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, Shailene Woodley (“Tris Prior”) was joined by new cast members Naomi Watts (“Evelyn”) and Octavia Spencer (“Johanna”) to talk about training, bad-ass action sequences, the importance of such a strong female-led franchise, how the relationship between Tris and Four is evolving, and working with director Robert Schwentke, who is new to the franchise.
Question: Shailene, how did it feel to get back into this character, and how do you think she’s changed?
SHAILENE WOODLEY: Getting back into Tris was much more difficult than I anticipated ‘cause I didn’t take into account that I, myself, had grown for a year. I figured going back into her would be simple because I would just go back into that mind-set, but my personal mind-set had progressed a year in evolution. And so, I had to go back to who Shai was, a year prior, in order to get back into Tris’ mind.
What was the training like, this time around?
WOODLEY: In the first movie, we did a lot of choreography and fight training. This one was basic fitness. There wasn’t anything too intense.
Out of all of the many action sequences, which one made you feel most like a bad-ass?
WOODLEY: There’s one really rad sequence when Tris is chasing the house. One day, we had four or five stunt doubles there. There were just a bunch of women with short hair and the same exact outfit, walking around. It was really funny. But, I got to do a lot of it when the house is tilting. We were on wires and would slide down. There was one where the house was tilted almost at a 90-degree angle, and that felt pretty bad ass. I was like, “If I don’t grab this pole, I’m not gonna get hurt, but I am gonna be dangling in the air with a crazy bad wedgie.” That was pretty fun.
Naomi, what interested you in this, and how exciting was it for you to become a part of this franchise?
NAOMI WATTS: It’s something that I haven’t really done that much of. I remember back in the day, when I was at the very end of my ingénue days, being in King Kong and having to do quite a lot of physical stuff, and I made the promise to myself that I would never do that again. Now, I’m a more mature women and I don’t have to go through quite what Shailene has to go through. But, we’ll see about that for the next film. The film has a sense of adventure and fun, and at the center of it is this great theme of this struggle of identity. Who are we when we leave our families? Who do we become? What are we capable of? That’s something that never leaves us. It begins at that point in your life when you leave the nest, and I don’t think we stop wanting to explore that question. And then, when I arrived on the set, it was a little scary because this is a very well-oiled machine. I was just wildly impressed with how things were going, how fast they were moving, how disciplined all of these young actors were, and how unified they were. When there are that many people, you can sometimes sense a little rivalry or a few issues. But, they felt very connected and very collaborative. It was a great thing to be a part of.
How important is it that this franchise is led by a very strong female character, and has so many other female characters playing important roles in the story?
OCTAVIA SPENCER: First of all, credit goes to Veronica [Roth], in writing an amazing trilogy, and being strong enough and smart enough to write these characters and imbue them with all of these wonderful characteristics that usually aren’t given to women. I think that young women and little girls need to see that they don’t have to be the damsel in distress. They don’t have to not show their strength. They don’t have to be whatever the stereotype is or the tropes that we go to in our minds. I think it’s important that they see a heroine like Tris, and that Shailene, in her own life, is equally strong. I feel very blessed that we also have a female producer (Lucy Fisher), who has been extremely successful. I think the paradigm is shifting, with regard to women and what we bring to the industry. I feel very blessed.
Shailene, how do you see the relationship between Tris and Four, and why do you think it stands out for fans of this franchise?
WOODLEY: One of the reasons that I fell in love so deeply with Divergent, originally, was the relationship between Tris and Four because it was grounded in truth, respect and authenticity. It wasn’t based on surface level physical attraction or infatuation. It was really that Tris and Four equally saw each other as individuals that were inspired by, intrigued by, and curious about. There was a sense of mystic about each of them. I find that fascinating. And I loved that in Insurgent, their relationship is rocky. It’s not 100%. It’s not that every time they see each other, they feel safe and protected and like they’re able to be vulnerable. They put up walls against one other, and that happens in partnerships.
Everything has an ebb and a flow. I thought that was one of the smart things that Veronica could have gifted to the young adult world. Yes, there are lots of books that do that, but to have that involved with an action series is quite rare, I’ve found. It’s great to have a platform for not only young adults, but for everyone to recognize that relationships can be based in truth and be vulnerable, and at the same time, when your walls go up, just recognize that you’re keeping somebody at arm’s length because of your own defenses and not because of anything that they’re doing. That’s all that defense mechanisms are. It’s the ability to protect our own inner vulnerabilities.
Naomi, how did being a mom, yourself, inform your performance?
WATTS: It’s hard to imagine that you would abandon your child. It was very hard to reconcile that one. But we know that she was going through something that she felt was life-threatening, and suffering a great deal of abuse, and that was a survival choice that she had to make. Of course, she would be filled with regret. She comes in with the intention to try to resolve that relationship, but perhaps there’s something else going on, as well. She knows that both of these people are going to help her achieve things. It’s hard to establish what her motives are, in this movie. We’ll obviously explore that more, in the next movie.
But, I couldn’t imagine that anything could be so bad that I would have left my children. That’s the world of storytelling. It’s a fun character because that’s a complex thing to take on. She has regret, but she has this drive. She genuinely wants to fix the relationship. I do think that. But during the time that she’s become this Factionless person, she strengthened and created a powerful force to be reckoned with. This collective group of many different traits have now come together and created great numbers and diversity.
Shailene, what was it like working with a new director (Robert Schwentke) on this installment?
WOODLEY: When we first found out that Neil Burger wasn’t going to be doing the second film, it was a little strange to wrap your head around how somebody else would fill those shoes, simply because Neil created the visual world of Divergent. He took Veronica’s book and added all of the visual aspects to it, and breathed life into it. Robert is a genuinely warm, pure human being, and he makes you feel immediately comfortable. He doesn’t have an ego, so he’s very open to collaboration, and he’s very open to hearing what you have to say and taking your opinions into account, which is such a blessing. If somebody new had come in and had this very strong idea of what they wanted, and didn’t care about what you thought, I think there would have been a lot of intensity around that situation because we knew this world so well. But, Robert is amazing. He’s a family man. His kids were on set, all the time. He shows up, every day, with a smile on his face and a, Let’s do this!” attitude. He’s very committed to the work and to the creative aspects of the work, but he’s also committed to having fun on the job, which sometimes a lot of people forget to do, in any job in life, and not just in this industry. So, to have a creative leader and captain of a ship bring that sense of spontaneity and passion, while also retaining the integrity and dedication to the hard work that needed to be done, was really wonderful. I’m excited to be working with him.
SPENCER: It was going to be new for me, no matter what. I wasn’t a part of the first movie, but I’m grateful to be a part of this one. I was walking into a new situation with a different director, but I already had a relationship with (producers) Doug [Wick] and Lucy [Fisher]. The story was on the page, and it was a great story. Robert was a wonderful captain. He was very collaborative. I knew I was a part of something special because of how inclusive they all were. I felt very wonderfully protected, and Shailene is a huge part of that, with how she treated everyone.
WATTS: Yeah, I was also new, no matter what. That’s how I go on, in every film, unless you’ve worked with a director more than once. Sometimes you arrive late in the process of filming, which makes it a little scary because they’ve already got this well-established technique going on, and all of the relationships are comfy and cozy. You have to figure out how to fit in, which can always be a scary first day. But I remember when I first met Shailene. I was enveloped in a giant hug. It felt so warm and relaxed me, right away. And Robert is someone who’s made a great number of films of this genre. What you want, as an actor, is a great leader. I can’t bear it when I work with a director who is wishy-washy and says, “What did you think?” Of course, I want collaboration, but if they don’t have a plan or their vision isn’t clear, it’s nerve-wracking. Right away, you sense fear, and that trickles down and gets messy. So, someone that’s very sure of the vision is what you want, most of all.
Are you surprised that so many guys like such a female-driven story?
SPENCER: Aside from a wonderful narrative and putting together this cast, Shai and Theo [James] have such amazing chemistry, and you just root for them, from the beginning. I don’t know if guys like to talk about chemistry or feelings, but they do understand real relationships. They understand that it’s entertainment, but you also want to walk away from it feeling that you have been entertained for two hours, and that you’ve grown a little bit. It makes you think and you take something with you. I think a lot of that comes from who you have in your lead, and Shailene carries the film beautifully. We all add something very unique. It’s fantastic.
The Divergent Series: Insurgent opens in theaters on March 20th.