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Interview with Shailene Woodley and Theo James, stars of "Divergent"


Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment

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I had the great pleasure of interviewing Shailene Woodley and Theo James, stars of the upcoming film "Divergent." based on the bestselling books by Veronica Roth. Woodley plays "Tris" and James is "Four" in this movie set in the future. People are living in the ruins of Chicago, part of a society that is divided into five distinct factions. These factions are based on distinct personality characteristics such as self-sacrifice or the quest for knowledge. Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley) is soon going to have to choose which faction to join. Her problem is she discovers that she is "Divergent," meaning she doesn't fit into any one faction. Will she pick a faction based on what her head tells her or what her heart tells her? "Divergent" Website

Welcome to Atlanta!

Shailene: Thanks!

We hear Shailene that you are a big survivalist. What triggered you to become one?

Shailene: I started by studying indigenous cultures and loved the lifestyle that they lived. How connected to the eco-system they were. I was introduced to the concept of rewilding, where you adapt to the conditions that you live in. I started studying wilderness survival skills because I thought it would be fun and because I wanted to know how to survive and thrive in nature.

Do you think it helped you get the role of Tris?

Shailene: I do! So when I went into the meeting with the producers, they asked me "So, what do you do in your free time?" Well, I like to learn about survival techniques. I want to know how to hunt and shoot a gun so that I can get meat. And then they asked "So, you are comfortable around guns?" And I said yes. So, I think it did help me get the role of Tris because we are very similar in that department.

You guys have read the first two books, was that helpful in knowing how to play your role in the film and getting to know your characters?

James: Yes, absolutely. We both read the first two books, and it really helped me get to know "Four." The second book gives you an insight into his background. It gave me more perspective on him which was defiantly important. But at the same time, you need to make your own decisions about the character and be confident with them. Obviously, the big question is are you nervous about living up to the expectations of the public playing a character that is beloved and people are invested in? But at the end of the day it's good to be doing that because people love the character "Four," which is a good thing. But then, conversely, you need to make decisions based on your own instincts because that is what our job really is.

Theo James and Shailene Woodley, "Divergent" Black Carpet Event
Photo by Mike McKinney

You mentioned that your character is popular due to the books. How to you handle those expectations?  We saw at the screening the other night how crazy the reactions of the fans were.

Shailene: You can't really think about that.

James: Yeah, you can't really be aware of it, because anything like that, you just can't let it affect your performance. You need to really just disregard it. You have to have your own take on the characters.

Shailene: I mean if I tried to play "Tris" the way that a group of fans envisioned her, she would be just a mess of a human. It would be tons of different ideas of someone, instead of an intuitive authenticity that we were able to bring to the screen.

James: Yeah, and they hire you for what you are going to bring to the character.

Shailene: And when you think too much about the character, it ends up being boring.

James: It has to be natural and intuitive.

Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment

What would your fear landscapes be? (Note: in the film both Tris and Four have to explore in their mind what would terrify their characters the most.)

Shailene: Submarines and space.

James: Dumbledore and cooking pancakes.

Didn't you say on MTV "Orca sex?"

James: Well, I was trying to say awkward sex, but it came out "Orca sex."

Shailene: Yeah that would hurt. It is a legitimate fear!

Tell us about all the physical training you had to do to get ready to make the movie.

Shailene: We had about a month of training before we started filming, which was fun and awesome. Our stunt coordinators were really bad ass and ex-military. They were very well versed in their world.

James: They definitely were the real deal.

Shailene: So it was fun. We learned some basic hand to hand combat. We had to do a lot of physical training in the gym. And we had to learn the fight choreography.

Did you do your own stunts?

Shailene: As many as they would let us due to insurance.

So you didn't jump off the train?

Shailene: No, I did do that. We both ran and jump on and off the train.

Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Were there any scenes that you wanted to do but weren't allowed to?

Shailene: I wanted to do more of the zip-line. Most of the zip line stuff is green screened. But there was one shot where my stunt double went between buildings in Chicago. She went about a thousand feet down the zip-line, and I maybe did 400 feet. We were both suspended about 85 feet in the air, dangling in the middle of a Chicago alley at like 3 am.

James: Wow, I thought that was all green screened.  That's so cool! That's one of my favorite sequences in the film, the zip-line. Well done!

Shailene: Thanks Bro!

If you guys could be any superhero, who would you be?

Shailene: Catwoman. She is so sexy. What a babe, right? On her motorcycle in all black. It would be cool to be going in and out of windows, Catwoman style.

Theo: Superman would be too much, seems like there would be no limit to your power. I don't know, maybe Spiderman.

Do you think that come March 21st your life is going to change? Based on the Red Carpet at Atlantic Station, you might not be able to walk out on the streets alone.

Theo: You really don't know. I think as actors you're mentally trained to not go there.

Shailene: Yeah, we don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. You never know what is coming in life. To think about it and worry about it seems like such a waste of the present moment.

Theo: The main thing is that we hope the film has its own journey based on its own merits as a movie and as a book.

What message you hope young people take away from this film?

Shailene: Oh, there's so much. One is you don't have to be co-dependent in a relationship. You don't need someone to need you. You can be an empowered, strong individual and be with another strong, empowered person that can be your partner. You can base your relationship on the fundamentals of trust, pride and respect. Which I think is beautiful, and a neat thing to have in the "Young Adult" franchise. I think it's really neat that Tris and Christina have such a close relationship. That they are supportive of one another, and there isn't any jealousy involved because you rarely ever see that in films. I loved how they were able to be supportive of one another without the backstabbing and all the drama. I thought that was really special. I love that there are two strong female roles in the film, not to discount men because I love men. But that there are two strong females in Tris, and Kate Winslet's character Jeanine, where they go head to head. Neither of them are right, and neither of them are wrong. If this movie was told through Jeanine's eyes, Tris would look bad because Tris, just like Jeanine, is killing people as well. I just think that is an interesting thing to note and correlate. I think it's important to show different viewpoints, and if young people can soak that up from this film it would be a really neat thing.

Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Can you talk about the great cast that's in this film? You have Kate Winslet who plays the leader of one of the factions, and Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn, who play Tris's parents.

Theo: Tony Goldwyn was a great guy. I didn't do any scenes with him, but I love him. Kate is the consummate professional. She is not only an incredible actress who has this illustrious career, but also still has a passion for acting. She would just hang out at the trailer fully up for talking about the role. She really is a dynamic person who also has a great sense of humor.

And Ashley?

Shailene: Ashley and I really connected. We are very similar in our spiritual viewpoints. Our lifestyles are very similar, so it was kind of like having a big sister around. It was a great set and everyone really got along which is sort of unusual.

And you got to work with Miles Teller, who you starred with in "The Spectacular Now."

Shailene: Yes, Miles is the best. There is no one quite like him in the world. And he's such a bloody good actor.

Good luck on the film's success!

Theo: Great! Thanks for talking with us.

Shailene: Yes, thank you.

"Divergent" opens in theaters nationwide on March 21st.

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