The cast of Divergent is loaded with an array of actors like Nikita‘s Maggie Q and ER‘s Mekhi Phifer. There’s also Hollywood’s rising star Miles Teller, who surprisingly doesn’t play a raging alcoholic in this film. Other newcomers include Jai Courtney, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen. ScreenCrave recently spoke to this excited bunch during the Divergent press day. They discussed their characters and what it was like shooting on location in Chicago.
Can you each talk about your characters?
Miles Teller: I play Peter and his fans call themselves Peter’s Princesses, just wanted to throw that out there. Love you all. The movie is very true to the book. I’m not sure what got cut from the film yet. Anyway, my character was not a neo-nazi. I don’t think anyone wakes up wanting to be mean. I think it comes from some inner conflict and struggle, which Veronica talks about in the later books. Peter has a very nice arc by the end of it.
Jai Courtney: I play Eric, who is one of the younger leaders of the Dauntless faction. As far as the ship from the book to what we came up with, I wanted to make Eric a little more likable than what he seemed on the page in the novel. Characters like this, they sometimes feel a little functional and the challenge was to try and do something with that. It was often a struggle with Neil [Burger] because he wanted me to be flat and dead and mean, and I was a little paranoid that that would just create a boring performance, but he’s much smarter than I am. He crafted that performance well. I’m happy with what we ended up with.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: I play Will in the film who is a bit of a know-it-all. He’s very intelligent, and becomes very good friends with Tris, Christina and Al. I saw the film and I think the challenge with Will is that he has all the facts and he’s a complete know-it-all, but not to make him doctor exposition about everything he says, it’s just about moving the story on. He actually has a character and a storyline of his own. I watched it and I was very pleased with how it turned out. In the words of the Rolling Stones’, ‘You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.’ We certainly did in the film. The warmth of his character comes up and his likability, hopefully.
Christian Madsen: I play Al, he’s sort of the quiet shy one in the group. Kinda like the gentle giant and I relate with that a lot. He falls in love a little with Tris. She brings him into the group and he becomes one of the friends of Will and Christina. He’s coming from Candor, which is honesty. I think he’s trying to be protective of everyone, but runs into a lot of mistakes along the way, but I think he cares about everybody. Also having Veronica onset helped me play as close to the book as possible with the character and having Neil be there as well was very helpful.
Maggie Q: I play Tori, she’s a longtime Dauntless member, sort of like Jai’s character and Mekhi’s. She’s the unwilling mentor to Shailene’s character and it was interesting. When you’re in the Dauntless faction, they’re known for their bravery. They’re a tough faction and sometimes that can read a little flat, a little cold. You don’t want that. You want the undertone to read properly when you’re doing a film like this so you’re not watching mean-driven, crazy people. With Tori the balance was about towing that line between what makes her interesting and what makes her mysterious, engaging. Hopefully, that lines between what is expressed and what is felt. You want to feel that there’s a lot being felt but not a lot that is coming out of her mouth. Obviously, being Divergent means something very personal to her. She’s had experience with it so she wants to stay the hell away from Tris as much as she possibly can, in a very real way. It was important to her resistance, otherwise you don’t feel the threat of what it is to be Divergent or what that means. And I think Neil was helpful too.
Mekhi Phifer: I play Max. This is an interesting journey for me, because I’ve never done a sequel-based film. I’m used to being able to understand the character’s arc in any given script by reading it beginning to end to understand where the character is going. With this, I had certain things I wanted to do and bring. You don’t want to play something uninteresting, but they want you to bring it down a bit. Be a little more stoic in your approach. But I didn’t know where the character was going, where he came from or no prequel leading up to him being the leader of the Dauntless faction. I’m interested in seeing the second installment and where the arc is.
Which faction did you feel you all related to the most? And you’re not allowed to say Dauntless.
Miles Teller: I’ll start and say Dauntless.
Maggie Q: That’s it. Dauntless [laughs].
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Well I think we joke about saying Dauntless because it’s the most different from the life we live. The fighting styles and the guns, and jumping off trains, it’s all very cool.
Maggie Q: I think it’s easy to say Dauntless because who doesn’t want to celebrate the recklessness and feel it be positive and not something that you have to hide or repress. I think there’s a reckless side to all of us and this faction is dedicated to represent that side of your personality… It’s so careless in the way that they do things, but hopefully the movie expressed the fact that Dauntless is not as glamorous as it seems. And not really something that you’d want as a reality, day in and day out. It’s a fun answer.
When Tris goes to Dauntless, she’s seen differently. Is there any role you’ve taken that has made others see you differently?
Miles Teller: I think when I wore a tube sock in 21 and Over. My fans realized that there was a lot of muscle under this exterior.
Maggie Q: The fat to muscle ratio was higher than they thought?
Miles Teller: Yes, they were seeing what I was working with.
What was it like working with both a green screen and practical sets? Did it help bring you into the world created in the novel?
Christian Madsen: For me, this was the first movie I’ve ever done, so CGI or not, it was a brand new experience. The book takes place in Chicago and we actually shot in Chicago. It was exciting to read a page that says, ‘Tris climbs a ferris wheel’ and the next day we’re watching her actually climb it.
Mekhi Phifer: It did help bring you into [that] world. When I walked onto the sets, they were so elaborate and helped me take in the world and be a part of this universe that these guys created. It was a proud moment for all of us. This is a very big movie for us and we were excited.
Miles Teller: There actually wasn’t a whole lot of green screen. Pretty much everything you see is really cool sets. All of these abandoned buildings, it’s not like they dressed them up. The buildings we were in were leaking if it rained; it was cold, there was dirt, dust and rats. Production did a great job on that, we appreciate that guys. It helped our performances.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: [For us Initiates], there wasn’t a whole lot of CGI, so it was amazing. So much of our story was telling it through our reactions. Just our eyes and our looks were responding to these things that were happening to us, so it was amazing to have these huge sets in front of us to respond to.
Maggie Q: Production value on this was so high and in that world, it’s a huge tool for actors.
Divergent is now playing in theaters everywhere.