‘Divergent’: Shailene Woodley in warrior mode for dystopian adventure

Jan. 09, 2014 | 11:17 a.m.
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Ben Lloyd Hughes, Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Ben Lamb, Zoe Kravitz and Jai Courtney in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ansel Elgort in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Theo James, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller and Ben Lloyd Hughes in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, author Veronica Roth and director Neil Burger on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Theo James, left, and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, left, and Theo James in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Director Neil Burger, left, Jai Courtney and Theo James on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

When the director and producers of the dystopian action-adventure film “Divergent” sought inspiration for the movie’s teenage heroine, they didn’t turn to “The Hunger Games’” Katniss Everdeen or “Twilight’s” Bella Swan, as might have been expected. Instead, the filmmakers recalled James Dean’s Jim Stark, the rebellious protagonist who defies his parents and his peers in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”

“He just doesn’t feel at home,” director Neil Burger said. “So he goes looking for something more.”

Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

Shailene Woodley in “Divergent.” (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

Such can be said of Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who struggles against the pressures of conformity in “Divergent,” based on the bestselling trilogy by first-time novelist Veronica Roth.

The tale, adapted for the screen by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, is set in a future version of Chicago — Burger filmed on location there — in which people are tested when they are young and subsequently divided into five factions based on their personalities and virtues.

PHOTOS: ‘Divergent’ character posters

“This is a sort of dream city,” said producer Douglas Wick of the film due out March 21 from Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the box office giants “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” — films that reached heights that executives are optimistic “Divergent” can attain. “It is a city that saved the world from great chaos. It is a city that has great harmony and the factions worked — but that system is starting to fray, which is our story.”

At the heart of that story is Tris, played by rising star Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants,” “The Spectacular Now”).

Tris is born into Abnegation, the faction that values selflessness, but her personality test reveals she is divergent, having an aptitude for multiple factions — something that is not allowed in the rigidly divided society. She hides her divergence and decides to join Dauntless, the faction based on bravery.

Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

Shailene Woodley in “Divergent.” (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

Her choice lands her among a group of tattooed warriors, including love interest “Four” (Theo James), and sees her leaping on and off trains, ziplining, shooting and knife-throwing, and facing off against other kids as part of a brutal initiation into the faction. But as it becomes more difficult to hide her divergence, Tris realizes that the faction system is flawed.

“She starts out questioning where she fits into society, and then by the end of the movie, she’s questioning society itself,” Burger said.

Shailene Woodley on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

Shailene Woodley on the set of “Divergent.” (Summit Entertainment)

It was a demanding role, and in casting, filmmakers sought someone who could hold her own in the company of more experienced cast members, including Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd, and embody the brave and at times reckless warrior as well as the ordinary, vulnerable girl. They found their heroine in Woodley, 22.

VIDEO: ‘Divergent’ trailer

“She really is very, very self-sufficient and is her own kind of warrior in terms of she wanted to do her stunts herself,” producer Lucy Fisher said. “She has a huge amount of inner strength. … She’s very mature beyond her age, as is Tris.”

For Woodley, the draw was the story’s universal appeal, she said, and its parallels with the world we live in.

“It’s not just about young people figuring their way through life,” she said. “It’s about young people being in really adult situations, and they’re treated like adults, which is how adolescents are these days. Everybody’s incredibly smart, and there’s not a lot of movies that do that age range justice.”

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That’s just what Roth was aiming for. And though she doesn’t necessarily consider Tris a role model — she can be impulsive and self-destructive — she is guiding her own story.

“Tris is a character with a lot of agency and a lot of power,” Roth said. “One of my rules for myself was Tris has to be somehow responsible for what happens to her, for better or for worse; no acts of God.”

Shailene Woodley, left, and Theo James in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

Shailene Woodley, left, and Theo James in “Divergent.” (Summit Entertainment)

A sequel titled “Insurgent,” based on the second installment in Roth’s series, is already in the works for March 2015 — evidence, Wick said, that the filmmakers have faith that “Divergent” will appeal to a wide audience.

“It’s just a really true, well-observed hero’s journey, and it happens to be a young woman, but above all, it’s a story about empowerment and facing your physical fears, your inner fears and taking your own measure,” Wick said. “Part of what sets it apart is someone really had something original and true to say. I think the audiences really smell the difference.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+


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21 Responses to ‘Divergent’: Shailene Woodley in warrior mode for dystopian adventure

  1. getover_dystopias says:

    One would think that the ability to change factions when you turn 16 would instantly define you as "divergent"…

    Horribly written story. I read 'I inch…' like 200 times on the first book alone, clearly Veronica Roth discovered is another way to say 'I get closer' that semester and wanted to use it over and over.

    • Hello says:

      That is not just the definition of being Divergent. Read the book with comprehension.

    • Christine Zulu says:

      In The Catcher in the Rye the word hell is used 281 times, it is a classic, and it is a coming of age story.

      • Overhyped Series says:

        Yeah, but the difference is that clearly there were characters who liked using expletives a lot. Using the same phrase over and over again is just poor editing. But I guess defenders of the book series will just say "oh that's just how Tris thinks!"

        Whatever you want to believe.

    • Cassie says:

      One would think you can't accept a good book. Her book is published and known world wide. Do you have a published book that is world wide and also being made into a movie? Didn't think so!

    • Overhyped Series says:

      The book was alright if you were willing to look past the obnoxious flaws, but they definitely decreased in quality as the series continued.

      But I guess that's what happens when you only spend a month to write a book…

    • Danny says:

      Ignorant observation of yours lol it really isn’t clear that any 16 year old changing factions makes them divergent. They’re born into that faction so they have no say in how to act or do things until they get the chance to change that at 16… Not that hard to understand.

  2. Believe1 says:

    Just finished Allegiant and I cried like a baby. So sad…

  3. Sedera says:

    This is one of my all time favorite books and I read ALOT. I love the storyline and the romance is a major bonus. When I read Allegiant I cried like a baby and screamed and was wanting to know why Roth would lead us one for an entire book series making it seem like some amazing was going to happen. Then BAMB surprise and I'm not going to say what happen for people that have not read it. I do though have to say GO READ IT. I am excited to see how all three of these turn out and as much as I loved and dislike the last one. I am even excited for that one because there must be GREAT acting in the third movie to make it as emotional as it should be!

    • AAA says:

      Actually what she did in Allegiant is what made the whole story more realistic, logical and well-composed. If she'd have made everything perfect in the end and given them a 'happily ever after' it would not have been much different from Disney fairy-tales or the Bella/Edward crap. A bittersweet ending made it more close to reality and easier to relate to which makes it's target audience not only young teenagers thirsty for adrenaline rushes and happily ever afters but young adults (myself included) in search of a fiction that interdigitates with reality smoothly. It actually increased her merit as an author.

      • Overhyped Series says:

        I'm wondering whether we even read the same book.

        People have hailed her decision with the end as being "brave" or "dauntless"–which would have been fine had she actually executed it properly. Unfortunately, the plot and the characters and all the events leading up to the "dramatic" ending are so forced and contrived that it's laughable. The only decision that rings true is that Tris chooses to sacrifice herself for her brother.

        But the author was so hellbent on having the book end that way, she totally forgot about all the other story elements. The ending just fails miserably as a result.

  4. Amanda says:

    Changing factions does not make you divergent, you do not choose which faction you are born into, but the aptitude test determines which one your personality fits better, most people only fit into one, hence her brother Caleb born into Abnegation yet goes to Erudite, he was not divergent he chose the one that was given during aptitude. Obviously you do not understand the aptitude testing portion of the novel. I enjoyed the series and anticipate the movie, although the 2nd and 3rd books were less interesting as it became more about the quarrels and burden of a young romance.

  5. Shianna says:

    Loved divergent, liked insurgent,alligaint felt like, drag me to hell!

  6. Ehdumbmovie says:

    Ummm, being divergent means NOTHING. It made zero sense in the entire series why she gets to be the special snowflake. it was a poorly thought plot by Veronica Roth that massively failed with her lack of understanding of genetics, as revealed in Allegiant. The Aptitude test is useless, since they get to chose whatever faction they want to be in anyways.

    And also, the director looking into a MALE character in shaping a FEMALE character? so many things wrong with this movie just from the promos alone, I can't even. This movie id going to flop, don't be delusional that this is going to be the next thing, not even close.

    • Tyler says:

      Yeah, I didn't get the whole faction thing… Instead of joining a cult I would much rather live alone with the other factionless. They make it seem like being a bus driving and caring about your family rather than a cult is a bad thing..

      • AAA says:

        They'd grown up believing that factions were the only thing that existed and taught that being factionless was a negative thing their whole lives, generation through generation. And if you read the books properly you'd understand that.

    • AAA says:

      I concur over the futility of the aptitude tests and why she was the only Divergent who was the hero. Where were the other Divergents during the simulation attack? It could have been just as easy for them to become the hero as it had been for her. The story line did have quite a few loopholes.

      However, declaring that the movie is going to flop because of a weak plot and poorly perceived characters seems a bit too impulsive and naive. We have quite a few examples in the past decade of such movies that consistently became hits in the box office. Unfortunately. If you know what I'm talking about.
      And honestly, this book is much better than those. So I wouldn't be too hasty in questioning it's potential for reaching the audience's expectations.

  7. Ro-thanks-Veronica says:

    All three books were wonderful in different ways, excitement and thrills in the first book, building the relationship and the war between factions in the second book and the realisation of what it's all about in the third book, pulling the loose threads together. Really quick to read and I was riveted. I hope the movie lives up to the books. The divergent concept is more relevant in the first book and not hard to understand so I'm not sure why people in earlier posts couldn't get it. ;) I can't wait to see the movies! Thanks Veronica Roth for writing such a great trilogy!

  8. Lindsey Gallegos says:

    I was literally crying when I finished Allegiant. Thanks Roth. I have never "felt the feels" to book. It was truly beautiful.

  9. Nicole says:

    Omg did you guys even read the same book as i did! It was amazing and so what if there were flaws she was only 22 when she started! So if your gonna hate just hate to yourself no need the be rude.

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