San Diego has the sunshine, but it seemed especially bright as Divergent stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James, along with director Neil Burger, were blinding. The Divergent trio spoke about their upcoming, highly anticipated motion picture at Comic-Con. Star Woodley said that she was no stranger to wanting to be in YA novels turned big screen blockbusters.
“I did audition for The Hunger Games, back in the day,” Woodley admitted.
But, she spoke to that film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, and got her advice about how to handle the immense pressure that goes with taking a beloved literary character and bringing them to life. “I asked her about her experience with Hunger Games and how her life had changed going from small, independent movies to something as big as Hunger Games. She gave me beautiful advice,” Woodley said. “She said how much she appreciated it and how much it has changed her life for the positive.”
Divergent is based on the book by Veronica Roth and as it was turned into a major motion picture, look for the YA phenomenon to reach a whole new level of huge. James was thrilled to join something so huge, especially a world he himself enjoyed.
“I had an affinity for the character from the first time I read it,” he said. “He was different for me because he had a very grounded, quiet sense of masculinity which I don’t think you see much these days and it’s reminiscent of those old movie stars, like Paul Newman. They encompass someone with great strength, but also a strong sense of being.”
Burger was drawn to the world Roth created, which he has teased his vision of in the recent Divergent stills. “Obviously for a director, what’s wonderful is to try to create a new world, a world set in the future, and create all that visually,” Burger said.
But, at the end of the day, what drove him to spend years of his life on this one story was he liked the truly human elements of Pris’ (Woodley) journey.
“Yes, it’s based on a young adult novel, but it’s a universal story about: Where do I belong? Who am I loyal to? Am I loyal to my family? Am I loyal to myself? What am I willing to go out on a limb for? I liked all those ideas in her book and how they were tightly tied to the action. Then I felt it expanded out to something much larger, which was: How do you keep a society together?”
Woodley found the leap from television star (Secret Life of the American Teenager) to independent movie star (The Descendants) easy compared to the challenge of working with, literally, nothing. “Green screen acting is way more difficult than human interaction. That was a big learning lesson on this movie. It was really fun doing a movie of this scale with themes so powerful in a world that is so different,” Woodley said.
“A lot of it was challenging for me, because I had to erase my preconceived notions of what I was used to acting-wise and creating a new world and adapt my style of artistry that this movie lends itself to.”
What did Woodley like most about the book?
“See, I read the book before there was a script. Luckily for me it was written from Tris’ point of view, so Veronica kind of did a lot of the work for me,” she said and laughed. "I admire Tris’ sense of selflessness. She grew up with that and ingrained in her from an early age. But, I think that that is a trait we could use a lot more of in the world today. That, coupled with the bravery she’s called upon to exhibit, makes for a strong character that is admirable.”
The shooting itself could have been challenging, but according to the film’s star… it provided her with “one of my favorite moments in life.”
“There was a lot of good days to be honest. But, the Ferris wheel day was pretty special. It was a night shoot and we climbed this Ferris wheel for 12 hours straight in the middle of the night. It was a full moon, and the first super moon of the year, which I was geeked out on. How often do you get to climb a Ferris wheel?”
For James, his favorite moment making Divergent came during a demanding emotional and physical day. “The climactic scene of the movie where Four has been put under this serum and he’s not himself and Tris comes to save the day, there’s a fight scene between them and she essentially wakes him up through love,” James said.
“It was a powerful scene and we were both sweating and I had her hands around Tris’ neck and there’s this moment where we connect. It was a great way to add emotionality to a big action set piece. It’s going to be a beautiful part of the movie.”