The Descendants

Shailene as: Alexandra King
Genre: Drama
Director: Alexander Payne
Other Cast: George Clooney, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard
Release Date: December 9, 2011 (US, Limited Release)
Production Budget: $20m
Total Worldwide Gross: $177.24m
Filming Locations: Hawaii

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.

Facts and Trivia

Shailene was working a part-time job at American Apparel in New York City when she received news of her casting in January 2010.

Amanda Seyfried auditioned for the role of Alexandra.

In a scene in the novel, Scottie is described to be wearing a shirt with the words “Mrs. Clooney” on it.

When the King family are at Lihue airport in Kauai, Matt King tells his cousin that it’s “just a little holoholo.” In the Hawaiian language, “holoholo” means “to go out,” usually for a leisurely drive or other vehicular excursion. In the next sequence as the family rides in the cousin’s jeep, lyrics in the musical cue include the phrase “holoholo ka’a,” which means “going for a ride in a car.”

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.

Kaui Hart Hemmings, the author of the novel, has a cameo as Matt King’s secretary.

Production Info

Filming began March 2010, an on-location shoot in Hawaii. The majority of production took place in Kaua’i, Honolulu and around Hanalei Bay. The shoot lasted for 11 weeks, before post-production began in June.

Character Quotes

Further information not yet available.

Quotes: Shailene

She was a 17-year-old going through an angsty period in life, and she had taken on the victim role and thought the world was out to get her, as so many adolescents and adults do. Throughout the movie, there are a lot of tragic scenarios, and she had to rise to the occasion and break down her walls that she had so thickly put up. I think there is a point in every teenager’s life where they are forced to come into themselves.
On her character

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.
On her character

She starts out as a teenager who feels like a victim – to her, the reason why her life is horrible is because her dad did this and her mom did that. But during the course of the movie, she starts to realize that she’s responsible for her own happiness and it isn’t up to her parents. It‘s fun to watch her grow up in the moment. She’s always been a bit manipulative but now she’s doing it to help her dad fight his demons.
On her character

I don’t necessarily see her as messed up. I see her as a 17-year-old who got lost at a very young age, and who didn’t have parents who were available enough to steer her in the right direction. I see her as a little bit rough around the edges. It was fun to smooth her edges over and make her into more of a river stone instead of a mountain rock.
On her character

I think she loves her dad but she kind of looks at him as the childish one in their relationship and she’s always felt like she needed to take on a parenting role with him. It‘s only later that she learns to give him his own power as a father.
On Alexandra’s relationship with her father

I think part of Alexandra hates her mom and part of her just wants to be held and cry in her mother’s arms for hours. I think the little girl in Alexandra just yearns for the mother she always wanted but never had, but the young woman in Alexandra is starting to accept that it will never happen.
On Alexandra’s relationship with her mother

Part of the three weeks of research that we did on the Hawaiian culture was going on little field trips around the island, and going to malls, and seeing what the teen life was like and what they wore. Not only did I do that, but the costume designer did that. She’s amazing. Her name is Wendy Chuck, and she’s just really good at finding the authenticity of a certain era and demographic. Wendy and I agreed that my character should wear basic clothes that you could find at any mall, like a t-shirt and cut-off jeans. That was what her style turned out to be.
On her character’s wardrobe

I read the script before Alexander [Payne] or George [Clooney] were attached, and I fell in love with it because it was real and human, and it wasn’t artistically licensed, and it wasn’t glamorized or beautified. So often, I read scripts and am like, “This would never happen in real life. It’s not trying to be funny. It’s trying to be serious.” But, this movie was real and it was messy, and I really responded to that.
On what attracted her to the role

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.
On the most challenging scene

She’s in the pool, treading water and she has no idea how to react to this news. She feels trapped, so she submerges herself into the water, the one place where she can scream at the top of her lungs and not feel vulnerable. It was such an emotional release to go down there and scream and cry hysterically. It was heartbreaking for me to do, but also empowering.
On filming the underwater scenes

I read the book after I got the job. It’s such a good book. That writer is so phenomenal. A lot of the best lines in the film were straight adaptions from the book. The scene where King says that the most powerful men in Hawaii look like stuntmen or bums was from the book. Everything Scottie says is from the book. She’s a brilliant writer. For me, since the book was 250 pages and the script was 100 pages, it fills in the blanks and got me some back history without having to make it up.
On the novel

It’s a heart-wrenching journey about growth. I love how everybody in the story grows in their ability to love, grows in maturity, in figuring out their individuality and who they are as a family.
On the story

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.
On filming in Hawaii

He really gave us the creative freedom to be ourselves within the rules and restrictions of the characters. He always told me to speak slower because apparently I’m a speed talker and louder because I spoke on a very quiet level. Another day, he came up to me and said, “You’re not being you. Be Shai.” That was the best direction I’ve ever gotten in my life because acting, at least for me, is just an extension of myself. So, it was really refreshing to have a director who got to know me so well as a human being that he could tell when I was starting to act versus when I was just being authentic to the character.
On working with Alexander Payne

Alexander is one of my top five favorite human beings on the planet. I’m in love with him, and every single thing about him. My heart chakra beams when I talk about him. He’s an incredible human being, and on set he was really amazing for us. Every actor wants to work with him for a reason, and it’s because he gives you the time that you need to get to an emotional state and he’s always by the camera, talking you through the scene and helping you in times of difficulty. He’s never stuck behind a monitor or yelling from across the stage, like most directors. He’s really present and available for you.
On working with Alexander Payne

He‘s got such he art and I‘ve learned from him as a director and as a person. When he gets excited, he doesn‘t hold it in. He literally jumps up and down and talks in this funky voice and goes up and hugs people. You can‘t help but feel excited about life when you‘re around him. He possesses a great energy and definitely shows it to other people. As a director, he helped me find things about myself that I never thought I could find.
On working with Alexander Payne

I have never met a more generous, philanthropic human being, in my entire life. He will do anything for you. There are small things that he does on a daily basis, for anyone and everyone, that just blew me away. He’s so incredibly down-to-earth. He was never in his trailer. He never used hair and make-up.
On working with George Clooney

Someone asked me about George Clooney’s image, but has no image. He has the image of what materialism has given him, but as a human being, he has no image because he is just so normal and so human. Talk about a professional. He’s a great actor because he’s a great actor, not because an editor makes him look good. I think a lot of people don’t realize that about him.
On working with George Clooney

Nick and I are the same age, so we bonded immediately. He’s from Texas, and I’m from L.A. We’re very different, in a lot of ways, and very similar, in a lot of ways, so it was great. We had a lot to teach each other, and a lot to learn from each other. We both love to be outdoors and be active and explore, so in every spare second on the movie, we were hiking or kayaking or snorkeling, or doing some crazy thing, like jumping off waterfalls, that we shouldn’t have been doing. My bonding with Nick was a very organic process. We became like brother and sister.
On working with Nick Krause

Amara Miller was 10, when we filmed the movie, and she’s almost 12 now. She had never been in a school play. She was a friend of a friend of Alexander’s, and she was cast a week and a half before we started shooting. It was crazy. She’d never even thought about acting. Her mom was like, “Amara, let’s put your audition on tape,” and she was like, “What’s an audition? Okay.” She has such a strong sense of self. She’s an old soul in a 10-year-old’s body, but also very much a 10-year-old. We’d be filming and she’d be swinging her arms around and scratching her ear. You’re like, “Oh, my god, we’re making a movie,” but sometimes it worked because she wasn’t jaded. She’s incredible, and we bonded very quickly, in a very natural way. Nick Krause, Amara and I just became a little family.
On working with Amara Miller

Quotes: Cast and Crew

She has chops but still reads like an actual honest-to-God kid. A lot of people you audition who have chops are too polished. And a lot of people who aren’t polished at all don’t have the chops. So thank God I found her. And she’s the only one—there was no also-ran.
Director Alexander Payne

Shailene’s lovely and positive but more important to me is that she’s a fantastic actress. I was looking for a young Debra Winger – someone with fire and someone with vulnerability and she had it.
Director Alexander Payne

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.
George Clooney

Shailene Woodley is just as deserving of all of the awards that any big star has ever won. She is just incredibly gifted with a good head on her shoulders. I felt like I got the opportunity to hang out with a future star.
Kaui Hart Hemmings, Author of The Descendants

Critical Response

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.
Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

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

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.
Claudia Puig, USA Today

Woodley, best known for her work on ABC Family’s soapy “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” is a revelation in the role of Alex, displaying both the edge and depth the role demands. At face value, she appears to be going through a rebellious phase, but as the story unfolds, she proves to be the strong one, wiser than she appears and potentially better equipped to deal with the tragedy at hand.
Peter Debruge, Variety

Essential to the venture’s success is Woodley, who transforms convincingly from a girl who is reflexively condescending toward her father to one who becomes his eager accomplice and staunchest defender.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Alexandra 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.
Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

Awards and Nominations

Below is a list of all award wins and nominations Shailene received for her work in the film.

WON: Central Ohio Film Critics Association – Best Supporting Actress
WON: Independent Spirit Awards – Best Supporting Female
WON: MTV Movie Awards – Breakthrough Performance
WON: Santa Barbara International Film Festival – Virtuoso Award
WON: Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
WON: Florida Film Critics Circle Awards – Best Supporting Actress
WON: Hamptons International Film Festival – Breakthrough Performer
WON: Hollywood Film Festival – Spotlight Award
WON: National Board of Review – Best Supporting Actress
WON: San Diego Film Critics Society Awards – Best Supporting Actress

NOMINATED: Critics’ Choice Awards – Best Acting Ensemble
NOMINATED: Critics’ Choice Awards – Best Supporting Actress
NOMINATED: Critics’ Choice Awards – Best Young Actress
NOMINATED: Central Ohio Film Critics Association – Best Ensemble
NOMINATED: Central Ohio Film Critics Association – Breakthrough Film Artist
NOMINATED: Golden Globes – Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
NOMINATED: National Society of Film Critics Awards – National Society of Film Critics Awards
NOMINATED: Online Film Critics Society Awards – Best Supporting Actress
NOMINATED: Screen Actors Guild Awards – Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
NOMINATED: Toronto Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
NOMINATED: Vancouver Film Critics Circle – Best Supporting Actress
NOMINATED: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
NOMINATED: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards – Most Promising Performer
NOMINATED: Gotham Awards – Best Ensemble Cast
NOMINATED: Gotham Awards – Breakthrough Award
NOMINATED: Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards – Best Actress in a Supporting Role
NOMINATED: Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards – Breakout on Camera
NOMINATED: Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards – Best Ensemble
NOMINATED: Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
NOMINATED: Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress