating organic, not just because it’s good for our bodies, but because it’s so important for the environment. His response was that he and I could afford to eat organic, but 98% of the population can’t, but it’s so true. Our population is so large, and there hasn’t been a company or an organization that has stepped up and provided organic food to people on a lower income level. So one of my goals in life is to start a giant organic, biodynamic farm, and have it run like a community, but sell the produce for less than conventional prices. I think the education is an important element for me too.

Is the educational aspect something you want to be a part of?
Absolutely. Right now I am learning so much from talking to people who inspire me, reading books and watching documentaries, and I would love to set up a program. My Mom and I started a charity last year called All It Takes, and there’s three branches; health, the environment, and social awareness within schools which is our positive affirmation of anti bullying. We take middle school kids, half at-risk and the other half are high achievers, to a camp where through team building workshops and courses, they learn to accept one another, and it opens a lot of room for awareness within schools. They see that the perfect cheerleader isn’t just a blonde, beautiful girl, but maybe she has an alcoholic parent, and that kid who wears the same shirt everyday perhaps lives in a car. So it’s really beautiful how we help these kids and stop a lot of bullying. Another thing that we do is talk about composting and gardening, the importance of buying locally, and reusing clothes and buying from thrift stores. It’s really inspiring to see these kids at such a young age being educated about these things, so I am focusing on that. One day though I would love to do a blog, or a conference or something where I could reach a lot of people and talk about the things I’m passionate about. I’d love to inspire people to go after their passions.

So everyone can utilize their passion to make a difference?
Exactly, and I think education is an important part of that. The lack of education in what we eat is shocking. My Uncle is a very successful caterer up in the Bay area, and last year I was talking to him about eating organic. His response was that eating organic was dumb and it would fade away. I said, “You spend so much money feeding these giant companies and these huge sports teams, and you’re feeding them foods that might taste good, but in the long run you’re breaking down their bodies because you’re feeding them foods full of hormones and preservatives.” He didn’t know anything, and was using plastic forks and plates, but now he has shifted into eco-friendly compostable ware for the food, and although most of the food is still not organic, the meats are and he is trying to source from local farms. It inspires me to see the baby steps people take, but the lack of information is really frightening, and something needs to be done about it. Quickly.

As the next big thing in Hollywood, in an industry that isn’t always associated with doing the right thing, are you finding it hard to carry your voice, or are you committed to going against the status quo?
No, not at all. I think my biggest fear is falling into mediocrity! I think it’s exciting that I have been given this beautiful gift of reaching a lot of people that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to reach through a different outlet in life, and I am so fortunate. Sometimes I think that the only reason I was able to act was to talk about and spread this message, and to help other people find the messages that they want to talk about. I’m so grateful because it’s such an amazing opportunity, and it’s exciting too because I can talk about things that most people have never even heard of. Most people have never heard of clay, or spring water, or chlorophyll, which shocks me because that’s what I revolve my life around, but then it shocks them that I know nothing about a big designer, or director, or producer.

How do you find a balance between having to look fabulous on the red carpet, and your core believes about the environment and consumption?
In my personal life, I only buy used clothes, so thrift stores, trade-in stores, vintage stores, friend’s closets… Sometimes I find it hard to find a good pair of used shoes and jeans, but 97% of my wardrobe is all used. I struggled for a while, going on these red carpets, and wearing makeup that didn’t represent my morals, and looking like something that I wasn’t. Then I realized that it’s kind of a great message to send, because if anyone ever asked me if I felt like a hypocrite pushing those clothes, I would tell them how those dresses get used over and over and over again. There’s one dress that gets worn by so many people, and it gets recycled and it gets reused. And I think it’s a great message to send. I do wear those fancy dresses and suits, but I am not keeping them. I wear them and then return, then someone else wears and returns, and on, and it’s this beautiful re-use and restore process.

Changing direction, tell us about The Descendants, and by the way, congratulations on all of your award nominations.
Thank you. The film was one of the most majestic moments in my life. I call it my Spiritual Awakening. I had never been to Hawaii before, but at least for me, there’s an energy that is so overwhelmingly calm, and within ten minutes of getting off the plane, I am grounded and centered. The people there are so full of love, for other people and for the environment, and the trees and the hikes you can go on, and the fact you can just go swimming in the ocean and all of a sudden a giant manta ray swims under you. It’s such a different world than the concrete buildings of Los Angeles, where I grew up. Literally, a Spiritual Awakening is the best way to describe it for me. I felt like I got in touch with myself, I got in touch with what was important in life, and with who I wanted to be and surround myself with.

Inspiring to hear, and what about the actual experience of working on the film?
Every single person got along, and that doesn’t happen in any profession, let alone this industry. Everybody was happy at 6 o’clock every morning and greeted each other with a smile on their faces. Everyone hung out together, and George would hang out with the local Polynesian transportation guys and play basketball, and there was no #1, no one was better than anybody else. It was all about making this beautiful piece of art.

What was your impression of working with George Clooney?
I am so fortunate to have got to know him as a person, and continue to get to know him. He is so incredibly down to earth, and he knows that it’s probably intimidating to work with him if you’re a young actor. He goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable, wanted and necessary, and I’m so grateful for that. He really is an amazing guy from Kentucky with a heart of gold, who would never hurt a fly. He would do something for anyone, regardless of whether he knew you or not. You hear about him being this goofy guy, which he is. He’s a totally goofy prankster, but also the most philanthropic man I have met in my life. He does things for people on a daily basis, never talks about them, and is so sly about it you’re lucky if you catch him doing it. He’s just a giver, he’s someone who has really embraced the word gratitude, and I love talking about him because I have never met a more generous man in my life.

Did you all leave the set knowing that this was a very special project, bound for serious award-contention?
We definitely came from set knowing this was going to be a very special movie. Not because people were going to like it, not because of Award Season or critics, but because of our experience. We had a second annual wrap party this year in LA, and everyone came who was in town, whilst there was a sister party in Hawaii for all the locals who worked on the film, and we Skyped between the two parties. I’m sure we will have a third one next year, and in 15 years we’ll still be having them, because it was such a unique experience. Everyone was so grateful to be in Hawaii working on an Alexander Payne film, and everyone loved each other. The word Aloha, if you break it down, means breath and spirit, so when Hawaiians say Aloha, they are not only saying hello and goodbye. They are saying, “I’m seeing your spirit, and I am giving you mine.” And everyday that movie was Aloha. Everyone exchanged their spirit with one another, and it was so special. I think every single person would say they would pay to be there.

It’s so refreshing to hear you express such gratitude. Being grateful is obviously important to you.
Yes, and I often think that there is a lack of gratitude in life. If people recognized that we are even able to breathe on a daily basis, so many things would be put into perspective. So many people, including myself, get wrapped up in materialism, arguments and things that aren’t working, that’s when we need to take a step back and see how lucky we are to have trees that give us oxygen. That’s so beautiful, and I think it’s something people need to start recognizing more, the small things in life. I have scoliosis, and people are always saying they’re sorry, but to me it’s such a beautiful thing because I have it.

That’s a really healthy way to look at it. Now, what’s next for you in your career?
I am working on the show “The Secret Life of The American Teenager” right now. I would love to do another film, but until I read something that I am really inspired by and passionate for, I refuse to do another movie because I’m on the wave and I have to ride it.

Is it possible to be successful in Hollywood without being on the treadmill of having to take roles, or be in the public eye?
For me, yes, because working is just as important as attending an outdoor education seminar, and I think it’s important to have more than one passion in life. I’m really fortunate to know my passions, and to keep expanding them, so if I don’t work for another two years, I see that as an opportunity to focus on another aspect of my life. I hope it’s not two years till I do another movie, but if it is, then it is, and it’s totally fine.

With Award Season buzz surrounding you, and your Golden Globe nomination, are you feeling the pressure or do you just go with the flow?
I don’t think there’s any pressure. My work in Hawaii is done. My job was to do the film and be passionate about that, so all of this is exciting and a fun ride, but if nothing else happens, I already have so much to look back on and be grateful for, so I have zero expectations for what might come, or what might happen.

With her role on the successful TV show, ‘The Secret Life Of The American Teenager,” Shailene Woodley’s career is rapidly on the ascent. Will she get the Golden Globe? Well, that’s still to be determined. However, after spending an afternoon with her, one thing is clear. Whatever success comes her way, this poised and passionate young heroine for the Earth is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.