Trudie’s courage and conviction led the creators of the Greenwich International Film Festival to name her this year’s Changemaker, and will present her with an award at their second annual Changemaker Gala at Richards on Friday, June 10. “Trudie’s work is legendary in the nonprofit world,” says Wendy Stapleton Reyes, GIFF cofounder and chairman of the board. “She is a tireless advocate for marginalized people worldwide and the definition of a true Changemaker.” Last year’s honorees were UNICEF ambassadors Harry Bellfonte and Mia Farrow, two legends Trudie is proud to be counted among. Says Trudie, “I am thrilled and honored to have been selected as a Changemaker at this year’s Greenwich International Film Festival, and to join a legacy of remarkable individuals actively working to make the world a better place.”
Despite zigzagging across time zones, the British actress, director, producer, environmentalist and award-winning humanitarian shows no signs of slowing down. Trudie makes sixty-two look like the new forty-two, thanks to transcendental meditation, yoga, exercise and thirty-two ounces of fresh, organic vegetable juice daily. Oh, and perhaps a glass or two of one of the super Tuscans grown in the vineyard of her Il Palagio estate, which recently landed Trudie and Sting on the cover of Wine Spectator and onto the 100 Best Growers in Italy list. Each vintage is cheekily named after one of Sting’s hits (their latest table wine: Message in a Bottle).
“I think of the body as the one precious vehicle we have,” says Trudie. “You can’t switch it out like a car, and you can’t treat it poorly. You need to give it the right fuel. Otherwise you’re going to be replacing parts or clogging up your exhaust pipe.” Still, the farmer’s daughter admits to the occasional cheat with French cheeses and berry cobbler “with lashings of beautiful, raw cream.” “People may raise their eyebrows at my diet, but I actually eat quite a lot of fat,” she says. “I think the brain needs good fat and I don’t ever think of it as a bad thing.”
Trudie’s sylphlike body belies an inner core as strong as Cashapona tree roots, one of the species her Rainforest Fund has helped preserve. Trudie and Sting created the fund after a trip to the Amazon in 1988. Sting had been performing in Rio, and the couple had three days off to tour Brazil. A traveling companion offered to take them to visit the rainforest, and following four-and-a-half hours on a rickety single engine plane, their lives were forever transformed.
“We met indigenous people who told us their lands were at risk and had been invaded by loggers, miners and all of the extractive industries who were threatening their lives and livelihoods,” says Trudie. “Our goal is to work with people on the ground to improve the lives of indigenous groups, and in turn they will be increasing our chances of living in a world where rainforests will not be at such a risk as they are today.” (Fast fact: Rainforests used to occupy 14 percent of the land mass on earth and now make up less than 6 percent, causing carbon emissions and climate change.) For its first five years, the fund’s focus was the Amazon. Today, it encompasses twenty-three countries across three continents and has raised over $30 million.
Trudie, who has been a UNICEF Ambassador for the past twelve years, has also raised funds to build schools, end child labor on Ecuador’s dump sites, and bring clean water to schools, medical centers and homes in Ecuador. Additionally, her roles with UNICEF and the Rainforest Fund dovetailed to inspire ClearWater, a movement for clean water, cultural survival and rainforest protection in Ecuador’s northern Amazon. “I think that the terrifying story is no matter how much we do, all of our NGOs, all of our environmental groups, we’re under enormous threats by huge conglomerates and destructive industries who have wrecked our planet with impunity,” says Trudie.
That truth is what led her to participate in Joe Berlinger’s 2009 documentary CRUDE, which followed the multibillion-dollar Ecuador vs. Chevron lawsuit over oil pollution in the Amazon, and nabbed six independent film honors. In fearless fashion, Trudie personally invited 6,000 Chevron employees to a screening. How many showed up? “A big, fat zero,” she deadpans. “Trudie pushes boundaries in a way that much of Hollywood is too scared or complacent to do,” says Berlinger. “She doesn’t just nod her head and say, ‘This situation is terrible.’ She actually does something about it.”
TALE OF TOLERANCE
In addition to working tirelessly to save the global environment and its indigenous peoples, Trudie has focused her lens on another area of human rights as director and producer of the upcoming film, Freak Show (Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films is producing with Trudie’s Maven Pictures). “I think the story on the surface is about gender identity, but really it’s about bigger themes of tolerance, of anti-bullying, of acceptance of who we are,” says Trudie. “It’s called Freak Show because we speak about the inner freak in all of us, the freak flag we fly on the inside, which I think is especially true in the high school years when everyone feels that they’re distanced or they don’t belong or don’t quite fit in.”
The same could be said of Trudie’s early life. In his memoir Broken Music, Sting, who reportedly fell in love with Trudie at first sight, describes his beloved partner as a “damaged angel,” referring to facial injuries she sustained in an accident when she was struck by a bread van and dragged along the ground at just two years old. You wouldn’t notice her scars now—she is all luminosity and cheekbones—but being called Scarface as a child would frame her early self image. “Life was pretty miserable because if you don’t look the part in school, you have people gang up and call you names and that’s not fun,” says Trudie. “Some people get very broken down where it gets to be so much that they take their lives. I think doing Freak Show was in a ballpark that was fairly familiar to me, about this lack of inclusiveness that I certainly had felt as a child and somewhat in my teenage years.”
Based on the novel of the same name by James St. James, the film tells the story of a cross-dressing teen, played by Alex Lawther, who decides to run for homecoming queen at his conservative high school and also stars Bette Midler, Laverne Cox and fellow GIFF Changemaker Abigail Breslin, who will be honored along with Trudie with a Rising Changemaker award. “Trudie asked me how I felt about my character, and I said I thought she should have a Southern accent,” says Abigail. “So she said, ‘Let’s go with that.’ Not all directors want input from their actors. She was nonjudgmental and an incredible listener.”
In a similarly supportive dynamic, Trudie’s Maven Pictures has partnered with Jessica Chastain’s new production company, Freckle Films, with the goal of getting more female-driven movies made. “Right now, only 25 percent of producers are women and just 5 percent represent directors. Distributors are largely headed up by men, so the stories that we’re putting into the world through film are male-driven,” Trudie says. “Women’s careers start to come apart when they’re in their early forties and we feel really badly about that. At that age, women have evolved and have so much to say. We need to get these stories told. I admire Jessica tremendously for her great courage in stepping up and saying, ‘I’m capable of playing leading roles, let’s just switch some of the male leading roles into women.’ It’s a good notion to do that. I’m delighted to have her as a collaborator with Maven.”
Watching the woman who devotes herself to railing against the system, speaking for those without a voice and bolstering fellow females in the arts, one has to ask: Where does Trudie Styler’s strength and self-possession come from? “I’ve been blessed with having the support of people, friends, and my husband for three decades, who is my absolute champion of all I do, who sees me,” says Trudie. She pauses, absorbing the magnitude of her own quietly spoken words. “I suppose my life married to a hugely successful recording artist could have gone quite differently. One could say I could have easily disappeared. But when someone says “I see you,” it’s a powerful statement. It’s actually an indigenous greeting in a lot of the African communities. Nobody says hello. They say “I see you.” It means you’re there, you’re apparent, you’re tangible and you don’t disappear.”
NO ONE PUTS ABIGAIL IN A CORNER
ABIGAIL BRESLIN IS KILLING IT ON SO MANY LEVELS: AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS, AUTHOR, SINGER, CHA-CHA QUEEN—CAN YOU SAY #DIRTYDANCINGREMAKE? ADD ANTI-DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVOCATE TO THIS ACCOMPLISHED TWENTY-YEAR-OLD’S RÉSUMÉ, AND IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY GIFF IS HONORING HER WITH A RISING CHANGEMAKER AWARD AT THE JUNE 10 CHANGEMAKER GALA ALONGSIDE HER FREAK SHOW DIRECTOR, TRUDIE STYLER.
A decade ago, you lit up Sundance playing Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. What excites you about film festivals today?
A: I love being part of festivals and can’t wait to come to Greenwich. There’s this idea that there’s a formula films need to be successful, so when a film goes against that formula, festivals give it the opportunity to be seen and talked about. Sundance was an incredible thing for Little Miss Sunshine and it really helped an extraordinary amount and gave it the push it needed. Films like Freak Show are not similar to commercial movies that are out there, and it will have a platform for audiences to see it and say, “Wow, this is really cool.”
Speaking of Freak Show, what was it like to play an off-the-rails mean girl?
A: I’ve played mean girls before, but I’ve never played someone like Lynette, who is so delusional and out-there in her views of the world. It was hard to get in touch with a character who is so far from who you really are, but that’s what made it interesting.
You’re rehearsing for the TV musical remake of Dirty Dancing. What makes you most nervous about playing Baby?
A: The lift! We’ll shoot it during the second to last day of filming. I’m not the most graceful human being on the face of the earth, but I’m lucky that the guy playing Johnny Castle, Colt Prattes, is a professional dancer. And we have Andy Blankenbuehler, who choreographed Hamilton, so I’m working with the best people possible. But it doesn’t make me any less terrified that I’m going to fall on top of Colt and break his neck.
Tell us about your debut album, The World Now, out later this year.
A: It’s singer-songwriter music with electronic production. That’s kind of the vibe. I wrote all of it and it’s very personal to me so I’m really excited for people to hear it. I don’t know if I’d want to or even could go on a large tour, but I definitely want to play shows.
You wrote a book for teen girls. Who do you go to for advice?
A: Emma Roberts. She is one of my best friends that I got to know while filming Scream Queens. She’s like a big sister to me. While we were filming, she was just totally honest and wonderful. Scream Queens was one of the best experiences because we all had each other’s backs. It’s so important for women to support each other. Every time a woman publically shames another woman for making certain choices or wearing what she wants, it invites other people to judge the person who is criticized as well as the person doing the criticizing. It’s harmful for everyone.
Which actresses have been your biggest mentors?
A: Meryl Streep was obviously incredible to work with. There are no words for her. She is everything that people think she is. She’s such a gracious, down-to-earth person and is also, like, the most amazing actress in the world. When I worked with her on August: Osage County, she didn’t treat me like a little kid. Jamie Lee Curtis is another mentor. She cheered me on in every scene and gave me good advice and showed me by example. She’s so professional and considerate. She knew the name of every single person on the Scream Queens set and treated everyone the same, whether it was the lead actresses, the director, the grips or the PA in base camp.
What famous woman in history would you love to play?
A: Bette Davis. She was a very straightforward and honest person and completely owned who she was. She didn’t conform. For her to play characters who were so vulnerable, like she did in All About Eve, where she was this aging woman losing her career and her husband to a younger, prettier ingénue, was bold and not typical of her time period. She was a trailblazer.
What made you get involved with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence?
A: Domestic violence gets swept under the rug and needs more attention. It’s something that happens inside of a relationship, and it’s mixing violence with love and trust, which is a very scary scenario. So many victims feel pressure to stay silent and never come forward to authorities, which is upsetting. I want to work with victims and shelters, women who for financial reasons feel like they have to stay in abusive relationships. We have a long way to go in terms of awareness. If a woman is assaulted or physically abused, the first questions are always, “What were you wearing? What did you do? Are you sure that’s what happened?” A man would never be asked those things.