2011 – The Descendants

Role: Alexandra King
Genre: Drama
Writers: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings
Director: Alexander Payne
Duration: 115 minutes
Box Office: $171,470,653 Worldwide
Production Budget: $20,000,000 Estimated
Filming Locations: Honolulu, Kaua’i
Filming Dates: Spring 2010


Follows the unpredictable journey of an American family at a crossroads. Matt King, a husband and father of two girls, must re-examine his past and navigate his future when his wife is in a boating accident off Waikiki. He awkwardly attempts to repair his relationship with his daughters — 10-year-old precocious Scottie and rebellious 17-year-old Alexandra — while wrestling with a decision to sell his family’s land. Handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries, the Kings own some of the last priceless virgin parcels of tropical beach in the islands.

When Alexandra drops the bombshell that her mother was in the midst of a romantic fling at the time of the accident, Matt has to take a whole new look at his life, not to mention his legacy, during a week of momentous decisions. With his girls in tow, he embarks on a haphazard search for his wife’s lover. Along the way, in encounters alternately funny, troublesome and transcendent, he realizes he’s finally on course toward rebuilding his life and family.


Amanda Seyfried auditioned for the role of Alexandra

Shailene’s first major role in a theatrical release

Shailene booked her role in the film whilst working in a summer job at American Apparel

In a scene in the novel, Scottie is described to be wearing a shirt with the words “Mrs. Clooney” on it. George Clooney plays the character’s father in the movie

In the movie Matt and his family own a piece of Hawaii that had been in the family since the 1860s. In real life there is actually a Hawaiian island called Niihau that has been run by the same family since they bought it in 1863

Character Quotes

Hey, Scottie! Raina’s a fucked-up hoe-bag and you need to stay away from her! And she’s going to be a meth-head and she’s gonna get used by stupid guys! She’s a twat! Say it!

You really don’t have a clue, do you? Dad, mom was cheating on you.

Alexandra:[to Scottie] Get out of my underwear, you freak!
Matt: No no, back inside – put on a swimsuit, now!
Alexandra: Real good job you’re doing.
Matt: That’s part of why I brought you here. You have to help me with her – I don’t know what to do with her.
Alexandra: Maybe if you spent more time with her, she wouldn’t act like such a complete spaz.

Matt: You little fuck! Do you get hit a lot?
Sid: I don’t know, I’ve had my share.
Matt: [to Alex] Your friend is completly retarded, you know that?
Sid: Hey man, I’ve got a little brother who’s retarded! Don’t use that word in derogatory fashion.
Matt: Oh.
Sid: [laughing] No I don’t have a retarded brother!
Alexandra: Sid, you suck!

Awards and Nominations

In addition to winning Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2012 Academy Awards, the film has received another 45 wins and 73 nominations. Other notable wins came at the AFI Awards for AFI Movie of The Year, Best Motion Picture and Best Actor for George Clooney at the 69th Annual Golden Globes. Shailene was also nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture at the Globes, losing out to Octavia Spencer.

Shailene on ‘The Descendants’

On Alexander Payne

The best direction he ever gave me was he came up to me and said, You’re not being Shai, and he walked away. I was like, Oh, duh, thank you. Thanks for bringing me back down to earth.

On the biggest challenge playing Alexandra

Honestly, I was given such beautiful words to speak. This screenplay was so brilliantly written. You know, a lot of times you read a screenplay and you change a few of the words so that they sound more natural, but this one already sounded natural; there was no work to be done as far as changing the words and the dialogue. For me, it was really about just submitting myself to the moment and allowing the truth of the words to come through.

On spending time in Hawaii

I had never been to Hawaii before, and the second I landed there I was like, This is home, this is me. My body’s from L.A., but my heart is from Hawaii. I’ve been there so many times since filming and established such phenomenal friends there, and the islands have this incredible energy that’s not really tangible.

There was a scene that got deleted — it’s on the DVD, but it did get deleted — where my character smokes a cigarette, and I had no prior experience smoking cigarettes before The Descendants, so that was probably my most challenging scene. I was nervous about whether I was going to do it right.

Alexandra is a smart-ass, which I am, but she’s a smart-ass in a weird way, instead of being a gracious smart-ass.

For Alex, there wasn’t a lot of acting to be done, it was more about me being present in the moment. I’m not her. I didn’t do drugs in high school and I didn’t drink, and I’m not bitchy like she is, and I don’t say words like ‘twat’ on a daily basis. But, I somehow connected to her.

When we were filming, we weren’t making a film. We were making a piece of art. The sound guy was an artist in his department. The craft service guy was an artist. The actors were artists. The transportation guy was an artist. Everyone came together every day to paint a canvas.

Cast and Crew on Shailene

Co-star George Clooney

She really elevates that role from a stereotype. You can write and direct it. But at the end of the day, someone has to play it.

Writer of the novel, Kaui Hart Hemmings

I felt like I got the opportunity to hang out with a future star.

Director Alexander Payne

She’s the cat’s pajamas, she is going places.

Critical Reviews

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

Alexandra, by contrast, considers her father a clueless fool who hasn’t paid attention to her or his marriage. She’s played, phenomenally well, by Shailene Woodley, as a troubled spirit with a heavy cargo of hurt and anger. You could make a case for Alexandra rather than Matt as the story’s protagonist. She’s the driving force who jolts her father out of his confusion, points him in the right direction, moves him along and finally flies in the face of all that Shakespearean stuff about ungrateful daughters.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Dynamite is the word for Woodley, who deserves to join Clooney and the movie on the march to awards glory.

Chris Tookey, The Mail

At the heart of the movie is Matt’s damaged relationship with his daughters, especially the elder one, beautifully played by Woodley, who should have been a best supporting actress Oscar nominees. Her character development is superbly written and acted, and it’s movingly obvious that she is in some ways more emotionally mature than her father, and he desperately needs her help.

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

Shailene Woodley stands out and is appealing beguiling: an anti-Gossip Girl. Like a great silent film actress, she has a face that conveys shades of anguish and joy.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

As Alex, newcomer Woodley convincingly coils herself into a spoiled, surly bundle of adolescent angst.

Ervell Menezes, The Tribune

George Clooney does an admirable job and has been nominated for the Best Actor and is expected to face stiff competition from his rivals, but it is Shailene Woodley who steals the show with a compelling, versatile performance as a disturbed teenager.

Claudia Puig, USA Today

Clooney’s performance is Oscar-worthy, as is that of Shailene Woodley, who plays the elder of his two rebellious daughters, 17-year-old Alexandra. Woodley and Clooney’s scenes, as they bond over a shared obsession, are the film’s comic highlight.