22 year old Shailene Woodley has been working in TV and movies since she was 10 years old and you might recognise from turns in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now. But she’s about to become a superstar.
That’s because Divergent is ready to hit screens. It’s a big budget adaptation of the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth set in a future world where the population is controlled by a faction system. When Woodley’s Tris breaks the system, things get very interesting indeed.
We caught up with the young actress to talk about taking on her first major franchise and her thoughts on the strange future Chicago Roth has created, as well as getting into the physical aspects of the role of Tris.
[This interview took place by phone on the 5th of November 2013]
CLICK: How are you getting on today with the interviews?
SW: I’m having such a good day, I had gelato for lunch so I am flying high!
CLICK: Just to kick off, I was wondering how you choose a project to get involved with?
SW: I choose whatever sort of gives me butterflies. I know that might sound weird but whatever project fuels my soul I suppose. When I read something I know immediately whether I’m passionate about it and if I’m not then I’m not going to do it. But if I feel some sort of flame inside then I’m going to do everything I can to be involved.
CLICK: And you read the script first and not the book, is that right?
SW: I did… no I read the book before the script. There wasn’t a script in the picture when I signed on.
CLICK: Ok so you read the book because you knew a film was coming?
SW: I did. I was given the book and read it and fell in love with it and actually I was attached to the book before I had even read a script.
CLICK: What was it about the book then that grabbed you?
SW: I was really enthralled by the idea of a society that was completely unrelatable on the page – where everybody lived by a particular virtue or value or ideal. And in today’s society that’s not that case, there’s a lot more independent thinking. But I also loved the fact that there were a lot of metaphors that exist in that world that you can relate back to our world today. At least in America. And I was really taken by that. I also loved the fact that there was a young woman who moved between selflessness and bravery because without selflessness how can one truly be brave? Without only being brave to put on a show. And without bravery one cannot truly be selfless in order to value others more than themselves. So I was really interested in those ideas and I had never heard about those before in a young adult book.
CLICK: Do you think it’s a novel that transcends that young adult tag?
SW: Yea absolutely. I think that the movie is definitely not just for young adults, I think it’s for a very wide demographic. I think it’ll reach a lot of different age groups.
CLICK: You’ve mentioned a couple of times in other interviews that you were never really interested in doing a massive franchise but this is becoming that. What changed your mind?
SW: I wasn’t… I had originally sort of said no to Divergent and wasn’t going to do it. And then my mom talked to me and asked ‘do you love the character?’ And I said ‘yes’ and she said ‘do you love the story?’ and I said ‘yes.’ And she said ‘you’ve never said no to a project before because of budget so you’re going to say no to this one because it’s a $90 million budget and you’ll say yes to another one because it’s a $20,000 budget?! You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ And that sort of clicked for me, so I thought I would love to do this movie but the fact that it was a large franchise was frightening and I was allowing that to get in the way of what I was truly passionate about.
CLICK: And this is hopefully the start of multiple films in the series – are you ready to be associated with the character for years to come?
SW: Yea I wouldn’t have taken it on if I didn’t feel like I was able to do that. I feel lucky to have brought such a strong woman to life.
CLICK: Are you signed on for sequels?
SW: Yea we’re signed on for four if it does well?
CLICK: Four, so it’s going to be more than the trilogy.
CLICK: You’re going to be asked this a lot – what faction would you be and why?!
SW: I… would be… I couldn’t just pick one I mean none of us can right? I think I would be a combination of Dauntless, Abnegation and Amity.
CLICK: That’s a lot of them, it’s a good combination!
SW: Yea. I’ve got the hippie thing from Amity, I’ve got the badass fighter from Dauntless and I’ve got the compassionate, empathetic person from Abnegation.
CLICK: And that’s really the point of the book – that in the real world you can’t just be one thing.
SW: Yea that’s totally the point of the books. It’s really about a choice and what the consequences are but it does completely showcase how conformity just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work now or in the future clearly and it is important to be individuals and to be sovereign. That’s a word that we don’t really hear much but I think that this book really showcases the importance of sovereign humanity.
CLICK: I read that even after you were cast it took a long time to get the rest of the actors in place. Did that give you time to get into the role of Tris?
SW: Yea it was great. Trying to find the Four character was probably the hardest thing about the whole movie. I read with a lot of different guys and they were all really good. But none of them really had that masculine touch that we needed in a Four. But someone who could balance the masculinity but also the sensitivity. Then Theo James walked in and was sort of that perfect balance of being a fighter and also being a listener. And that’s sort of a rare trait in men.
CLICK: Did you read with any other of the cast for other roles or just chemistry for Theo?
SW: I did read with Ansel for Caleb and he was the perfect Caleb.
CLICK: So that was easier to find!
SW: Yea, he was easier to find.
CLICK: Are there any characteristics you’d have in common with Tris?
SW: I actually find myself very similar to Tris. I grew up with two psychologist parents who sort of ingrained compassion and empathy into my soul aged zero. Which I’m so grateful for because those are traits that I feel fall under the covers in a lot of childhoods. But because of that I sort of grew up as a people pleaser. So constantly I had to struggle to figure out if I was doing things because I wanted to or because I was supposed to for other people. And so I resonated with Tris’ selflessness and her struggle with wanting to be selfish and brave and live her life in a different way.
CLICK: She’s a very strong and active female character which you don’t always get in novels or movies. Is that important for you to play?
SW: Yea I love that and I don’t think we see enough of that. So often you see women, damsels in distress or needing to be saved. And other things I love about this movie is that her relationship with Four is so healthy. They don’t have a toxic, co-dependent relationship, they’re more like partners with a romantic edge. And the relationship between Tris and Christina is really beautiful as well. Christina and Tris are sisters essentially, they have a great sisterhood. There’s no jealousy or envy and you don’t see that in movies where two girlfriends can just be girlfriends and support one another without a dark edge.
CLICK: Or a love triangle.
CLICK: It’s also the most physical role you’ve done, does that help you build the character?
SW: Yea. The physical training was pretty intense. We did a month of firearm training, basic weaponry like knife throwing, hand to hand combat and then fight choreography. Which is quite difficult.
CLICK: And I read that you injured yourself a few times, is that just part of being Dauntless?
SW: It is part of the job!
CLICK: Nothing too major?
SW: Nothing too too bad no.
CLICK: It seems like the trailer is full of you jumping off really, really tall things! Are you afraid of heights at all? Did you have any problem with that?
SW: I did not. I actually am afraid of heights – more afraid of falling! But it was a fun adventure for me, it’s like one of those things you don’t get to do every day. Luckily I had an amazing stunt double who was a total badass and could do anything. She makes Tris look really, really tough but I tried to do as much as I could. For insurance reasons they just wouldn’t let me do that much. Which was a bummer!
CLICK: It’s quite a big cast and you have a complicated relationship with most of them. Was it easy to get into those roles with players like Peter?
SW: Yea it was. The nice thing about acting is the other actors come in and are present and there for you so all you have to do is react to them. So that was really nice and they’re all so talented and it was such a treat to be able to work with Miles [Teller – who plays Peter and worked with Woodley on The Spectacular Now] again – I think he’s my favourite actor I’ve ever worked with. So it was a gift to have him on the Divergent cast.
CLICK: I spoke to Veronica Roth just yesterday and she was saying Miles Teller makes a really good Peter. Which is strange because he’s so villainous.
SW: Yea I think he did a genius job. Casting him was an interesting choice because the way that Peter’s written is sort of an evil guy and Miles just doesn’t have that face – he has more of a douchey attitude than an evil one! I thought that was genius casting because it’s not what people are going to expect.
CLICK: And is he really evil in this?!
SW: He’s properly rude! I wouldn’t say he’s evil but that’s good because we’ve seen evil in movies hundreds of time. We haven’t really seen good rude!
CLICK: You’ve read the book and made the film, what would you say the biggest difference between them?
SW: Oh… there’s a lot of differences. The biggest difference is that in the book you really get to know Tris inside and out. In the movie there’s the issue of having to introduce the world as well as the character. So not only was it not really about getting to know the inner workings of Tris its more about getting to know the world and how it effects Tris.
CLICK: One thing I’m curious to find out about is what the fear landscapes are going to look like – do you have any idea? Because I know you shot them on green screen
SW: I have no idea what they’ll look like with the finished thing. Right now all I know is screaming at a dot on the wall and pretending like it’s a dog [laughs]!
CLICK: Did you like interacting with fans, like on Twitter?
SW: I actually haven’t been on twitter for a few months. I got Twitter to talk to my friend who was on a different side of the country and then… the whole fan thing is very interesting to me, it’s not something that I really partake in very much because it’s such a strange world in my opinion. So I have no idea what Divergent fans are saying.
CLICK: Have you read the third book yet?
SW: No I haven’t finished the second one yet. I really wanted to just pick up the third one and just ignore the second one but I can’t do that!
CLICK: Have you heard any of the reactions to the end of the third book or are you trying to ignore that?!
SW: I haven’t heard any of the reactions. I know what happens but I haven’t heard anything just simply because I never really looked into it. But I think Veronica is such a queen for making that decision. I mean, how badass is that?! Nobody who writes young adult novels ever makes a decision like that!
CLICK: I had a quick question from Twitter actually – they were asking Hazel Grace or Tris Prior which most identify with?
CLICK: And they asked whose tattoos did you prefer – Tris’s or Fours?
SW: Oooh, I liked Tris’!
CLICK: And my final question – in April next year what kind of experience are you hoping fans and newcomers will have with this movie?
SW: I think they’re going to have an experience where they see a movie that’s visually very different from today’s society but it’s going to resonate with them because it’s so relatable with what the characters are going through and the emotions that are being evoked by their circumstances.
Divergent is in cinemas from the 4th of April 2014.