‘Insurgent’: Shailene Woodley talks Tris’ battles, inside and out

March 20, 2015 | 12:17 p.m.

The wait is over for “Divergent” fans. “Insurgent,” which opens today, sees Shailene Woodley return to the big screen as action heroine Tris Prior.

The sequel, based on the second installment in Veronica Roth’s bestselling YA book trilogy, follows Tris Prior, a young woman who discovers she has an aptitude for multiple factions in her dystopian world’s rigid societal system. Tris tries to hide this unusual and dangerous trait, known as divergence, until she is forced to reveal her secret when one faction stages a coup by decimating another.

“Insurgent” finds Tris and her allies on the run after interfering with this uprising in an effort to save their communities.

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Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

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Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

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Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

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Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim), Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

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Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Lionsgate)

Since “Divergent,” Woodley has appeared as Hazel Lancaster in “The Fault in Our Stars,” another adaptation of a YA bestseller, opposite her “Divergent” series costar Ansel Elgort.

Woodley spoke to Hero Complex by phone about the universal themes mixed in with the heftier action sequences present in “Insurgent.”

Hero Complex: How was coming back to play Tris?

Shailene Woodley: It was interesting because it was much more difficult than I sort of anticipated. What I hadn’t taken into account is that I have progressed so much since the time that I played Tris in “Divergent” [so] of course me just jumping into her mind-set would be different because as Shailene, my mind-set was different.

It was fun to explore this Tris because she was going through so much more of an internal emotional battle than in the first movie. In the last film she lost her parents, she lost her best friend, so in this movie she’s dealing with a lot of guilt while also trying to figure out how to continue to aid the community that exists around her.

Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior in a poster for "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Lionsgate)

Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior in a poster for “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.” (Lionsgate)

HC: How was getting to explore the wider world in “Insurgent”?

SW: It was fun. In the first movie we didn’t really get to see what Candor looked like, we didn’t get to see what the testing grounds for Erudite looked like, and our director [Robert Schwentke] was really keen on gussying up the set design. Our set designer was really, really talented in creating a world that was foreign and yet still somehow familiar.

I really enjoyed the Factionless set because there was so much detail, [which] you can see in the film, but to be there in the flesh with this huge new world that you’d never seen before. I just thought it was a creative way to take on [the idea of] a population that didn’t have anything … how would they create a home based on what they found from the other factions?

HC: In “Insurgent” Tris meets Evelyn, and interacts with the Factionless. How do they fit into the sense of identity explored in the film?

SW: Naomi [Watts, who plays Evelyn] made a great point when we were doing a press interview [that] we always in our lives search for how to identify ourselves away from our families. And I think that that is a big part of the conforming question. How can we be an individual in a world – and I’m talking about the “Divergent” world, but it applies to this world as well – that idolizes similarities and idolizes, in a way, a lack of individuality. It’s oftentimes because, I think, we’re trying to fulfill the needs or expectations from our parents. In this movie we see Four [played by Theo James] struggle with his history with his mom, and you see Tris’ struggle and history with her mom and how much it still dominates her brain.

HC: How was jumping back into the action and the stunts for this movie?

SW: It’s always so fun to do action sequences and stunts and whatnot, [but] this one was really great because [“Divergent”] was a lot of fighting and this one [included] more on-the-ground running, wire work and stunt work.

HC: The action in “Insurgent” is at a bigger scale, like the scene that involves a spinning Abnegation house.

SW: That scene took like a month to film. There was four or five stunt doubles at once. On one day there was an acrobat doing this wire work in a corner [while] there was me doing close-ups on the spinning hydraulic machine, and then there was another stunt double running, so it was a team effort.

Jeanine (Kate Winslet), left, conducts tests on Tris (Shailene Woodley) captive in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent."

Jeanine (Kate Winslet), left, conducts tests on a captive Tris (Shailene Woodley) in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.”

HC: How complicated was filming the scene where Tris fights herself?

SW: It was actually more difficult than I anticipated because there was a lot of mathematics involved because you had to match exactly. The movement that the stunt double would make I would have to re-create on the other side with me in Tris’ shoes again.

HC: “Insurgent” features a pretty large cast. How was it reuniting with people from the previous film while adding new characters?

SW: The nice thing about this movie is everybody genuinely gets along really well and everyone genuinely cares for one another and everyone is a really, authentically, great human being who’s just really interested in the art of filmmaking. It was nice to have everyone together and to be able to share what we knew from the first film and also what the new faces meant. It wasn’t just Naomi and Octavia [Spencer] who were new. We had a lot of other people who were new and some of them had never even really done a film series before, which is always exciting. It’s exciting to see this freshness in somebody’s eyes who hasn’t necessarily been around the block a lot. They bring a sense of excitement and exhilaration to the set.

HC: Do you think that most of the characters you would consider villains in this film genuinely think they’re doing what’s right for society?

SW: Absolutely. That’s one of the things that I really love [about this series]. Kate [Winslet, who plays Jeanine,] can be seen as an antagonist but in reality, from her perspective, she’s the protagonist. So it’s all about perspective and I think that’s really relatable to today’s society in the way that when you look at something that’s good or bad, right or wrong, you just recognize that it all depends on the varying place that your own story is told from.

HC: Does “Insurgent” end in a more hopeful place?

SW: I think it definitely ends in a more hopeful place. I think it ends in a place of, they have a future and now they know where the future is going. Regardless of what’s outside the wall, there’s a gap that was bridged. [It’s] really exciting, you know, when you finally have an answer. Regardless of what that answer turns out to be there’s something ahead of you to look forward to.

HC: What about you, what are you looking forward to?

SW: In life? I’m really looking forward to a warm beach somewhere. I don’t know where it is or when I’m going to be there, but that’s something I cannot wait to explore.

– Tracy Brown | @tracycbrown | @LATHeroComplex

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