Shailene Woodley and Theo James tell us why ‘Divergent’ is not the next ‘Twilight’

10.24.13 4 years ago

Summit Entertainment

Are Tris and Four the new Bella and Edward? Banish the thought, says “Divergent” star Shailene Woodley.

“It”s not one of those teenage dramatic relationships where it”s love at first sight and she”s swooning over him and he”s there with her and then he withdraws and she has to chase him,” says Woodley (a.k.a. Tris Prior) during an interview on the Chicago set of the forthcoming young-adult book adaptation. “There”s no drama, I feel like it”s very real and very personal and realistic to how a lot of relationships are.”

“There”s probably drama, but I know what you mean,” interjects Woodley”s co-star Theo James, sitting beside her in a sleeveless t-shirt that shows off his muscled arms.

“Of course there”s drama but it”s not, it”s very different than the Bella/Edward relationship,” she responds. “They”re completely on the opposite sides of the spectrum.”

So what have we learned? Repeat after me: “Divergent” is nothing like “Twilight.” Tris and Four are not the next Bella and Edward.

“That was one of things…I was just like, ‘is it going to be another one of these movies?”” recalls director Neil Burger, joining his two young co-stars at the table. “Some of which are really good, but I wanted to [do] something different. We”ve seen a lot of post-apocalyptic movies, we”ve seen these other young adult movies. So I just thought that there was a way to do it in a much more cinematic way, to tell it visually, and also to tell it in a more real way.”

As part of that approach, Burger (whose past credits include the Bradley Cooper vehicle “Limitless” and 2006 magician drama “The Illusionist” starring Edward Norton) made the decision to actually shoot the movie on location in Chicago, as opposed to digitally inserting the city”s skyline later.

“I thought, ‘it”s set in Chicago and Chicago is this monumental place, why not use that?” That”s the skyline, it”s already here, give or take a few buildings that might”ve been lost in the war,” says Burger, referencing the book”s post-apocalyptic setting. “I thought it would be cool to shoot it like street photography, but the streets are 150 years in the future. So to take that realness and bring it to all of it, to make it really immediate and intimate with the characters.”

Case in point: earlier in the day, we”d been taken on a short tour of the Abnegation compound, a cluster of boxy gray buildings surrounded by gravel that serves as Tris”s home before she chooses to leave her family for the Dauntless faction at the age of sixteen. With so many Hollywood productions built almost entirely on soundstages, it was striking to be touring a set that had been quite literally built in the shadow of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in downtown Chicago – and it”s exactly that note of authenticity Burger is hoping to strike with the audience as well.

“The idea of shooting a movie that”s set in the future but on the streets that are familiar…in a way even if you think about New York, even New York 80 years ago looks like what is it now,” notes Burger. “The style of the cars were different but it”s still four rubber tires on asphalt.”

Nonetheless, no matter how realistic a movie is, it’s still a movie – and to that end, Burger is intent on making “Divergent” a different experience than the usual dystopian offerings at the cineplex. Far from the chilly visuals of films like “Children of Men” and “1984” (Burger”s examples), the director – alongside cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler and production designer Andy Nicholson – has given the film a radiant sheen that will also mirror Tris”s overall mindset as she moves into her new life as a member of the Dauntless faction.

“When you see post apocalyptic movies, they”re always very gray or blue. There”s a bleakness to them,” says Burger. “We wanted to do it where [Tris] wants to be a part of the system, so if she”s buying into it, I want the audience to buy into it as well. They should want her to be a part of it. …When she comes to Dauntless it”s liberating for her. So I wanted those places, the whole society and Dauntless in particular, to be kind of luminous. That”s why we’re doing the lighting, the whole [Dauntless] pit being made out of white marble instead of gray or black or brown stone, to make it luminous or buoyant in a way.”

For those unfamiliar with the book, “Divergent” is set in a futuristic society where humans are divided into five distinct “factions” based on their personalities: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). At the age of sixteen, all members of this society are given an aptitude test that will determine which faction is most appropriate for their personality type – after which time they must choose whether to stay with their families or join the faction the test has determined they are best suited for.

Unfortunately for Tris, she doesn”t fit neatly into any one faction, making her “Divergent” – a fact the young woman is told to hide, so as not to face the consequences of living in a society where all individuals designated as such are shunned.

With sales in excess of five million copies for both the first book and its sequel “Insurgent” (a third installment titled “Allegiant” hits stores this week), Summit and Lionsgate are no doubt hoping to spawn the next mega-grossing YA franchise – an event that would no doubt be a life-changing one for its young stars. Not that Woodley is letting herself dwell on that.

“I think that if I thought about that I might go insane,” Woodley tells us. “It”s funny because it”s based on the book but the movie that we”re making is a lot different from the book in a lot of ways. So there seems to be a bridge or gap between the two. It”s hard to associate between the fan base, everyone is stressing about that but I don”t pay any attention to it. I”m so far removed from that world.”

“It”s true,” concurs James. “You have to be [removed from it] because you…cant to be too influenced by what”s going on. You want to be concentrating on the material obviously, because that”s where the story is coming from. You also have to do your own thing, your own message, your own interpretation.”

At the time they sit down to speak with us, Woodley and James are in the midst of shooting a party scene at the Dauntless compound (soundtracked – on set anyway – to Daft Punk”s “Get Lucky”), during which Tris and Four engage in what can only be described as a heavy bout of coy flirtation.

“I”d ask you to hang out with us, but you”re not supposed to see me like this,” says Four, cocktail in hand.

“When you”re drinking?” Tris asks.

Four: “No, when I”m real, I guess.”

Tris: “Is this the real Four?”

Four: “I guess.”


Tris: “Is that your real name?”

Another pause.

Four: “We”ve gotta have some secrets, right?”

“The great thing about their relationship at the beginning is that they”re not suddenly in love,” says James of the characters” tentative courting period. “I mean obviously they kind of are as soon as they see each other, but they have this fractious thing because he”s trying to remain some sort of authority and she”s discovering herself so they are kind of back and forth.”

As fans of the books already know, Tris and Four will get together at some point – the romantic relationship that develops between the two is a key component of a story clearly designed to appeal to teenage girls – though Woodley maintains that it won”t play out exactly as readers remember.

“It has to be different,” says Woodley, answering a question from a reporter who picks up on some minor differences in the scene currently filming. “I mean there”s some things about the book that I miss, I think their relationship in the book is slightly different. But obviously there”s only a certain amount of scenes that we can play in the movie and so we had to pick the most important ones. So the arc of Tris and Four I don”t think is as –”

“You get less time to –” interjects James

” Establish the certain small nuances,” Woodley finishes, before reassuring: “But it”s good guys, don”t worry. It”s good. “

“Divergent” is slated for release on March 21.


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