The Sex and the City alum opens up about acting with elephants — and with Rob Lowe
The film follows Davis’ newly single Kate as she leaves the Upper East Side and heads to Africa, where she falls in love with working with elephants — and with Rob Lowe‘s Derek.
Davis has been active in elephant conservation since 2009, and tells PEOPLE that she began developing the idea of doing a movie with elephants in a safe and ethical way about four years ago. She had interest from one network early on, but was skeptical that they really understood what filming with the massive animals would entail.
“I told them we have to really change the entire way that we film; we can’t use trained elephants or it wouldn’t be true to conservation,” she explains. “And the right way would probably be a bit more expensive than the way Hollywood usually uses animals in film.”
Not surprisingly, the film didn’t move forward at that network. But Netflix, she says, quickly understood what was necessary. “I never believed it would get made,” she admits.
To prepare, Davis headed to South Africa and Zambia well ahead of filming to meet the elephants and the people working with them.
“They didn’t trust us because they also know how Hollywood normally treats its animal performers, and they needed reassurance that we were going to be different,” she says. “I also wanted the elephants and everyone involved to meet me and trust me and know where my heart was. Of course, I wanted all the humans to be safe as well, but I was also never going to let an elephant get hurt or misused or anything that would have been counter to our entire message.”
In order to film the rom-com with the elephants, both cast and crew had to be unusually flexible. “We scheduled everything, and then we rewrote our scenes to fit in with what the elephants did,” she says.
For the unforgettable moment where Davis and Lowe encounter an elephant the size of a house, much of the crew stayed in vehicles.
“He’s the sweetest, most gentle giant you will ever meet,” Davis says of the massive Zimbabwe. “You had to be very respectful because he could hurt you by mistake. They could just bump into you and you would fall over and be hurt potentially. So our crew, for their safety and so they didn’t hurt the elephants, had to stay in their Land Cruisers and they had to whisper.”
While Davis was fearless and snuggling with the elephants (likely in part because of her decade of experience with them), Lowe understandably was a bit more cautious. Not that caution was his M.O. throughout filming.
“He was incredibly game for most of it, and he brought his kids and his wife,” she recalls. (Lowe’s son Johnny played Davis’ son in the movie.) “They traveled, they want to Tanzania, he swam with sharks! He did so many interesting things. The one thing he didn’t do was he did not want to be next to Zimbabwe. But I didn’t blame him.”
“We were in such a beautiful situation,” Davis adds. “All the wild animals that you see in the movie were just around us. We would look over and see a tower of giraffes. It was so amazing.”
For more information on elephant conservation or to learn how you can help, visit GameRangersInternational.org.
Holiday in the Wild is streaming now on Netflix.