Kate: You're well-known for your comedic, romantic roles. What made you get involved with Consumed — a serious thriller?
ZLJ: I think it's always nice, as both an actor and a writer, to flex different muscles creatively. My husband and the film's director, Daryl, and I had made two narrative features that were relationship comedies, and we felt like we were ready to navigate different waters. More than anything, though, we became fascinated by the subject matter of GMOs. As we delved further and further into it, we saw the potential for a feature that could harken back to political thrillers of the 1970s, where the real-life politics were at the forefront of the storytelling.
You play a single mother in Consumed, and your performance taps into so many personal issues that moms deal with today. What aspects of the film are you hoping most resonate with mothers?
I think the biggest aspect is the helplessness one can feel as a mother today. There is so much contradictory information around what to feed our families and it's so easy to become overwhelmed when seeking answers that are often hard to find. In researching this movie, we found out the alarming statistic that food allergies in children have risen by more than 50 percent since 1997. So our food supply has become an ever-increasing threat, especially for parents.
Was your character in Consumed based on a real person?
No, Sophie is fictional, as are all of the characters in our film. We felt that a mother with a sick son was the perfect protagonist for the story we were looking to tell — which is a story very much based in real-world issues.
What is the hardest issue that you see Sophie having to tackle as a mother?
I think the hardest issue for Sophie is who to trust — which is an incredibly relatable dilemma. When each doctor has a different diagnosis, or lack thereof, Sophie, as most mothers would, embarks on her own research. But what she comes to learn is controversial, so she has to face a lot of tough questions around her own paranoia.
During the filming, did you get any firsthand accounts from farmers who had experience working with large corporations like Monsanto?
We did, which was enlightening. We had been researching these issues for seven years and then we found ourselves in the American heartland — right there in the belly of the beast. I think one of the most interesting things we learned came from a farmer who grew conventional, organic, and GMO seeds. He said his organic seeds produced the highest yields by far, which is the opposite of what you hear when reading about the benefits of GMO crops. But he said that organics also have the highest premium costs. A lot of it comes down to what our government chooses to subsidize: cash crops like corn and soy, which are used for processed foods.
Have you changed your eating habits since working on this film?
I was raised in a health-conscious household. I was allowed little to no sugar, no soda, limited dairy, and no processed foods. So my eating habits have actually been fairly consistent my whole life. I try not to be overly didactic when it comes to other people's eating habits, though. Food is a personal and emotional element in our lives, and in order to change your habits, you have to really want to. So if people ask me questions, I happily answer!
This issue of allergies and autoimmune diseases is so relevant to me. My company, Babo Botanicals, receives so many emails from parents desperate to help relieve their children’s skin allergies or autoimmune diseases. In Europe, there are more than 1,300 skin care ingredients that are not approved because of safety, but most of them are allowed in the United States. Why do you think other countries are so much more advanced in regards to ingredient safety?
That's a good question, and one that is incredibly difficult to answer. We are facing a similar issue with GMOs: 64 countries around the world label GMOs, and the United States does not. I think fighting for transparency as a means of achieving much stricter regulatory practices around ingredient safety in this country is paramount at this moment in history. And it starts with the consumer, and making your voice heard.
I’m so curious about what’s next for you. Will you be tackling social, environmental, or relationship issues?
Daryl and I are so focused on Consumed at the moment, we haven't set our sights on what's next just yet. I, of course, have my TV show, Life in Pieces, and Daryl just sold a TV pilot to Amazon, so stay tuned!
If you're interested in seeing Consumed for yourself, find a screening near you by visiting consumedthemovie.com/screenings. Check out the film's trailer here.