The film’s saving grace comes in the form of Shailene Woodley, the gifted 22-year-old who plays heroine Beatrice, born to conflicted impulses (more complex than her dialogue). Yet after a middle section of knife-throwing and other tests, ‘Divergent’ doesn’t have nearly enough for its star to do.
Over the past week the internet has been spewing out articles about how Shailene Woodley is The Next Jennifer Lawrence – poised for superstardom with teenage blockbuster ‘Divergent’. After meeting the 22-year-old actress you’re left wondering whether Hollywood will know what to do with her. She gives off the air of a normal-girl like J-Law and is feisty and unrehearsed. But she’s also hippie-ishly scatty in a barefoot yoga, sunbathing-her-vagina kind of way. (That last one is straight up: Woodley told a beauty blog that she gives her ‘vagina a little vitamin D’. For health reasons, you understand.)
She arrives to have her picture taken with her pixie haircut stuffed under a beanie, wearing zero make-up. Going bare-faced is a body image, keeping-it-real thing she’s got going with her actress friend Brie Larson (from the indie film ‘Short Term 12’). ‘We were talking about the things that we’re insecure about with our bodies,’ Woodley begins earnestly. ‘We realised we were comparing ourselves to images in magazines. And we were like: “We’re such hypocrites, because we are in those magazines.”’
‘Divergent’ is ‘The Hunger Games’ with tattoos. Adapted from Veronica Roth’s novel, it’s set in the future where 16-year-olds take a personality test to decide which of five factions they will join for the rest of their lives. Woodley is Tris, whose test is inconclusive, making her Divergent: a threat to the system. Reviews of the film have been kind of meh, but everyone agrees that Woodley is the main reason to watch.
She says she was drawn to Tris’s toughness (‘I’m very strong. If it’s fight or flight, I’m fight’). She did all the stunts she was legally allowed to do, hanging off buildings and climbing big wheels. ‘I’m a feminist,’ she says. ‘I want to play strong women.’ And she liked the love-interest angle, Tris’s relationship with her instructor (Theo James). ‘They’re a team. So often in films you get those co-dependent relationships. “Twilight” is so toxic. It’s like: “What do I need to change about myself for you?”’
Which brings us to another of her pet hates: being photographed in come-hither sexy-lady poses for men’s magazines. ‘I’ve made mistakes,’ she says. ‘I’ve done shoots where I felt uncomfortable. I’ll never do that again. I keep my clothes on.’
Growing up in California, Woodley started acting at six. After landing her big break as George Clooney’s daughter in ‘The Descendants’ aged 18, she didn’t make another film for three years. Right now, she says, she’s taking a break until shooting starts on ‘Divergent 2’. ‘I want to do something different. I would love to be a waitress.’
Is she serious? ‘Yes! It would be so much fun. Right now a lot of people my age are finishing college and going out into the world for the first time. I’m going to travel a bit. I’ve just got rid of everything I owned. I’m living out of a carry-on suitcase. I need more life experience to bring colour to roles.’
‘Divergent’ opens in UK cinemas on Fri Apr 4.