A lot of people may compare Shailene Woodley to Jennifer Lawrence. They both got their start in indie films and are now the leads in studio franchises. Aside from that and their down-to-earth personalities, Woodley is her own person and a charming one at that. Later this week, she’ll appear in Neil Burger‘s Divergent as Tris, the brave and adventurous protagonist from Veronica Roth‘s popular YA series. ScreenCrave spoke to Woodley about starring in her first big Hollywood movie, and seeking advice from Lawrence. She also discussed her survival skill courses and co-stars Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd.
It’s been reported that Jennifer Lawrence urged you to take this role. Is that true?
Shailene Woodley: Yeah. We had one conversation. I still have yet to meet Jen, which is kind of funny, because I’m talking about her so much right now. I sent her an email and I was sort of just curious. She’d gone from doing indie films to doing Hunger Games, which is a giant film obviously. I wondered if it had changed her life in positive ways, if she was happy with her decision – just sort of what that looked like, because I had zero reference to what a studio film would feel like in my personal life. So I asked her and she said, ‘Yeah, don’t do anything stupid. Don’t do drugs and don’t make a sex tape and don’t go to Whole Foods the day the movie opens. Other than that you’ll be fine.’ She was like, ‘There can be some hard things that go with a decision like this, but the amount of beauty and positivity that will come with it will transcend anything in any of the other situations.’
You took a survivalist course that was unrelated to this film. What did you get out of that? How long do you think you could survive on your own?
Shailene Woodley: Survive? I hope a long time. This earth is so exciting, there’s so many things happening. I started studying indigenous cultures a few years ago, and I was really inspired by their lifestyles and the way they lived. Part of that was knowing how to survive in the wild and knowing how to heal themselves from the plants that grew around them. That’s how I became interested in wilderness skills. So I started studying herbalism and I started studying edible plants that existed in the wild. Then I realized, ‘OK, cool. I know how to make fire out of sticks and I know how to build shelter, but I live 90 percent of my life in an urban environment. So these skills aren’t going to really help me, because there aren’t trees that grow in Los Angeles, where I can just take a branch and make a fire out of, because that wood isn’t conducive to that.”
So I started learning urban survival skills. During Hurricane Sandy, I had a friend who was living in New York and for a week she was like, ‘I didn’t have any water for a week. I didn’t know what to do. We sort of freaked out. We would stand in lines for hours just to get a bottle of water.’ And that was sort of terrifying to think like, ‘Oh wow. Everything is easy right now. You turn on the shower, you do whatever.’ Especially now, with the drought in California, there’s so many resources that we’re depleting so quickly. And so I thought it would be an interesting skill-set to have. If something were to go down, or even if it weren’t, it’s sort of like a post-apocalyptic idealism. It’s more just like a fun hobby. It’s kind of fun.
Do you feel that you are like Tris?
Shailene Woodley: A lot of who Tris is resonated with me, because I felt like, when I was her age, I was sort of going through similar struggles. I was raised by two psychologist parents, who are the most beautiful, selfless people I’ve ever met. Compassion and empathy were two things that, as a young child, were ingrained into my system, which is such a lovely gift, because I feel like those are two lessons that often don’t get learned until later on in life. As a teenager, my struggle was: How do I balance being empathetic and being compassionate towards my peers and also living my life for myself and not basing my decisions on those around me? And how to live a life for my own experience, rather than people pleasing and whatnot.
Tris sort of goes through that as well. She was raised in a faction where she had to be selfless, and yet she joins this other faction that is sort of all about being selfish. She has to find a balance between that. I went through something similar, so that’s how I relate to her. It’s also just being a very strong, empowered woman. I feel very strong and I live my life with a lot of integrity, based on what I want from my life and who I am. And I think Tris is similar. As far as being different, Tris has very long hair and it’s blond, and I don’t anymore so I guess that’s a difference. That was an awful joke. I feel like we are very similar. I don’t think there are a lot of differences between us.
How difficult of a decision was it for you to dive into the Hollywood lifestyle? Do you feel like you’re making the contributions you want to make?
Shailene Woodley: Just to clarify, I never thought Hollywood is the life I want to do. I thought acting is the life I want to do. It’s not even that. I started acting when I was five. I’ve been doing it for 17 years now, which is crazy to think about. But it’s always been something that was really fun for me and a passion project in a way. And it still is, even though it’s a career now, because it takes up all of my time, really. It’s something that I enjoy doing, and the day that that fun disappears, if that day ever comes, and then I’m not going to do it anymore. Because I feel like, at the end of the day, as entertaining as movies are when you’re a part of them, it’s this beautiful art form. I’m not a painter, but I can express myself visually in a way that allows me to artistically create.
In the beginning of the movie, not everyone knows Tris is Divergent. For you, personally, what is something that people don’t see or know about you?
Shailene Woodley: I’m kind of an obvious person. I like to keep some things in my life sacred. Keep the sacred sacred. Apart from that part of my life, I’m a very open person, so I feel like what you see right now is kind of who I am always. Maybe I guess that’s different. That’s diverging.
In the film, you and Theo James climb the Navy Pier Ferris wheel in Chicago. Are you a fearless person? Were there any accidents on the set?
Shailene Woodley: Yeah. We definitely did get some black and blue bruises and still have some scars on our bodies. But Theo is always like, ‘If you do stunts or you do a big action movie, and you don’t walk away a little banged up, you’re doing something wrong.’ The ferris wheel scene was super fun. I don’t think anyone has probably ever done that before. And we got to climb it during the full moon last year and it was also a super moon. I don’t know if anybody is into astronomy, but we got to watch the moon cascade across the sky, as we were climbing up and down this ferris wheel. It was gorgeous.
How much of the zip-lining scene was shot on location?
Shailene Woodley: My stunt double went through five blocks of actual Chicago streets on a zip line, going really fast. She was maybe 50 stories up in the air! She went maybe a couple thousand feet. And I did the last two blocks of Chicago streets. It was really fun, but that was also a sort of sweaty palm moment. The rest of it was all done with green screen with giant fans blowing in our faces and Neil Burger on the microphone going, ‘OK, now there’s a building to your right, look, look, look! There’s a building to your left, look, look, look!’ And you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I get to be a kid and use my imagination again.’ Working with a green screen is so different than working with another human.
What was it like to work with Miles Teller again after The Spectacular Now?
Shailene Woodley: It was so fun. He’s like the funniest person you’ve ever met, right? We sort of have a sibling relationship. When you go to do a new movie, you’re surrounded by 300 new people, in a new city, and you get thrown into it. So, with a movie like this, there’s more than 300 people involved. So to have somebody who I knew already to be that rock, had that comfort factor, it was really nice. I’ve got his back, he’s got my back. That felt good. I knew there was somebody there that supported me, and I supported him. It was fun to have these scenes where we got to go against each other, specifically the fight scene was fun. I remember actually feeling sort of hurt, when he was saying things that are rude during the scene. I was like, ‘Dude, I’m your sister. You can’t say stuff like that to me.’ Afterwards, I went up to him and said ‘I hope we’re OK. I hope there’s nothing going on.’ He’s like, ‘Shai, we’re just acting. Come off it.’
You worked with two seasoned actresses, Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd. What was that experience like for you? What did you learn from them as an actress?
Shailene Woodley: It was amazing. Ashley and I, and Kate as well, we’re all kindred spirits and connected on that level. But one thing that I thought was so neat about them was that they’re both so empowered. They are both women. They are like women among women, strong and they live their life with integrity. One thing that I found so profound about Kate was that she loves the art of acting. She loves being on a movie set. She shows up early, she knows her lines. She shows up with questions to ask the director to enhance the movie, to bring more awareness to certain situations. She’s never in her trailer. She lives on the set. And as obvious as that may seem, I feel like a lot of actors tend to complain about being onset. And it’s like, ‘Well, why don’t you go do something else? We’re lucky to be able to do this.’ Kate fully knows that. She brings this sense of enthusiasm and excitement to the film set, which is so special and seems like it should be obvious and everyone should do that, but that’s generally not the case.
How much of a force was the author Veronica Roth? Was she on set? Did she give you any insight into your character? Did you want that kind of insight?
Shailene Woodley: She was on set a little bit, not too often. She didn’t really give me advice on Tris. It was more, I’d ask her questions like, ‘Where did you get your inspiration from? How did you come up with this story?’ Because as much as she was the charter of the book series, this was Neil Burger’s film. So I felt like, if I had questions about my character, those questions belong to him, not Veronica necessarily. He was in charge of the ship. But she was insightful, and she was 21 when she wrote this book, which is incredible. She’s 25 now, I believe, she’s married and she has three books under her belt. What a badass!
Having completed a film of this magnitude and intensity, what have you learned about yourself in the process of making Divergent?
Shailene Woodley: Oh, man. Last year was really intense. I think it was the year of the snake, shedding and all that stuff. It has to be that, because it was a crazy, intense year. Filming Divergent was interesting, because it was the first movie that I had ever done, where I was in every single scene. Literally, there was one moment where I was so sick. Neil looked at me and he’s like, ‘Can you keep going? Do you need to go home?; And I was like, ‘Do I have a choice?’ And he was like, ‘Well, if you go home, everything stops.’ That was really difficult. I learned what was important to me in that process, because you only have six or seven hours at home between work days. And you’re working five and a half months straight. You learn what you cherish and you learn who’s important in your life. And when you have one phone call to make a day, who are you going to call? I think that’s something that Divergent taught me in my personal life. How do you use your time wisely? Am I going to take care of myself during the process or whatnot?
Divergent opens in theaters March 21, 2014.