On The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Shailene Woodley plays Amy Juergens, a teen mom who’s balancing a baby with bog probs and other high school stress. In her real life, Shailene’s world has much less drama–and that’s just the wag she likes it. Here, this low-keg leading lady lets us in on her world away from the limelight.
It’s no secret that big things are happening for Shailene Woodley. Her surprise-hit ABC Family show–which topped the charts with 3.4 million viewers last season–starts up again on June 22. Her character, Amy, just gave birth to a baby boy. And after receiving rave reviews for the role, Shailene earned a nomination for a Young Artist Award for best performance in a TV series alongside A-listers like Miranda Cosgrove, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Taylor Momsen.
But as much as things are moving and shaking in Shailene’s world, there’s no denying she’s still an average 17-year-old who boogied with her buds at senior prom a few weeks ago and is contemplating college. And, as her career continues to catapult, this grounded girl tells us how she’s managed to remain the same Shailene.
More people may be taking notice of Shai (as her friends call her) these days, but this Palmdale, Calif., native is no newbie to the biz. In fact, she’s been acting since the age of 4, when she pursued the spotlight on a whim.
“I tried gymnastics and that was fun, but I wanted to try something different,” she says. “I started acting classes and I got picked up by an agent–we didn’t even know what an agent was–and l booked a job. It’s something that wound up being a huge passion for me.”
After snagging parts in more than 20 national commercials and 16 TV gigs (including the lead role in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure and a brief turn playing Kaitlin Cooper, Mischa Barton’s little troubled sister, on The O.C.), Shailene stumbled upon The Secret Life of the American Teenager audition and was instantly drawn to the responsible but sometimes reckless role of Amy.
“Her character is so complex,” Shai says. “She does normal things like school, [deals with] best friend issues, having a first boyfriend and a first love, yet she’s also pregnant. That adds a whole other twist to a normal teenager’s life.”
Amy’s a lot different from off-screen Shailene, too. “I’m very outgoing and extroverted, and she’s kind of shy and introverted,” she explains. And while Amy and the other Ulysses S. Grant High School students thrive on gossip, Shai steers clear of the stuff.
“I can’t stand drama! I think it’s ridiculous. Honestly, I was the girl who–the second drama came up–I would get up and leave,” she insists.
Instead, she found more productive ways to utilize her time. “I was a really good student. I always got straight A’s. My favorite subject was biology, and it seemed like I was involved in everything.”
While her character may now be sidelined with a baby, Shai was always quick to take on a leadership role at school. “I was [the head] of pep rally and on the student board. I was a choir geek and leadership nerd. I loved school and the social aspect of it,” she says.
These differences aside, there are some characteristics Amy and Shai share. For starters, “We are both observers. Amy likes to sit back, observes everything and she people watches–and so do I,” says Shailene. She’s also infused a bit of her own style and quirks into Amy, namely her trademark sideswept bangs and the way she bites her lower lip when she’s nervous.
The similarities don’t stop there. Like Amy–who, aside from her own new-mama-drama, is also dealing with the breakup of her ‘rents–Shailene’s had plenty of personal obstacles to overcome. When she was a freshman in high school, her own parents split up. And though Shai calls the divorce “healthy” since it was “for the better,” that didn’t keep it from complicating her life–a lot.
“It was tough [moving into] a new house and balancing high school, friends, boys and everything,” she says. “You have to stay strong and realize that it’s not affecting just your fife, but your entire family’s fife and everything, too.”
Then, during her sophomore year, Shai’s doc diagnosed her with scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine. To correct the prob, she had to wear a brace for 18 hours a day–for two years. The only time she ever took it off was when she was working.
“Wearing that brace sucked,” she says. “It was well worth it now that it’s done and over with, but I don’t miss it at all.”
And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Shai then had to switch up her schedule to make time for the 8- to 14-hour workdays on the SLAT set. Which meant getting a tutor and leaving her old school–and her besties–behind for most of her junior and senior years.
“I didn’t get to be with my friends all the time, and I missed being in class and messing around with them,” she says, before quickly adding, “The show is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me, but there was a price I had to pay.”
Even with her hectic schedule, Shailene did manage to make it to her prom and attend graduation along with her buds. And now that she’s got her diploma in hand, she’s considering college and figuring how to fit in a heavy course load with her crazy-busy career.
“I’m going to start getting my GE’s [general education courses] out of the way this semester,” she says. “We’ll see where it takes me. I’ve always wanted to go to NYU and live in New York, so that’s definitely a possibility. I want to major in interior design and psychology.”
At the same time, she’s keeping her focus fixed on her future in Hollywood, hoping to follow the lead of other successful starlets, like Dakota Fanning.
“As far as young actresses go, [Dakota] is just phenomenal. Look at how much she’s accomplished so far in her life–it’s incredible. She’s definitely a very inspiring young lady,” says Shailene, who hopes, like Dakota, to up her own star power by snagging some big-screen roles. “Obviously, I want to do a lot of movies,” she says.
And in the meantime? When Shai’s not on the SLAT set, you can probably find her mountain biking or bargain shopping with her buds (she once got a $190 sweater jacket for 19 bucks!), planning her next adventure (she dreams of backpacking through Europe and wants to sky-dive the day she turns 18 in November), or curling up on the couch and watching Disney movies (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are her faces).
Or maybe she’s scooting around in her eco-friendly Prius or rocking out to indie and alternative bands like The Hush Sound, Ben Iver, Radiohead and the Foo Fighters. Or indulging in her latest obsessions, which include caramel apples, water with lots of lemon and clean sheets. (“I can’t stand sleeping in dirty sheets,” she says. “And I love to get into a bed that’s made.”)
And when the day’s over and it’s time to turn in? Shailene slips into that bed and closes her eyes, no doubt dreaming about her very big–and bright–future.
What can fans expect from season two?
Of course, a lot of drama. Amy has to deal with her baby. She’s going to miss out on a lot of social events and school things. She has to handle a job, plus taking care of her child, getting no sleep, having to go to school and deal with her boyfriend and friends.
What’s it like working with real babies?
It’s amazing. I love babies and kids, so being able to hold the little schnockums is so cute.
Can you share a scoop or two?
One person doesn’t come back. Another passes away.
Whom from the cast do you hang out with a lot off-set?
Megan Park is a really good friend of mine. We just get along really well, and she’s teaching me guitar. And Molly Ringwald is like an older sister to me.
Who is the most like their character?
Probably Kenny [Beumann] and Ben. I imagine Kenny was a lot like Ben when Kenny was in high school, since he’s kind of goofy and one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. India [Eisley] and Ashley are similar, too, because they both have that funny, sarcastic tone.
Who’s least like their character?
Probably Megan and Grace. And Amy and me.
OK, spill: What’s it like working with the two hot guys?
It’s really fun to work with both of them. The scenes are very different because Amy is more flirtatious with Ricky than Ben. Daren [Kagasoff] and I like to go back and forth about it and then Kenny and I are more serious about it.
What do you guys do to kill time between takes? Any funny behind-the scenes stories you can share?
We do stupid little skits. We’ll get a video recorder, play Britney Spears, and pretend to be her. Everyone gets all crazy–it’s pretty funny when the guys do it!
My Name: “When my mom was 18, she saw a license plate that said ‘Shai.’ She thought it was a cute nickname, and came up with Shailene for a full name.”
My First Date: “It was a dinner date on Valentine’s Day. We got Thai food because he had never had it before. I ordered something spicy, and he couldn’t eat it. I felt bad!”
My First Heartbreak: “Most of my relationships have ended in a mature way. But there was a guy that I fell for that it just didn’t work out. It was tough because I wanted it to work out really bad, but it let me figure out more about myself and what I wanted in future relationships.”
My Guy Type: “He has to be funny, street smart and mature. He should have his life together and have a passion of some sort. And he has to know what he wants [in life]. Not necessarily know how he’s going to get there, but have goals.”
Ben or Ricky? “I’m definitely more attracted to guys like Ricky. Cocky guys are the most unattractive thing in the world, but I could definitely never date a guy like Ben who’s too controlling. Um, no. Definitely more Ricky.”