Theo James expected his role as Four in the “Divergent” film series to require physical strength. He didn’t anticipate the emotional needs.
In “Divergent,” he had to deal with father issues while in the throws of a new relationship with the film’s central hero, Tris (Shailene Woodley). That’s been magnified in the sequel, “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” because of the growing emotional bond with Tris and the resurgence of a woman from his past.
“This film gave me even more emotional levels to play with Four,” James says. “In some ways, he’s quite different from the first movie. In the first film, Four is this quiet, watchful person. You are not really sure of his intentions. Now, it’s nice that Four can show some vulnerability because there wasn’t a lot of room for that in the first film.”
“Divergent” focused more on Tris being made part of the military faction, Dauntless, and her training under Four. It’s during the training that it becomes clear Tris doesn’t fit any group. She is divergent. “Insurgent” picks up with Tris and Four on the run and trying to put together a way to fight back against the central powers.
The second film also cranks up the physical demands on James. He embraces all of the action scenes, which makes it easier to embody his character.
“That’s why it is important to do as much of the stunts and fighting as possible,” James says. “It helps inform your performance. The drama is always the backbone of a movie, but at the same time it’s fun to get to beat the (expletive deleted) out of someone.”
James has done other physical roles, including playing a cop in the short-lived CBS series “Golden Boy.” But, he’s also done a lot of work that has pushed him emotionally, including Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark.” “Insurgent” is one of the projects that has given him both.
One person who gets to share the “Insurgent” action scene moments with James is Jai Courtney, who plays his former leader with Dauntless.
“They are both different sides of the same coin,” James says. “Their interactions in this film are fairly limited, but the scenes where you see them together it is obvious how much alike they are.”
The interaction between the two leads to a pivotal moment between the pair. James knew the moment was coming, but he didn’t realize how emotional the it would be until the filming.
All of the action and emotions of the “Divergent” series has come with an added bonus for James. Before taking on Four, he was best known for his role as Mr. Kemal Pamuk in the first season of “Downton Abbey.” The character died after a night of passion with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).
“People don’t ask about that role as much these days,” James says with a smile.