Diving into Divergent
AS ONE of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, Divergent lives up to all the hype.
Packed with emotional themes, non-stop action and eye candy, the young adult novel-turned-Hollywood blockbuster looks set to be your new favourite movie franchise after The Hunger Games.
But its most appealing aspect is Shailene Woodley, the heart of Divergent.
At the movie's press junket held at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles, the 22-year-old American darling lit up the room when she appeared for her interview.
Wearing a royal blue blouse, black skinny jeans and minimal make-up, the all-natural beauty walked in with the most genuine and warm smile as she greeted reporters.
The fact that she wore no shoes - only patterned socks - further demonstrated her down-to-earth and carefree spirit.
But taking up the role of Divergent's protagonist and heroine Beatrice Prior, nicknamed Tris, was not something she was intent on doing, and she admitted to having reservations.
"It was a little daunting to think how much (US actress) Kristen Stewart's life changed (after playing Bella in The Twilight Saga franchise).
"(But) I realised one day that I was going to make a decision based on fear instead of what could happen. I'm done living in fear. Instead I'm living from empowerment and am really glad I made that decision because it's been a real incredible journey."
When she was first offered the role, Woodley - best known for portraying lead character Amy Juergens in TV series The Secret Life Of The American Teenager and for winning best supporting actress awards for her break-out role in the 2011 film The Descendants - turned it down, but decided to get on board after some advice from The Hunger Games star and Hollywood It girl Jennifer Lawrence.
She recalled: "I e-mailed her; I've never met her, which is funny. I asked her, 'How did The Hunger Games change your life and are you happy with your decision? You went from the indie world to a big franchise'.
"And she's like, 'Do it! There's a lot of hard things (that come with it), but as long as you love the character and the storyline, it's so worth it. Don't look back.'"
Both Divergent and The Hunger Games are adapted from young adult novels and are set in dystopian worlds with strong female leads, but the films are hardly alike despite what many headlines push.
And because of this comparison, Woodley has been pitted as "the next Jennifer Lawrence", which she feels is a positive association.
"She's such a strong woman that it's a compliment to me. I really admire her and don't mind it at all," Woodley shared.
Opening here today, Divergent revolves around a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues.
Tris is warned she is a Divergent and will never fit into any one group.
When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James).
To prepare for the physicality of her part, Woodley did a month of physical training, but was careful not to bulk up too soon.
She said: "In the beginning, Tris is supposed to be weak, so she couldn't be all butch and muscular because that wouldn't make sense."
So even though Woodley didn't launch into beast mode in the gym, she did engage in a lot of fight choreography to ready herself for the many battle scenes throughout Tris' training in the Dauntless Faction, practising Muay Thai moves mixed with prison fighting techniques.
Tris may seem like a role Woodley was born to play, but transitioning from indie flicks to an action blockbuster did take some getting used to.
In fact, for the first few weeks of filming, she would always comment that the script needed more "truth" to it.
She said: "(Divergent co-star) Zoe (Kravitz) finally said to me, 'Hey, we're not making an indie film; we're making a big film and sometimes it's necessary in big films to be a little bit bigger because that's the movie you're making and what you signed up for'.
"It was then that something clicked and I fully learnt through that process that certain things are needed when you make these kinds of movies.
"And after I saw the finished film, to me it still feels truthful. Everyone's performances seemed very grounded and relatable."
By now, it's no secret that the Californian native, whose parents are both psychologists, does not own a mobile phone, but that just further proves she is different from her Hollywood peers.
She rid herself of her "distraction" eight months ago because she was tired of not being present in the moment. She has one now, though, so that producers can get hold of her, but plans to ditch it when the Divergent promotional junkets are all over.
Of her drastic decision, she explained: "That taught me how to be present in my life and appreciate every moment. I found that I was living a story. I'd be here saying these words, talking to all of you, but in my head, I'd be wondering about other things. I'd constantly be living two different lives and ever since I got rid of my phone, I've been focused on the present."
Embarking on what is going to be a tidal wave of fame that is bound to accompany the release of Divergent and its sequels, Woodley is not looking to get caught up in it all. Instead, she is going to keep grounded and live life as she always has.
"People are always like, ride the wave, do the thing and get it while you can. But waves crash onto the shore eventually and I don't want to crash so I'd rather take a paddle boat out and be, like, cruising on the ocean."