The premiere of the new Kevin James comedy, "Zookeeper," had all of the trappings of a standard Hollywood movie launch: A-list stars, flocks of photographers and a red — er, green — carpet.
But the glamour of the event, in Westwood on Wednesday, was somewhat marred by a slew of PETA activists who had gathered nearby to protest the film. During production of the wildlife-filled movie two years ago, a 18-year-old giraffe named Tweet died — an incident the animal-rights activists claim was related to mistreatment on set.
Media arriving at the event were immediately handed a statement from the American Humane Assn., which said PETA's claims were inaccurate and that "no evidence whatsoever" linked the animal's death to its "living quarters" and "role in the production."
Still, nearly all of the actors in the film gave reassurances that the creatures on set had been treated kindly.
"I think PETA is a wonderful organization, but on this movie I am very protective, because I was there every day," said Leslie Bibb, who plays James' shrew of a fiancee. "[The giraffe's trainer] was with Tweet and just collapsed and broke down in tears because it was like her child. And then to have to deal with this, with people saying that .... These trainers can't take vacations. These animals are their lives."
Indeed, the day Tweet died was emotional for the cast and crew, director Frank Coraci said.
"We cried," he said. "It was totally out of the blue. It was sort of like, 'Wow.' It was as if the actor was about to get on the plane to go home kind of thing. It was just really sad."
Rosario Dawson, who plays another of James' character's romantic interests, said the animals on set were treated even better than she was.
"They were treated gorgeously and honestly. If I could be treated like that more often, that would be really, really nice," she said.
Donnie Wahlberg, who has a brief "Zookeeper" cameo, echoed that sentiment.
"Those animals were treated like royalty. I, on the other hand, was treated like [something other than royalty]," the Boston native joked. "I had a small trailer. I didn't get any catering. My per diem was low and I had to drive myself to and from set since they shot in Boston. How do you like that?"
— Amy Kaufman
Top photo: Actress Leslie Bibb arrives at the "Zookeeper" premiere at the Regency Village Theater in Westwood on Wednesday. Photo credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
Left photo: Actor Kevin James arrives at Westwood premiere of "Zookeeper." Photo credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.