‘Divergent’: Ashley Judd on Natalie Prior, wiping out Woodley

March 25, 2014 | 10:28 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)

“Divergent” dominated at the box office over the weekend, shining a spotlight on the talents of young actress Shailene Woodley, who plays the film’s heroine Tris Prior.

Woodley was supported by a large cast of many up-and-comers and a handful of seasoned Hollywood veterans, including Kate Winslet, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q and Ashley Judd, who plays Tris’ mother Natalie Prior.

Ashley Judd arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "Divergent" on March 18, 2014. (Jordan Strauss / Associated Press)

Ashley Judd arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Divergent” on March 18. (Jordan Strauss / Associated Press)

“Divergent,” based on the bestselling young adult book series by Veronica Roth, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people are sorted into factions based on personality. Judd and Woodley’s characters are members of Abnegation, the faction based on selflessness, but after Tris finds out she’s divergent (meaning she has aptitude for multiple factions — something that’s not allowed in the rigidly divided society), she decides to hide her divergence and join Dauntless, the faction that values bravery. Though the society lives by the motto “Faction before blood,” Tris learns that what connects her and her mother is stronger than what divides them.

For Judd, who was nominated for two Golden Globes for her performances in 1996’s “Norma Jean & Marilyn” and 2004’s “De-Lovely” as well as an Emmy nod for her recent turn as Rebecca Winstone in “Missing,” the “Divergent” role saw her back on an action movie set. Hero Complex sat down with Judd to talk about “Divergent,” action movies and what’s next. But be warned: Spoilers lie ahead for those who haven’t read the books.

Hero Complex: Your character plays such a major role in the book trilogy, but of course, the third book wasn’t out when you signed on for “Divergent.” Did you know going into it that she’d play such a big role?

Ashley Judd: I didn’t, but I certainly noted that the author dedicated the book to her mother, and that of course grabbed my attention. I thought that was really prophetic. And that even if the character wasn’t unpacked in books two and three, that there was something really powerful of her that was in the waft and the weave of the story.

HC: What did you draw from in order to play that mother-daughter relationship?

AJ: I believe that mothering is a verb, and that we all parent. I’ve got a really large family of choice and lots of little kids in my life, from 6 months old to 17, and everybody comes over to the house regularly. We call them picnics even if we’re indoors. And I was talking with a friend of mine recently, and we were talking about a book called “Positive Parenting,” and he was suggesting that I read it because whenever we’re in a group, whenever we’re together, we’re all parenting. So I felt that very much in the movie. And the other part that I really drew from was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and that’s something that I’ve been trying to bring into my own awareness about my own behavior, so everything I do, however skilled or unskilled, is actually designed to meet one of those needs. So that was a huge part of the understanding of my character, and the society that the author has created.

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

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

HC: Did you enjoy your action scenes?

AJ: I loved that, except I wiped out No. 1 on the call sheet [Woodley] once, because I’m just so confident and physically aggressive. It was during the shootout scene where we’re crossing the wide open boulevard, and I had on my picture shoes which were really not made for running and sliding and stopping and stuff, and so I had a lot of skid momentum, and I just kind of… not my most shining moment. It’s OK to do it to myself, but not OK to do it to No. 1 on the call sheet, who’s got three weeks of filming left.

HC: You and Shailene had some fantastic scenes together, including your character’s death. What was it like to film that?

AJ: Fabulous. Because I got to be with her, and watch her, and listen to her experience. Because I’m fading or dead, and just the natural, organic raw emotion pours out of that girl. She’s very unfiltered. She doesn’t have a sense of self-consciousness or  restraint about working with real emotion, and that’s I think part of what makes her compelling.

MORE: What Shailene Woodley’s costars had to say about her

HC: When you read the second and third books, were you surprised to find out Natalie plays such a big role? Would you like to play her again?

AJ: I was, yes. It depends on the age, of course, that Natalie is, but yeah, it would be great fun to able to do that.

Ashley Judd in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

Ashley Judd in “Divergent.” (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

HC: What was working with director Neil Burger like?

AJ: So easy. He’s very calm, very specific, very prepared. He reminds me of Bruce Beresford. He was just unflappable. The sun could be setting, and a time crunch could be on, and it’s not that he repressed it, he was just very secure, which is great. To be at the helm of such a hugely budgeted picture, he had a lot of equanimity. He’s also challenging to actors. He really pushed us and invited us to dig deeper.

HC: What would you say the message of “Divergence” is?

AJ: You can have it all, just not at the same time. I think it’s a lot about how we define family. Family within family of origin, family of choice, you know, choosing a different faction, seeking to have a sense of congruency in one’s tribe as a society, and the natural dissonance that comes from those competing needs.

HC: What’s next for you?

AJ: I did an independent film called “Big Stone Gap” in October, based on Adriana Trigiani’s bestselling book, and she adapted the book and directed it. And the acting was so glorious, just really fun, and it brought me back to that unfiltered joy of the creative process, which is quite separate from the production process. The production can be a hassle. And that movie was really difficult to make. We had a tiny budget, we were under-crewed. But we had two Tony winners, two Oscar winners, just an extraordinarily packed cast, and that’s what I would like to continue to do, is just really get into that stream of what a beautiful ride the acting can be. And if that includes a lot of input into the material or helping do things on the production side, that’s fine with me. I just want to make sure I have fun, because the more fun I have, the more I’ll keep coming back. If I don’t have fun, I’ll just opt out again, like I did for five years.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+


Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)Shailene Woodley embraces being divergent

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Winslet, Judd share thoughts on Shailene Woodley

‘Divergent’: Shailene Woodley in warrior mode

‘Divergent’: Maggie Q talks Tori, tough heroines

Ansel Elgort talks ‘Divergent,’ ‘Fault in Our Stars’

‘Divergent’ director: Tris’ tale is a hero myth

‘Divergent’: Jai Courtney, Miles Teller on being bad

‘Divergent’ trailer, director Q&A tease ‘brutal’ action

‘Divergent’ posters reveal Tris’ and Four’s tattoos


3 Responses to ‘Divergent’: Ashley Judd on Natalie Prior, wiping out Woodley

  1. guest says:

    Ashley Judd is one of our most talented of all actress's today. Ms. Judd has deserved 3 oscars by now. I wonder about the politics of Hollywood.

  2. Naomi says:

    It would be nice if people would compare this book/movie to America today. The government is taking over our lives and trying to make us submissive. Those of us that speak up are demonized (Divergents). Obama is trying his best to demonizing those of us that work and are innovative. This is one president that has done his best to make America even more divided of race and encourages class ware fare.

  3. Jessie says:

    Funny how Ashley Judd says she "opted out" for five years which is, um, a convenient scenario because (a) she starred in the worst-reviewed film of 2004, a stinker called "Twisted" that lost $25 million on a $50 million budget, and I imagine that might have had some effect on her bankability as an actor, and (b) after that she continued to act, but only in indie films that nobody saw, and took generic wife/mother/girlfriend roles in Hollywood movies. So did she opt out or did Hollywood stop calling? Cuz it seems to me, she took whatever was offered to her during this five year "opt out" period. As for her deserving three Oscars by now – seriously? She's the very definition of the Peter Principle in action.

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