After years in TV, Shailene Woodley got her break acting alongside George Clooney in the acclaimed drama The Descendants. Her performance as a teenager mourning the loss of her mother not only won her an Independent Spirit Award but also the coveted Trophy Chopard at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We talk to the promising twenty-year old actress about her sudden rise, life lessons from Mr. Clooney, and the exciting path ahead.
Shailene, what first got you interested in acting?
I was five and I started completely by accident. My dad is a school principal, my mom is a school counselor. I was taking theater classes as a hobby, and I ended up liking it. I got an agent and went from there. It wasn’t something I planned. It sort of happened naturally. I feel very grateful for that, and it’s always been fun. I never wanted it to be anything serious, you know. The second it becomes boring, I want to quit.
Were your parents supportive all the way through?
Yes absolutely, I have the best parents in the entire world. They’re so supportive, and now I feel very lucky because I got to bring my mom with me to Cannes. It’s kind of paying her back for all of those years of driving me to auditions.
You acted alongside George Clooney in The Descendants, one of the few stars everyone seems to adore. What do you think were the most important lessons you learned from him, on a personal and on a professional level?
He is such an incredible human being. I definitely learned how to be a better person because of him, and I learned a lot about strategies and politics in film. He taught me about life choices on a very personal level. I also learned about graciousness and gratitude; he is extremely grateful for the things that happened in his life, and he knows it could be taken from him in a second. That’s the way he lives his life. It’s a very down to earth and humble approach.
You mentioned before that if it gets boring you would stop completely, would you go back to school?
I actually study herbalism right now. I don’t attend a university presently because I do a TV show, but I take online courses through various outlets and do a lot of correspondence courses.
How do you find time for everything?
Sometimes it’s overwhelming to mix my two worlds: being outdoors and studying herbalism, and coming somewhere like here and dressing up in fancy dresses. It’s a weird boundary to cross, sometimes it’s a little bit odd, but it’s very fun.
Do you feel like you still have time to hang out with your friends, your family?
Absolutely, I mean most of my friends have very similar passions when it comes to rewilding and being outdoors, so whenever I do that we’re involved together.
Do you hike?
Yes, all the time.
Where do you go?
I live in the mountains in LA, so I kind of just go around my house, and I do a lot of hiking on the Santa Monica mountain ranges.
Receiving the Trophy Chopard at this year’s Cannes Film Festival must have been quite a different experience. It obviously opens a lot of doors. How do ideally see your career from here?
I would love to continue to do more movies. It’s where my passion lies, it’s where my heart is. But ultimately, I don’t want to do anything unless I’m very passionate about a script, so I just want to wait until I see a script I really like.
Would you consider doing more commercial work though?
Yeah of course, but I would not endorse anything that I don’t believe in. Going to an event is different than actually signing a contract or actively promoting a product. I’m not really for that.
And you also get to have more fun.
Do you have any crazy paparazzi stories as of yet?
Not really, I had a few guys stand outside my yoga studio once. So that was a little bit weird to come out of yoga all calm and zen and see these guys hiding behind trees.
You feel like it’s happening more and more?
No, I don’t really do anything that causes attention in that way, so I think people just get bored of me. (Laughs.)
What excites you the most about what’s ahead?
I guess the unknown factor, that’s the most exciting part. I don’t really know what’s coming.
Do you still get nervous during castings?
Yeah definitely, I don’t think that ever goes away even when you get to be George Clooney. I think you’re always nervous when you audition for something, because rejection is not something anybody would choose for themselves, but it happens a lot. I still love auditioning though.
Did you get a lot of rejections?
Oh yeah, you get three hundred “no’s” before you get one “yes,” and then you get another three hundred “no’s” and you get a “yes,” and it’s kind of the way it goes.
What scares you the most about all that?
I don’t really get scared about all that, because I believe in what I do and I do it with integrity. But sometimes going to photo shoots and events and stuff you have to do things to abide by the sponsor that can be out of my comfort zone.
Have you ever felt lost or haven’t found anyone you can connect with at events you were required to go to?
Sometimes, absolutely. But there is a way to be very kind to people, and to get along with them on a very surface level. If you don’t know them very well, then you usually just say a few words and it just flows by itself.
Do you usually travel by yourself?
It depends, sometimes I travel by myself, or I would bring my mom with me, or a friend.
Do you think your perception of the film industry has changed radically over the last few years?
Definitely, I mean I think there is a lot of politics behind it and there’s a lot of strategy as far as knowing what’s appropriate to do, and what’s not. And I think the most important thing is learning to stay true to yourself above anything else, no matter what those other voices are telling you. It’s very important to remain strong and rooted and young and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Were you ever in a situation where you filmed something but then the edited footage is completely different with your vision of it, and you are disappointed in what you see?
I’ve never actually had that happen in a film, but I have had that happen in an interview, where you have an interview and it’ll go great, and then you read the piece and you’ll go, “I didn’t say that!” but they’ve cut and pasted things that you said together so that it seems you’re talking in a different context, and that is very frustrating.
Has it happened to you a lot?
Not a lot, but it has happened often enough to just be very cautious about what you say and who you’re talking to.
Have you gotten used to watch yourself on screen?
I enjoy watching my performances once or twice, because I feel like they teach me something. It’s my own report card, in the same way that you probably read over your writing to make sure that it’s correct. It helps me learn for the future, but I don’t watch it on repeat.
Is there anything you would change?
I don’t think so. Because I think that when I shoot something, it usually feels appropriate to that period in my life, so no I wouldn’t change anything. But of course, a lot of my performances would be entirely different if I were to film them today.