In The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run from the treacherous Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the power-hungry leader of the Erudite faction who will stop at nothing to put an end to the Divergent. While trying to unite Amity, Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless and the Factionless, Tris tries to uncover a secret that will explain why Jeanine will stop at nothing to capture her.
During a conference at the film’s press day, co-stars Theo James (“Four”), Ansel Elgort (“Caleb Prior”) and Jai Courtney (“Eric”) talked about working with director Robert Schwentke, who is new to the franchise, how the relationship between Tris and Four is evolving, their training, new additions to the cast, how they approached their characters this time around, and working with Shailene Woodley. Insurgent hits theaters on March 20th.
Question: What was it like working with a new director (Robert Schwentke), on this installment?
THEO JAMES: For the second movie around, you’ve already set up some of the key storyline elements. So, we had that luxury of jumping straight into the action without exploring characters and introducing them again. Also, his energy is inherently different, which is always good. As much as we like Neil [Burger], it’s always fun to have someone to add something different, like new actors or new producers. It always helps to mix it up. We also had a bit more money, so that always helps.
ANSEL ELGORT: No discredit to Neil, but I remember the first day that I came to set, Robert sat me in a room for about 15 or 20 minutes, and we really just talked about my character’s arc, throughout the whole story. He was like, “We’re going to keep having these conversations because they’re really important. I don’t want to lose your character, throughout the parts where he’s not in it, ‘cause it’s an important arc.” And I have a feeling he felt that way about everyone’s character. At the same time he was being a great action director, he was a great actor’s director.
Theo, what is your thing about Four and Tris’ relationship, and how has their relationship evolved, in this film?
JAMES: I like the fact that they have mutual respect for one another. This movie is different from the first, in the sense in that, in the first, Shay’s character is playing catch-up, in a way, because she’s introduced to this world. And you don’t really know where Four is coming from. He’s a little bit elusive. Whereas, in this movie, he is almost trying to quell her revenge for the death of her friends and family. They have a mutual respect for one another. Her femininity doesn’t detract from his masculinity, and the other way around. She’s a very strong female lead character, but she is also very feminine, at the same time.
There are a lot more stunts in this film. Was your training any different, and were there any injuries?
JAI COURTNEY: Training wise, I came into the process a little late. The second unit, which often takes control of a lot of the larger action sequences, was much bigger in this installment. Whether it’s budget or just creative vision, it was blown up, this time around, and I think that’s awesome. When we did Divergent, some people referenced it as an action film. Maybe somewhat cockily, I rejected that. But I think this definitely is, without question. That’s not to say it abandons the themes the story is rooted in, but it definitely feels like that. It’s fast-paced, and some of those scenes are pretty electrifying. It’s cool. I went through a few pairs of pants, running across that field. The construction of our costumes isn’t made for big jumps.
Ansel, how did your life change after Divergent?
ELGORT: I think a lot of our lives have changed a lot. My life obviously changed a lot since Divergent. And then my other movie, The Fault in our Stars, came out. Now, every day, I go out and people ask for pictures, which is weird and different than before. But, it’s really nice when people recognize your work because most actors out there never have the opportunity to be seen. I’m really grateful.
Theo, what was it like to work with Naomi Watts?
JAMES: I was really excited to work with her ‘cause she’s a great actress and has done some phenomenal work. It was interesting ‘cause she’s playing my mum, but she’s a bit of a babe. I had to get past that. She’s really interesting in this film because she has a very different energy. She’s very calculating, but at the same time, she has a warmth and a gentleness that almost juxtaposes what her character’s real ambition is. That was nice, in a way, because it puts you on the back foot, not as the audience, but the character, when you’re doing the scenes with her. She’s not staring you down, in a very abrasive way. It’s really loving and sweet, but intense, at the same time. I think those elements really lended themselves well to her character, and playing off of it.
How did you deal with the new actors on this movie? Do you do anything to welcome them in?
ELGORT: It was awesome. It’s incredible, especially for someone like me. I’m really new to this business. To be able to say the list of actors that I’ve already worked with is incredible, and a lot of that is due to Divergent. I was just as the Oscars for the first time, which was amazing. I was sitting next to Octavia Spencer and I was able to act all cool and be like, “Yeah, I’ve worked with Octavia Spencer. I’ve known her a long time.” It was cool.
Ansel, with the direction your character goes, did you feel like you missed out on the action?
ELGORT: I’m glad you asked this because I think it’s really cool that, even though while I watched the movie, I was like “Jai is a bad-ass! He’s a frickin’ action star!,” Caleb is definitely not a bad-ass. He wasn’t Dauntless. The reason he leaves Tris and Four to go back to Erudite is because he knows he’s not cut out for this. He says, “I’m not cut out for this. I’m gonna to die.” I’m a physical guy. I play basketball and I rock-climb. I like to be physical, but Caleb definitely isn’t. So, if you watch the film, the way Caleb runs, he looks like he doesn’t belong. He looks like he’s going to trip over, at any second, because it’s never been something that he did. I wanted to make sure that I made a conscious decision and was specific with that. Not everyone is a superhero. Not everyone is an action hero. I think Caleb represents the intellectual, and he represents someone who definitely wouldn’t be able to run away from people shooting at him. That’s why he decides to leave them.
Was it weird going from playing brother and sister with Shailene Woodley, in The Divergent Series, to her love interest in The Fault in Our Stars?
ELGORT: Yeah, it was definitely really weird. I don’t know how we did it, but we pulled it off somehow. We’re very happy that it somehow worked.
This movie is all about family, whether by blood or the one that you choose. Did you draw from your family lives, in any way, to portray your characters?
JAMES: No, not directly. Four does not have a great relationship with either of his parents, and luckily, I have two good parents. That was something that needed addressing, a little bit, when it came to the scenes with Naomi. He’s estranged from both parents, but I didn’t want it to be a repeat of what he has with his father. So, we had to discuss that, between Naomi and I. But in terms of drawing on my own family, the importance of family is a big thing, so using those feelings, thoughts and philosophies, and incorporating them into the character, is definitely something that I did.
ELGORT: I have a great mother and father, like Caleb had a great mother and father. It was just about feeling betrayed, at a point where you thought you could trust them. My character felt somewhat betrayed by his parents. They were hiding this thing underneath their house, the whole time, and it could have ended all the bloodshed that was happening, if they would have just given the box over to Jeanine. I felt like my parents were the type of people who would have made that decision. Caleb didn’t know beyond that. He thinks that there’s nothing wrong with giving up the box. That’s what he felt. He finds out later that there was a reason that they were protecting it from Erudite. But to Caleb, he was totally betrayed by his parents. I trust my parents, and if I was betrayed by my parents, I probably would be really hurt and upset and numbed by that. That’s how Caleb is, in that cell scene.
Shailene Woodley tends to be a bit of an open book, but over the years of working with her, what is one thing you learned about her that most people don’t know?
ELGORT: I think that most things, they don’t know. Shailene is an open book, but at the same time, she’s a very complex person. With all of us, our fans don’t know everything about us, and that’s a good thing. Most of the things that she wants you to know about, she tells you, which is cool. But then, the stuff she needs to keep private to be herself, she keeps private. That’s the same with all of us.
How important do you think it is to have such strong female characters at the center of this story?
JAMES: It’s extremely important, and it’s even increased in this movie, with Shai, Octavia, Naomi and Kate. The central story is about Tris and her journey. It’s about her ascension, but also her emotionality and her ability to forgive. The great thing about this is that you have a character at the center of the film who is kind of a superhero, in a way, in terms of her being very powerful, but at the same time, she’s not afraid to be scared, fearful, feminine, and all of those features. On top of that, you have these great strong leading performances from other women, too. Also, I don’t think it detracts. The men and the women, in this, are very much equal, which is quite refreshing, in itself.
Did the fan expectations for the characters affect how you played the characters, this time around?
COURTNEY: I don’t think so. I felt more freedom, the second time around. I don’t think it boxed us in because there was expectation. The beauty of getting to know these characters over the course of a first film, it’s a rare privilege to go back and do it again. It’s funny because I was working on something else before I went out to the set of Insurgent. I remember the night before I started work, I had this freak-out of, “I’ve completely forgotten who Eric is. I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow.” I felt like it was all going to be different, which is perhaps pressure from that expectation. But, it’s like muscle memory. The beauty of having a script that was being developed while we were working [on the first film], and then further developed with an awareness for what worked for certain characters, if you look at Miles Teller’s role, it was written for Miles doing Peter, this time around. It’s perfect. It’s so full, and he has so much to play with, within the boundaries of what he set up. So, I think it’s quite the opposite. You can introduce things. With Eric, I was concerned about certain choices being boring. We had to establish a function and keep this guy in a certain zone that worked for that. So, we kept that, but I had the freedom to then explore some of the humor and bring in these other colors, which is fulfilling as a performer and also creates a more well-rounded performance.
The Divergent Series: Insurgent opens in theaters on March 20th.