Shailene Woodley and Theo James are the perfect on screen couple in new film Insurgent

Apart from being the chosen one in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, Shailene Woodley is exactly like the endearing heroine she plays in fantasy movie Insurgent; warm, intelligent, headstrong, and a firm believer in female empowerment. Theo James, on the other hand, is totally different to his character. Unlike the serious, American hero he plays, Theo is British (he played Downton Abbey’s Mr Pamuk, the guy who pops his clogs mid-coitus with Lady Mary) and is forcefully funny (“I actually slept with her in real life, too…” he joked). Together they are two halves of one of the most refreshing onscreen couples, in what is bound to be the hottest action movie of the year. We caught up with the stars of the Divergent sequel to talk punch-ups, Mulholland Drive, and what really lies over the wall…

How did filming this movie differ from the last?
Shailene Woodley: They were night and day different, actually. The first one was set in Chicago, in abandoned houses, during the winter, with very long hours. It was a very dark atmosphere and then this movie we filmed in Atlanta in the summer where it was incredibly warm.

Theo James: When you do a second movie everyone is a little bit more relaxed, everyone still wants to do their best but with the first movie there was lot of impetus to launch a franchise whereas in the second movie you have a little bit more scope to explore, you’re able to push yourself and create a movie that is hopefully greater in scale and in mechanics.

What was it like returning to a character whose story you’ve already told?
Shailene: It was more difficult than I had anticipated. I thought it would be easier to jump back into Tris’ shoes, but what I hadn’t taken into account is that obviously I had progressed in my own personal development. And so jumping back into Tris I realised that I had to regress a year too.

How do you think your character has evolved in this second film?
Shailene: I think Tris evolves a lot in the film. In the first film she’s trying to figure out who she is apart from her parents and in the second film she’s attempting to reckon how she can survive and how she can handle her inner crises outside of her external environment.

Theo: I really wanted my character to become really fat, but they weren’t gonna go with that. You don’t really know him that well in the first movie, he’s fairly closed, but in this one he opens out a bit more and you get to meet characters that have implications on his own being, like his mother, played by Naomi Watts.

What was it like having such a foxy mother?
Theo: It was something I really had to grapple with. We worked out that she was obviously about eight when she had me. I mean I remember when I was watching Mulholland Drive before I started being an actor and thinking she was amazing.

Why do you think Four is such an appealing character?
Theo: I think the idea of someone very protective is appealing and also what I liked about him is that he’s kind of a quiet guy and he doesn’t wear his masculinity on his sleeve. He doesn’t force it down your throat.

What about Tris? Why is she a hero that young girls can aspire to, because you normally get the longhaired, ultra feminine heroines?
Shailene: That’s exactly what we wanted to avoid in this film. I think there’s something really strong about seeing a female heroine in an action movie with short hair, you don’t really see that. There’s something really neat about not making a sexualised character, and just making her very real. As far as role models go, she’s very empowered because she honours her own instincts and she listens to herself. I really admire her ability to be brave in the face of fear and to walk through it boldly instead of turning away or shying away from discomfort.

What do you think Four and Tris’s relationship says about young love?
Shailene: I think it’s very profound. It’s very rare that you see this kind of relationship in movies, not based on lust or on infatuation. Tris and Four really respect each other and admire the human that sits in front of them. They’re more partners than they are lovers, which I think is beautiful, and that’s ultimately how healthy relationships work.

Theo: I think it’s actually fairly good. They’re both fairly empowered people and it doesn’t deflect from their own strength. There is zero room for damsel in distress for Shailene’s character. At the same time it doesn’t detract from Four being a masculine character.

How hard did you have to train for the role?
Theo: Very hard.

And now you’ve let it all hang out…
Theo: Exactly! There was a specific level of physicality that I wanted Four to be, so I did have to lay off the chubby doughnuts.

Were there any on screen injuries? It’s quite a violent film…
Theo: Yeah. There were some injuries. Less so randomly than the first movie. I got punched in the face a couple of times.

You probably deserved it.
Theo: Yes, I did. I did. It wasn’t even by an actor it was just some random crewmember.

Where do you want to take your character?
Theo: Chinatown? No, where do I want to take my character? I want to see him make some mistakes. I think in the first movie and the second movie he’s very morally centered and he’s always making the right choices whereas I’d like him to make some mistakes and see where he goes from there.

Shailene: I’d love to see Tris continue to be a strong, bold individual, but I’d also like to see her a bit more vulnerable and less sacrificing.

The fictional world you inhabit in the film is surrounded by a vast wall, what do think lies over the other side?
Shailene: I don’t know, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have dinosaurs back. I think that would be interesting.

Theo: Dinosaurs.

Did you guys plan that?
Theo: No, that’s so random!

What’s your favourite line of the whole movie?
Shailene: “I know everyone thinks I’m brave or that I act brave but I’m not, I’m really scared.” That was really wonderful to me because it was the one time you see this strong person admit her insecurities.