Interview: Shailene Woodley - The Fault in Our Stars
With two hit films this summer, Shailene Woodley is on the path to Hollywood superstardom, but she’s in no rush. By Darren Jung
There is a scene in the 2011 Oscar nominated drama The Descendants in which a teenage girl, upon learning of her mother’s inevitable death, dives into a swimming pool and cries in agony. The scene is framed in a close-up, shot underwater, the character’s scream muffled by her surroundings – we, the audience, do not hear a thing. Yet, her pain seeps through.
Shailene Woodley played that teenager and her performance won universal acclaim – she was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Independent Spirit Award for the role. Many media dubbed her the next ‘It girl’ in Hollywood.
Woodley, though, was in no rush. She didn’t make a film in 2012, and her sole 2013 offering, The Spectacular Now, barely registered at the box office, despite rave reviews. She was supposed to appear as the iconic Mary Jane Watson in this year’s Spider-man movie, but her role got cut.
Now, the detour is over. With her two recent films, Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, being huge hits Stateside, Woodley is back on track. Ahead of the Hong Kong release of the latter this fortnight, Woodley speaks to Time Out.
What drew you to this project?
It’s a cancer movie that’s not about cancer. Instead of focusing on death, it celebrates life. We wanted to bring light to a situation that is often looked at in a dark way.
How did you prepare for the role of Hazel, a young woman suffering from cancer?
The only preparation I did was physical, like learning how to talk without a lot of oxygen, because Hazel has trouble breathing. I also learned how to pull around an oxygen tank everywhere. It helped me empathise with my character. Breathing naturally is such a gift we take for granted. But emotionally, acting is always about learning the lines and then just listening to what the other actors are saying and reacting honestly to whatever they’re doing.
Did you meet with real life cancer patients?
I met with people who were in similar situations as Hazel, to understand what they’re going through. We’d get coffee and have lunch. The support group in the movie is actually made up of people who are either in remission or have been through cancer in the past. But we didn’t really talk about cancer, we talked more about life. The second that you realise you don’t need to ask someone what it is like to have cancer, you get to know them as a human being. You realise ‘oh my God, you’re the same teenager as I was. You’re angsty. I was angsty when I was your age. Yes, you’re dealing with something that is so above and beyond anything that I dealt with at that age, but that’s not who your heart is’. I learned that cancer doesn’t define people. They’re normal people going through the normal processes of life.
In the movie, Hazel has a strong relationship with her mother, played by Laura Dern. What’s it like working with her, and do you see similarities in your real life relationship with your mother?
My mum is so inspiring. She taught me about manifesting positivity in my life. She has always encouraged me. She’s somehow found the perfect balance between being selfless and being strong. As for Laura, she’s great. She’s pretty much the same mum with Hazel as she is with her own kids. I really like that Hazel’s mum is so supportive of her daughter’s relationship.
Can you talk a bit about the highly publicised Mary Jane role that was cut from The Amazing Spider-man 2?
I understand the decision, actually. MJ was in, like, four scenes. I was only on shoot for three days. Each scene was, like, 45 seconds long. To introduce such a vital character in that way doesn’t make sense.
How do you choose your projects?
It’s very fun. I don’t act for others, I act for me. I have to really love a script to take a role in a film. I have nothing slated after Insurgent [the sequel to Divergent], because I have yet to read another script that I’ve been inspired by. So I’m in no rush. I didn’t do a movie for two years after The Descendants because I didn’t read anything that I liked. So it could be another two years before I do another movie, or it could be two months.
The Fault in Our Stars opens Thu Jul 31.