Shailene Woodley doesn’t necessarily seem like an action hero.
But that’s part of the appeal of the “Divergent” franchise — her character, Tris, doesn’t start out as a hero, but becomes one. It’s taken some time. The third of the four installments, “Allegiant — Part I” opens this Friday, March 18. “Ascendant,” the last of the bunch, is scheduled for 2017.
Four films in the same series constitutes a fair-sized chunk of an actor’s life, particularly one who is only 24. Woodley talked about that recently, and more.
When you look back on it, did it occur to you that these films would be going on so long?
It’s pretty bizarre to look back at the trajectory of the last few years and realize that this has taken up half of my year every single year for the past three years.
Is that OK? Would you do it again?
Oh, I don’t know if I would do it again right now for another four years, but I would never change the past four years.
You make a lot of smaller films, took, like “The Spectacular Now” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” Do you bring that experience back to a blockbuster?
You do. The other thing is, as an actor, every single piece is so different. The content and the context of different opportunities varies so wildly you’re just sort of waiting to see what comes up. I would never say I would never do another franchise. I can’t see myself doing another franchise, but you never know what opportunities may arise, and what you might be passionate about.
Why is there such an appetite for movies starring young people in dystopian futures?
I’m not sure. I think probably people have an appetite for them because it’s a world we can’t relate to externally, on an external environment. And yet the running theme and the values between this human experience of people in that world are identical to the running themes and values of the world in which we live right now.
In this and “The Hunger Games,” the protagonists are strong young women. Was that important to you?
It was absolutely important, to look at this young woman who didn’t start off as a hero but through the process of being in an environment where she had to find her bravery and her courage in order to help the community around her was, I found deeply inspiring, and also important to see. We often see men in those roles, but it’s not as often we see women start off weak and become strong.
You break after every one. Is it difficult to get back into character?
She’s different every time. Tris, she’s obviously the same person and her core values and her core moral integrity, but she’s different because her environment constantly changes, and we as human beings, when our environment changes we drastically shift in the way that we show up in the world. Our dialogue wanes or waxes based on the situations we find ourselves in.
There’s you, Miles Teller, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort — it’s like a kind of all-star team for young talent.
Yeah, we’re fortunate. The beautiful thing about this cast is everyone’s been so successful, and everyone’s embracing each other’s success, which doesn’t always happen. You don’t always see people rallying for each other to be successful on movie sets. Or really any industry. This particular group, nobody’s jealous, nobody has crazy egos that are out of control. Everyone’s really even-keeled and supportive of the accomplishments that the others make.
Do you prefer big-budget films, or smaller ones?
I like to mix it up. I try not to judge whether or not I’ll do a film based on the budget. I try and judge it on how I feel artistically fueled and creatively triggered by a particular project.
So that’s how you pick and choose?
I pick and choose based on the feeling I get when I read a script. When I get the script I know immediately if it’s something I want to chase after, because it fuels me and gives me butterflies I can’t seem to shake. Or I know immediately it’s something, even if it’s a beautiful script and a beautiful character, if I don’t have a reaction I know that role is meant for someone else.
A lot of actors say they know the perfect script when they see it, or one that’s not right for them. But there must be a lot in the middle that’s harder to choose. Does that ever happen?
It does, actually. It happens constantly with various different roles. There was a movie last year, I loved the script, I loved the character, I loved the director, I really wanted to do it. But I was in a place in my personal life where I wasn’t feeling very well, I was overworked, I was really tired. Having to choose to give myself time to breathe and take a break and recover, again, on a personal level, instead of taking on this project that would have been an incredible experience, that was a really rough decision. But you have to take care of yourself. You can’t be a very good artist if you’re suffering in your own body and your own mind.
Did the movie get made?
Will you say what it was?
Nope, not going to say (laughs). But it did really well, and I’m really happy for the person who did the film, and the film turned out great.
And you’re fine with that?
I don’t know how people don’t watch things they’re not a part of … don’t appreciate them. Everything works out, and we all have our time and place for our own experiences.
Are you comfortable watching yourself on-screen?
I am. It’s sort of like my report card. Everyone else has their own opinions of your performance. I like to watch it and say, “Oh, I could have done that better” or, “Oh, that was actually pretty good.” It’s my way of judging and critiquing, so I can grow as an artist.
There are a lot of scenes with computer graphics in this film. When you see the finished movie, are you ever surprised by what it ends up looking like?
Absolutely. I was so surprised with this movie with the way the Bureau looked inside and whatnot. That was a total shock. I had no idea what it was going to look like.
There’s a radiation-soaked-desert scene that’s pretty cool-looking.
It was fun to do. It was fun for me because it was so different. It’s always interesting and challenging to do something that you don’t have the opportunity to do every single day, like stunt work, or running through red rain.
Can you tell when you’ve really nailed a scene?
There’s a feeling that you get occasionally when you do a scene where you walk away and you feel so tapped in that you come out of it and you’re like, “Wow, what did I just do?” And you’re actually not aware of the decisions that you made because you were so committed to the moment. That’s a great feeling. Whether the decisions are the right decisions or not the right decisions, knowing that you surrendered so much to the process of the character that you sort of left behind your thought process and were fully invested in the moment is a pretty special experience.