Shailene Woodley of ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’

Shailene Woodley is most familiar to audiences as the title role in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure and her role on The O.C. as Kaitlin Cooper, the younger sister of Mischa Barton’s character. Now, she’s the star of the new ABC Family show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager. In my interview with Shailene Woodley, we talked about her new show, The O.C., Hollywood, her career, and a whole lot more. The Secret Life of the American Teenager premieres July 1st on ABC Family at 8/7 Central.

Let’s start off this interview by talking about your show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager. What can we expect from the show, and what kind of conflict is your character dealing with on the show?
Well, Amy, she’s an extrovert, she’s very happy with her life, and she dreams to go to Juilliard, and after one night at band camp, she gets pregnant and her whole world comes crashing down. And she’s freaking out, because she’s pregnant, and she has no idea what to do. She doesn’t know if she should tell her parents, and she doesn’t know if she should tell anyone. She’s scared to death because she doesn’t even like the guy that got her pregnant, and she deals with that and her sister and her, who don’t get along very well, and her parents, who are fighting all the time and separating. So, she has a lot on her plate, and it’s hard for her to smile even at this point, because she’s so conflicted with all of these crazy subjects that are reigning down on her all at once.

What kind of research did you do on teen pregnancy?
Well, I’ve been in high school and middle school, and I’ve seen kids my age get pregnant, and, to me, it’s always like, “How can you be so stupid?” in a sense, you know what I mean? But then again, sometimes it’s not their fault. As far as research, for me, it’s hard to find girls who are actually pregnant because you can go on the Internet and see what they say, but it’s not the same. So, I’ll ask adults who are pregnant, because my aunt was pregnant a while ago, and I’ll be like, “What does it feel like? Is it hard with the morning sickness?” So I can get a sense of what she’s going through behind the scenes.

Your mother on the show is played by 80’s icon Molly Ringwald. What have you learned from working with her?
Well, she’s so down-to-earth. Molly has a four-year-old little child, she’s down-to-earth, and she smiles all the time. Honestly, she is amazing at what she does. She is a great actress, and just by watching her, I can learn from her, and it’s so easy to do intense scenes with her, because you just stare into her eyes. We just had this connection, which I think is amazing, because if we’re doing a crying scene, I’ll cry and she’ll cry, and then I’ll cry harder and she’ll cry harder. And it’s sort of like a ping pong table, because we just feed off of each other.

What aspects of the high school experience did you relate to the most on this show?
Well, there’s the conflict and the pressure of doing things that you don’t wanna do. I don’t know, for now, the show is kind of unraveling each character, so there’s not much to actually relate to as far as subjects, analytical wise, but each character portrays such a strong emotion and such a strong personality that I can kind of pick and choose from each place and make myself. But it’s hard to say exactly what I can relate to at this point.

As a young actress, is it sometimes hard to find work like this in Hollywood?
I mean, the show is very unique and very different than any teen show that’s ever been on television, but as far as finding a show like that, you do the normal process. When you read the script, it kind of goes to heart, and it makes you think, “Wow, this is a teenage show, and it does talk about sex and sexual activities and stuff, but it doesn’t make any references to drugs or alcohol,” which is very unique in this industry as far as television shows. Most TV shows for teenagers, that’s kind of what it revolves around, and our show doesn’t really explore that angle on teenagers, which I think puts a positive outlook on teenagers.

Talk to me a little bit about the comfort level with the cast of this show. How does that help everyone on set?
We’re so lucky to have a cast of ten leads, and every single person is down-to-earth, and we get along so well. On weekends, we’ll hang out, and we’ll go to dinner sometimes. We just mesh together, and we’ve created such strong relationships so quickly that it’s kind of like a brother/sister scenario. Instead of being home every day, we’re on set with each other, and it’s really neat to be able to just bond and have that relationship and have that comfort level, like you mentioned, with all of your co-actors, because it’s definitely important. You need the charisma to portray it on television.

What is your formula for handling the hustle and bustle of Hollywood?
I’ve been in the industry for almost thirteen years, and I kind of got into it because I wanted it to be a hobby. Instead of going to soccer practice, I went to auditions. And now is the first time that I’m getting attention for my work, and it’s definitely strange and definitely not what I’m used to. I think it’s all about figuring out who you are and knowing that everyone is the same. Just because you might be on TV does not make you better than another person. And, for me, I feel like I haven’t gotten caught up in Hollywood. I don’t have very many friends who are actually in the industry, so I guess just coming home and living my normal life with my friends, my best friends, my mom cooking.

What’s it like getting a chance to develop a character every week on a TV show? Sometimes you’re only on a show for one episode, and it’s hard to develop a character in only twenty-five minutes.
I love it. Exactly what you said is completely true: When you go on a TV show as a guest star, you don’t have time to really analyze your character. On this show, you go to set every single day, and every day that you go, your character becomes deeper and deeper, and you get more wrapped around who she actually is. And it’s such a great experience to be able to know your character so well that you can just dive into it the second they say “action.” Plus, you can find different things in your character every single day, and I feel so fortunate to be able to have this opportunity, as an actress, to be able to take the time to actually form who Amy Juergens is.

I have to ask you about The O.C. because it was one of my favorite shows on TV, and I have every season on DVD. What was your O.C. experience like?
I did The O.C. at a very young age ….I was eleven when I started, so I was in sixth grade, and all I remember is everyone was very sweet and everyone was so excited about the show. It seemed like a great show, but they were in kind of the same position that my show is in now. Are we gonna get picked up? Are people gonna like it? And everyone was so down-to-earth and so sweet, and I’m definitely glad I had that experience. I don’t have many memories from it, because I was so young, but it was cool to say that I was on the The O.C. the first season.

After you were done with the show, did you still keep track of your character, Kaitlin Cooper, played by Willa Holland?
Yeah, I found it very interesting how my character took a very big turn into a different character, and Willa Holland was amazing for that role, and she did such a great job. No one could have played it better than her. (laughs) She did a great job.

What are some of your hobbies when you’re not acting?
My best friend and I, we’re kind of environmentalists, and we want to spread word that it’s OK to just kind of relax and be in the moment and don’t live in the future, live in the now. We love to craft, and we love to sew. I find sewing very fun and interesting. I love to swim and to hike. Anything that has to do with nature, I’m all there. I love the outdoors.

As you look back on all the different characters that you have portrayed in different TV shows, which character are you the most similar to?
I think back in the day when I did Felicity, we were very similar back when I was thirteen. When I was thirteen, my character, Felicity Merriman was so similar to me. She was a go-getter, she was independent, and she fought for what she wanted without being rude about it. And that’s definitely how I was growing up. Since I was very little, I’ve always dreamed about driving and then moving out, and I’ve always been an independent person who still loves their family, which I think is a very hard balance to find, but I think I find that balance, and my character Felicity, she totally was a great representation of who I actually was.

Are you ever surprised by the power of entertainment? It seems like a lot of little girls really look up to you.
It’s definitely bizarre for me, because I’m a normal sixteen-year-old girl who happens to act as my hobby, and it happens to be my passion. So when I see little girls like that, I just think, “Wow. They’re looking up to me like I look up to my mom or how I look up to Reese Witherspoon.” It’s definitely very humbling. I think I try to do everything I can to make those girls out there feel like I’m a normal teenager who does normal everyday things and I’m not better than them or anything like that. And I find it very humbling that they look up to me.

How have your expectations changed in Hollywood over the years?
When I was really little, I was always like, “I’m gonna act as my hobby my whole life,” because I love acting. Now, I was planning on applying to NYU in three months, but ever since I got the show, I can’t do that because if the show gets picked up, there’s no way I could go to college in New York. But I want to go to college and get a degree in Psychology and Interior Design and have options for when I’m older, because I’m the kind of the person that wants to try it all.