Shailene Woodley talks Adrift, Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies season two and the Me Too movement

Seven years after she made her film debut in The Descendants opposite George Clooney, Shailene Woodley has landed herself roles which more experienced actresses could only dream of. Golden Globe and Emmy award nominations have followed, plus she’s earned herself a reputation as an activist. All by the age of 26.

In 2017, Woodley completed the impressive line-up of actresses in the critically-acclaimed series Big Little Lies. It resulted in one of the aforementioned Globe nominations – for Outstanding Supporting Actress – although she was just pipped to the post by co-star Laura Dern.

While the camaraderie that comes with an ensemble project like Big Little Lies has resulted in lots of group red-carpet hugs and cast nights out bowling, Woodley’s latest project, Adrift, was a much more siloed affair.

The film – of which 90% was filmed in open water – is based on the true story of Tami Oldham, played by Woodley. In 1983, 23-year-old Tami and her boyfriend Richard Sharp (played by Sam Claflin) attempted to sail from the island of Tahiti to San Diego, but ended up heading straight into the path of the destructive Hurricane Raymond. After the storm ravaged their ship, Tami clung on for 41 days in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surviving on water and tinned food, until her rescue off the coast of Hawaii.

Below, the actress tells us exclusively about how she almost missed the part in Adrift, the upcoming season of Big Little Lies and why the #MeToo movement is so much bigger than Hollywood.

What made you sign on for Adrift?

I originally missed their email in my inbox because it was while I was at Standing Rock. Ultimately, when I did read it, I fell in love with the story because it is so rare that you get the opportunity to explore a survival story and love story at the same time.

Adrift looked like it had some really gruelling scenes. How difficult – both physically and mentally – were these?

There were definitely days when we were pushed to our limits and we pushed the boundary on what we thought was possible. Over 90% was filmed in open water, and when you do that you are at complete mercy to mother nature; you can’t control any aspect of it. The one thing that was so beautiful throughout this experience was that any moment we felt a little bit too uncomfortable or too exposed, someone would pipe up and say, ‘But we have a bed to go home to tonight and we have lunch that is going to be delivered to us,’ and it immediately put it into perspective that we were creating a film based on a true story where the characters didn’t have those luxuries.

How was working with Sam Claflin?

Sam and I just got very lucky. We’re very similar people, we see the world the same, we have very similar aligned belief systems and when you spend that amount of time away from family – he was away from his wife and kids, I was away from my family – you tend to, if you’re lucky, build and establish a relationship that provides support, safety and kindness and the ability to be vulnerable with someone. I feel very blessed to work with him because he’s such a brilliant actor and so professional but also because he really did become my friend, in the greatest sense of offering a home in the midst of what could have been a very chaotic experience.

You met Tami, the woman you were playing. How did you deal with the pressure of bringing her life to the screen?

She was extremely open and generous throughout the entire process. She said she’d been waiting 34 years for a movie to get made. She’d written a book and the book in a way became our bible – it was what Sam and I turned to every single day. With the screenplay, we used the book as our ultimate guide. Because Tami had written it herself there’s a lot of information in there but she was also open to answering any questions we had including deeper questions. I think it is important to have boundaries and to respect this experience… it could have been traumatic for her. There was always a constant dialogue and just a lot of reverence and respect when it came to conversations that we would have.

In one scene, you are partially nude. How did you ensure it felt right and comfortable on set?

For me, nudity in any film is a matter of what is realistic and authentic, not exploitative or unnecessary. These are the questions that I always ask myself when there is a love scene or a meditation scene on a ship [like in the film]. What I love about this film is that we explore sensuality in so many moments without needing any sexuality at all. The more we’re able to capture sensual moments on screen the more we can start changing our view when it comes to our personal sexualities and sensualities. In a personal way, I find less to be more in most cases and I think leaving things up to the imagination leaves a little mystery when it comes to nudity or sex. It only intrigues the audience more.

How is the second season of Big Little Lies going?

It’s going so good. We’re in the middle of it, it’s so much fun to have everyone back together. We have an incredible new director who’s British, Andrea Arnold, and it’s really been a great experience to watch how she’s taken what we all created in season one. She has implemented her own creative vision, while maintaining the same tone and emotions, and that’s been such a delight and so lovely to work with.

What has Meryl Streep brought to the show?

I guess all I have to say is that she is as brilliant as she actually seems. There is a reason why she’s Meryl Streep. She shows up. She is so incredibly professional, so passionate about what she does and is constantly raising the bar for all of us other actors to show up in a bigger, bolder way.

Since the first season came out, Hollywood has been dominated by the #MeToo movement. Have you seen change yet?

When I think of the #MeToo movement, I think of it from a place of humanity instead of the label of Hollywood. It’s easy to forget it was started by an African-American woman and that this has been something that’s been going on for a very long time, now that it’s in the media and is talked about more. But I absolutely have seen shifts. Just the fact that so many women feel safe to share stories in their own personal communities is a huge step in the right direction. I hope that moment can continue.