Insurgent Interview – Shailene Woodley

There’s been an explosion of interesting, tough and complex female characters on television and in movies in Hollywood. As a young actress, how does it feel to be playing one of these iconic female roles?
It’s awesome, man! It feels great. Women in the world are strong. Women have a voice. Women have a lot to say and if I can be a tiny representative of that; if I can represent that voice in the smallest fashion, then that’s a huge triumph.

Which action heroines did you admire when you were growing up?
Growing up, I didn’t really watch a lot of films, so I didn’t look to films for action heroines. Instead, I was always deeply inspired by strong female people who existed in real life. I remember studying Native Americans for a long time. There were a lot of Native American women that were really strong who fought for their tribes. I guess Pocahontas was a representation of that. In a way, she was the character who was the face of that movement – but there were many other women I admired, too. Amelia Earhart is another. I love interesting women like that.

In what way do you relate to Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior, your character in The Divergent Series: Insurgent?
I relate to Tris in many ways. We’re both very stubborn and we’re both competitive. Tris isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in, regardless of what other people think – and I think I share that quality with her. I’m not afraid to stand up for things if I think they are right.

What issues do you stand up for right now?
What am I standing up for now? I guess I stand up for a lot of things, but it constantly changes. As far as big worldly issues go, I think this whole ‘fracking’ thing is terrifying. I think it was beautiful that New York City recently banned ‘fracking’. It’s a giant win, but there’s still a long way to go.

What excites you the most about your new movie in The Divergent Series?
I’m excited about the work of our director, Robert Schwentke, because he’s really good with action scenes. He makes big action movies really interesting to watch, which is very exciting to me – but he is also really, really invested in character development. The first movie had a lot of character development, but I feel like there will be even more in the second movie.

How did Robert’s approach to directing differ from the first Divergent director, Neil Burger?
Robert is German, and so was our DP [Director of Photography]. They were very European by nature, which was very different to the film shoot for the first movie. For example, Robert only likes to work 10-hour days so the crew worked 10-hour days, and then the actors and the wardrobe people worked 12-hour days, so it was a great environment. I love Europe because there’s so much more freedom there – and Robert definitely brought that to the set. There was a sense of, ‘We’re not doing brain surgery here. We’re making art, so let’s have fun doing it. Let’s try everything we can because we’re here, but let’s not abuse the system and do things 500 times for the sake of doing it 500 times.’

How much pressure do you feel for the sequel to be a success?
I felt more pressure when we first started the second movie. We really wanted to get the script right and we really wanted to make sure that we were maintaining integrity from the first film, while also raising it to the next level. In that way, there was more pressure. It wasn’t necessarily pressure from external forces, but from ourselves because we wanted to make sure that we had everything in line.

What other pressures did you feel at the beginning of the film shoot?
Robert was a new director, so I had to get to know him and I also had to reconnect with the character – but that was easy. Now, I don’t feel any pressure at all because once you leave a movie set, it’s in the hands of everyone else. You have zero control then.

Which Divergent faction would you be if you lived in the dystopian futuristic world of the movies?
I’d definitely be factionalist. They are so bad-ass. It’s like this secret militia that nobody knows about, which is so rad to me. I love mystery and I love mystique in life, and the fact that you don’t quite know everything about them is fascinating. They are so interesting.

In the movie, there’s a scene where Tris has to fight herself. Do you ever feel like you’re fighting yourself internally?
I feel like I fight with myself every day, even if it’s just the thought of something like, ‘Should I get out of bed right now and give myself 10 extra minutes to stretch? Or should I just sleep some more?’

How do you stop those internal thoughts?
I feel like internal battles are inevitable and something that we all deal with – but I definitely enjoy myself more when I don’t have as much internal warfare happening. I try to not let it bother me.

How do you get into character on a sci-fi movie like this?
For me, the way that I get into character is I don’t get into character. I just get into myself and I surrender to the words that are on the page. I surrender to the circumstance that a particular character is in because all acting is about exchanging energy. Whether you’re exchanging it with another actor or you’re exchanging it with yourself, you’re processing things and you’re empathising with a character that you obviously relate to – otherwise, there would be no reason for you to be in their shoes.

Can you take us on to the set of the movie and explain your daily morning routine with hair and make-up? Did it take long to turn into Tris?
Luckily, my hair was very short for this movie, so hair and make-up didn’t take long at all. Usually, we did nothing for Tris’ hair. It took maybe 45 minutes to apply the make-up with the tattoos and everything, but that was about it. It was very simple.

Do you enjoy the hair and make-up process?
No. I am not a make-up girl or a hair girl. I’m a girl who likes to sleep more than have her hair and make-up done. I’ve been lucky, though. The last two characters I’ve played have had very minimal hair and make-up, so it’s been great.

Did you have a high-tech trailer on the set of The Divergent Series: Insurgent?
I am so not a fan of trailers. I feel like they are alienating and isolating. It’s nice to have a space where you can go if you have a serious scene coming up and you want to prepare – but trailers are incredibly lonely if you spend all day in there. They are very boring, too. I find this industry very interesting and I feel like film sets are truly one of the most magical places you could ever be, so why would you sit alone inside a trailer all day long? There’s so much to take in outside on the set.

What excites you the most about film sets?
Film sets are so interesting. You’ll be sitting there and some guy will walk past carrying a fake wall to put up in the corner of the studio. Then you’ll see a truck pulling along a fake house. There’s so much to take in and there are 200 or 300 people to learn from. Everybody comes from a different walk of life, so I love the exchange of a story and I love storytelling. To me, a trailer is a wasted opportunity because there’s so much to learn right now. I think fancy trailers are hilarious.

What essentials do you always take with you when you work away from home?
I always take candles with me. I always have to have candles. What else do I take with me? I always have sage. Sage is a big one for me. I take that everywhere.

What’s the importance of sage?
According to Native American heritage, which was my lineage, sage clears energies. I’m always travelling, so when I enter a new space, it’s nice to clear the space so that I can start fresh. Plus, it smells divine. It takes away all the chemical and bleached air-conditioned smells of hotel rooms. It’s perfect.

Read our DVD Review of Insurgent