LOS ANGELES Shailene Woodley needed help deciding whether to commit to starring in "Divergent," the first of a big-budget film franchise based on Veronica Roth's dystopian novels.
After a series of TV roles, Woodley had established her film career with the independent movies "The Descendants" and "The Spectacular Now." As she puts it, she grew up knowing that it wasn't the glitz of Hollywood that made an acting career attractive, it was her love of acting. Being part of a big-budget film might not be the right direction for her.
Woodley turned to an actress with a similar career path "The Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence.
"I sent her an email because I was curious. She had gone from doing indie films to doing 'Hunger Games,' which is a giant film, obviously," Woodley says. "I wondered if it changed her life. If she was happy with her decision. Sort of what that would look like because I had zero reference to what a studio film would be like.
"She said don't do anything stupid. Don't do drugs, don't make a sex tape and don't go to Whole Foods the day it opens. Other than that, she said it was fine."
With that, Woodley took the leap into playing the "Divergent's" central hero, Tris, who lives in a world where the city of Chicago has been divided into five factions. This system seems to be working but Tris uncovers a plot that could mean a complete change in the way the things operate.
Woodley relates to the character because she faced some major decisions of her own when she was a teenager. The daughter of two psychologists, she struggled with how she could balance the empathy and compassion she had been taught with living her life for herself. Tris faces a similar dilemma when she has to decide between a faction devoted to being selfless and one that's very selfish.
"I feel very strong and I live my life with a lot of integrity based on what I want in life and who I am," Woodley says. "I am a very open person. What you see right now is who I am always."
As for being different from her film role, Woodley smiles and points out that Tris is blond and she's not.
During the film, Woodley got a first-hand look at how living a life of acting integrity can be positive through the actions of her co-star, Kate Winslet. Woodley was amazed at how Winslet was so involved with the film-making process, from always coming to set prepared to hanging out with the cast and crew when she wasn't working.
Woodley also connected with the role after starting to study indigenous cultures a few years ago when she became interested in how to survive in the wild. She started out learning wilderness skills, but she soon realized that because she lives in a city it was more important to know urban survival skills.
Even if there isn't a disaster that would call on those skills, Woodley says the training ends up being a very interesting hobby.
" 'Divergent' was interesting because it was the first movie that I had ever done where I was in every single scene. I learned what was important to me during that process because when you only have six or seven hours at home between workdays and you are working five and a half months straight, you learn what you cherish and what's important in your life," Woodley says.
READ THE REVIEW
"Divergent" opened in theaters Thursday night. Bee critic Rick Bentley's review, which published in Thursday's Life section, can be found online at www. fresnobee.com/ moviereviews