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Woodley: ‘Go deep or go home’

Shailene Woodley
Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley’s sex scene in new film Insurgent (in cinemas now) may be all rippling muscles and lingering looks, but the reality on set was far from sensual.

“Any intimate scene, you see it on camera and you think, ‘That looks so romantic or so sexy’. But when you’re filming, it’s very technical,” the 23-year-old insists.

“There are lights everywhere, there are 20 people staring at you, you’re all patched up in weird places, and you’re like, ‘All right, let’s just do it’. It’s like doing any other scene in a way.”

It probably helps when your co-star is the smouldering English actor Theo James, better known to Downton Abbey fans as Kemal Pamuk, the Turkish diplomat who sensationally died in Lady Mary’s bed in series one.

Insurgent is the second film in the Divergent franchise, based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling young adult novels about a dystopian Chicago, where youngsters are divided into factions based on their personality traits.

Woodley plays Tris Prior, who discovers she possesses the attributes of multiple factions and is therefore considered a dangerous ‘Divergent’.

In the first film, we saw her conceal her identity, fall in love with expert fighter Tobias ‘Four’ Eaton (played by James), and lose her parents in a battle against villainous leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet).

In the latest action-packed, stunt-filled instalment, the stakes are raised, as Divergents are hunted through the city by Jeanine’s brutal militias, and with Four’s help, grieving Tris must find a way to stop her.

“Tris is strong, but she’s also very weak,” says California-born Woodley, who is curled up on a sofa barefoot and sipping on herbal tea after a long day of interviews.

“She comes from a broken and very vulnerable place. I thought that was very interesting and beautiful to explore, because a lot of us can be strong and still be weak, it’s not one or the other.”

Woodley also got to go toe-to-toe again with Winslet, who has described her menacing character as a “female Hitler”.

“Kate’s such a team player, she’s so strong as a human,” says Woodley.

“When you battle or act against somebody, who naturally can just stand in a room and completely control you with her poise, it was fun.”

At the beginning of the film, we see Tris chop off her long locks in a bid to escape her tragic past. But the real reason for the new crop haircut was a practical one, with Woodley having recently played a cancer-stricken teenager in tear-jerker The Fault In Our Stars.

“We had the choice to wear a wig or just keep it short. I had a conversation with the director Robert Schwentke and we both agreed that there was a certain kind of strength that came with not hiding behind hair, and also not sexualising the character.

“There’s something really nice about having a sporty cut versus beautiful, flowing locks of hair.”

Woodley, who received critical acclaim as George Clooney’s grumpy teenage daughter in 2011 comedy-drama The Descendants, hasn’t always been so confident about her appearance.

Gesturing to the huge poster for Insurgent behind her, she recalls how at high school, “I was comparing myself to magazines, I was comparing myself to actors who, on movie posters, don’t look like they look like in person, who are Photoshopped”.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there must be something wrong with the way I look. I should feel embarrassed about this’, versus growing up and being told, ‘Your body is amazing and thank God you have a bum and thank God you have a little extra something to grab because that’s actually sexy’,” she adds.

“I just wish there was a greater sense of sisterhood, so that young ladies could know that they weren’t alone in looking different, because everyone looks so different.”

The actor’s latest project sees her graduate from young adult fare to more grown-up territory, playing Lindsay Mills, the girlfriend of US whistle-blower Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s upcoming biopic Snowden.

She “wasn’t concerned at all” about getting involved in a project about a figure who some Americans praise as a hero, and others view as a traitor.

“I really believe in what Snowden did. It was very useful and he disposed generous information onto the public,” she says. “I have nothing but praise for him.”

It’s testament to Woodley’s acting skills that she tends to be cast in more serious and emotionally testing roles, but while she’d love to try out some comedy, she’s “incredibly happy” with her career as it stands.

“I just want to keep growing and trying different roles and working with new directors,” she adds.

“I love characters that are multifaceted; they feel very human to me and very real. Let’s go deep. Go deep or go home.”