Shailene Woodley featured in The Hollywood Reporter and at ‘Divergent’ Chicago Premiere with Theo James. PR Photos. Shailene is one of the most hyped starlets since Jennifer Lawrence prepared to launch The Hunger Games franchise two years ago.
On love: ‘I fall in love with human beings based on who they are, not based on what they do or what sex they are.. When somebody’s doing a sex scene and they’re wearing a bra and underwear, that’s not how it happens in real life. If I’m going to say yes to a movie where this is necessary, then I’m going to bring truth to that situation.’
Shailene: ‘Having come off a TV show, I was kind of in the place where I was like, ‘I’m never signing a contract for more than one movie,’ because once you do sign a contract, legally, you’re liable. [Even] if you don’t find something creatively stimulating anymore, you’ve still got to do it legally.’
Jennifer Lawrence’s advice: ‘You must do it. You will not regret it for a second. Yes, there are some hard things, but there are so many beautiful things that will come from an opportunity like this.’
Along the way, she had her share of disappointments, like losing out to Dakota Fanning for the drama I Am Sam at age 9. Recalls Woodley: “My dad pulled me aside, and he said: ‘Shai, what are you doing? You have so much anger, and you’re feeling so let down by the fact that you didn’t book [this]. I want you to close your eyes right now and picture this Dakota girl, and I want you to send her so much love and so much light because one day you’re going to book something that you really want, and you’re not going to want all of the girls around you that you competed against to feel anger against you. You’re going to want them to support you on your journey. And so it’s your turn right now to support Dakota on her journey.’ And so I did that.”
As her father predicted, years later Woodley seized a role she chased for months with Descendants. After reading for the casting director, Woodley was on the “don’t call back” list (“I wanted the role too intensely,” she surmises). But she managed to get a second read and wowed Payne. “She is that truly unique actress who can make even bad dialogue sound good,” says Payne. Her ultimate performance opened eyes in the industry, earning an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe nomination.
“She wept underwater — take after take,” marvels Payne. “That was something to see.”
The day after the White Bird in a Blzzard premiere, Woodley is curled up on a couch at the Stella Artois lounge in Park City. With her long wavy cheerleader hair shorn for her role as a cancer-stricken teen in Fault in Our Stars (out June 6) she has tucked what remains under a black knit cap. Her style purposely is understated and utilitarian. “Kitson? Yeah, that’ll never happen. I exclusively buy used clothes,” she says, referring to the Robertson Boulevard boutique favored by attention-starved “stars.” “I’m going to be a citizen of this planet, and I’m going to do my responsibility and live in stride with nature instead of constantly fighting against her.”
Woodley’s mandate to live in harmony with the Earth extends beyond her wardrobe. She totes around a glass Mason jar for drinking water because she doesn’t want to expose herself or the planet to the estrogen-like chemicals used in plastics. She has no current home (“I’m doing the vagabond lifestyle for a bit,” she says), but when in Los Angeles, she lugs 5-gallon carboys up in the mountains to capture her own drinking water. She and her two best friends — a long-haired brunette and a young man who looks like he just stumbled out of a Phish concert, her constant Sundance companions whom she declines to identify — forage for strange fruits in whatever city they visit.
For all her down-to-earthness, Woodley doesn’t object to glamming up for the red carpet (“I realized this garment is going to be used over and over and over again,” she says. “If I was to show up wearing my five-toe shoes, my Melodia organic leggings and some hippie top, no one is going to take me seriously, and I probably would not be doing this interview right now for The Hollywood Reporter. When I go on a red carpet, I’m Shailene, but I’m also Shailene representing a movie. I’m there for my boss, for my employer, so part of that comes with wearing the uniform”).
Although she has her limits. She won’t wear fur or diamonds. For her Sundance premiere, she wore minimal makeup and a simple black silk shirt, black slacks (she later changed into jeans for the afterparty) and a Navajo pendant. As for the pendant’s significance, she explains: “It’s my way of just recognizing spirit — as hippie as that may sound — in an industry where sometimes materialism is the main focus, it’s kind of my way of grounding and remembering what’s important to me.” I ask if she adheres to a particular religion. “My religion is the Earth, man,” she answers. “I believe in trees.”
Gone now are the squeaky-clean trappings of being an ABC Family star. Her role in White Bird in a Blizzard, a 1980s-set indie film about a teenager whose life becomes unmoored when her mother disappears, called for the type of nudity that can make audiences uncomfortable — which harks back to the early career choices of Kate Winslet, who famously peed on herself in a full-frontal shot in Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke. In White Bird, Woodley portrays a 17-year-old who seduces a 40-something cop played by Thomas Jane. The scenes are disturbing because of the age difference and the power dynamic. In the film, she also engages in onscreen sex with a more age-appropriate Shiloh Fernandez, 29. She’s willing to throw herself into these difficult scenes, she says, for the sake of authenticity.
It’s the type of risk-taking that distinguishes Woodley from Lawrence. White Bird producer Alix Madigan, who also worked with Lawrence as the producer of Winter’s Bone, notes the commonalities and the differences between the actresses. “Their career trajectories are similar in the sense of doing independent films and then going on to the YA franchise,” says Madigan. “I think Shailene certainly has the talent and the charisma and the inherent likability to follow in Jennifer’s footsteps. But honestly, I can’t see Jennifer doing a role like White Bird.”
Miles Teller, who starred opposite Woodley in the coming-of-age teen drama The Spectacular Now and Divergent and who has been romantically linked to the actress in the past, further confuses the matter. “I would say we have like a sibling relationship but with moments of sexual tension,” he jokes. Whatever Woodley does next, she vows not to rush into it. “I made five movies in the past year and two months and finished a TV show during that time,” she explains. “The second your boss or somebody whom you really respect comes to you and says, ‘I can’t wait to see what you do next,’ there instantly becomes this new pressure of, ‘Wow, am I creating art for myself or am I suddenly creating art for other people?’ ”
With nothing lined up beyond the Divergent sequel Insurgent, which likely shoots in the summer, Woodley says she is content to spend her days reading books (Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Anais Nin’s Henry and June were recent favorites) and traveling. She just trekked to Costa Rica by herself before embarking on the Divergent tour. For now, she’s letting her mind wander and enjoying the freedom that comes with being a sought-after young star. There’s no telling what her future holds — maybe even something outside of acting. “I might open a restaurant, and it’s going to be like restaurant in the morning, dance club at night,” says the self-described omnivore. “Who knows?”