Author Veronica Roth Talks DIVERGENT, the Film’s Casting, How Neil Burger’s Vision Compares to Her Own, the Final Book ALLEGIANT, and More

     May 9, 2013


Based on the best-selling first book in a trilogy, Divergent is set in a future society, divided into factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue and including Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful) and Erudite (the intelligent).  On an appointed day of every year, all 16-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives, but when that day comes for Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), her choice will surprise everyone, including herself.  Directed by Neil Burger (Limitless), the film also stars Theo James, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney and Zoe Kravitz.

With the film now in production in Chicago, Collider was invited, along with a handful of other online outlets, to chat with author Veronica Roth about what this whole experience has been like for her.  During the interview, she talked about her first reaction when she read the script, what it was like to be on set, what fans of the book series can expect from Allegiant, the final installment in the trilogy, whether she’d ever write from another character’s point of view again, what it’s been like to see the characters and world in her head brought to life, which actors have asked her the most questions about their characters, why Shailene Woodley is perfect for Tris, the chemistry between her and Theo James, the director’s vision versus her own, and what she’s a fangirl about herself.  Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers, especially if you haven’t read the books.

veronica-rothQuestion:  What was your first reaction, after you read the script?

VERONICA ROTH:  Reading a script is a really interesting experience.  I’d never read a script before.  I was really impressed by how closely it stuck to the general plotline of the book.  I haven’t read the updated script, so I don’t know how it’s transformed.  I’ve been told it’s transformed in really positive ways.  I’m going to read it soon.  And from what I saw on set, it was developing quite nicely.  So, it was surprisingly positive.  I was expected to feel very personally insulted, if anything changed, but I didn’t feel that way, at all. 

What’s the mood been like on set, so far, and how much time have you spent on set?

ROTH:  I’ve only been there one day, but from what I can see, it’s just really interesting to see how the actual actor relationships reflect the character relationships.  All the young initiates have a great comradery with each other and they seem really excited.  And then, I met all of the behind-the-scenes people, like the guys who built the set and the people making the costumes, and they are all really cool.  Everybody seems really positive and pumped up and excited to be figuring out the details of this crazy world.  It’s been good. 

What scene did you see them shooting? 

ROTH:  It was the knife-throwing scene.  It was not really a great opportunity to see romantic tension, but it was a great day to be there.  I’d written that scene from two perspectives. 

Was Allegiant always the title of the third book, or did you go through a few different ideas?

ROTH:  I did not go through different ideas.  It was always the title. 

Were you laughing when so many different suggestions kept coming up?

ROTH:  I knew the truth!  I wasn’t laughing because, in the very early stages, I’d certainly thought of those words.  I remember looking up a list of the 36 words in the English language that rhyme with divergent.  I was like, “I really don’t know what to do here.”  Assurgent was never going to be the word that I chose.  So, I wasn’t laughing.  But, I was laughing when they put Detergent onto the list of possibilities.                   

What tidbits can you share about Allegiant?

ROTH:  What can I share?  Is there anything I can share?  Hmm.  I really can’t.  I can’t say very much.  I can say that the things that you expect to learn more about, you do.  You will find out who this Edith Prior person is and how they’re related. 

allegiant-book-coverSo, questions will be answered? 

ROTH:  Yes!  I tried very hard to answer all of the questions that I thought readers were likely to have because those are the questions I set up and they’re the ones that I had, when I started writing it.

What does the word “allegiant” mean to you?

ROTH:  To me, it means one who is loyal or faithful to a particular cause or person.  

The second book really opened up a whole new world that seems really difficult to close off in one more book.  Would you ever consider continuing the series, or is that the end?

ROTH:  I definitely mapped it out to be three books, and I think the ending is definitely an end.

Will there be that same level of shock in Allegiant that Insurgent had, or will it be more about answering questions?

ROTH:  I don’t know.  I can’t really anticipate how people are going to react to it.  Certainly, some things will be shocking and some things will be like, “Oh, yeah.” 

Would you ever write from Four’s point of view again, or any of the other characters’ points of view?

ROTH:  I wouldn’t rule it out, as far as side material, like Free Four was.  What I discovered when I wrote Free Four was that it’s intensely difficult to rewrite a scene from another character’s perspective because you have to keep consulting the original scene to make sure that it lines up, and then you have to keep the whole frame of the story in mind.  It was so hard that I was like, “I don’t know if I could ever do this as a full-length thing.”  It was fun, but it’s definitely a challenge.  I’m open, but I chose Tris’ narrative and her voice, for a reason.   

For any book that you write, what’s your favorite part of the writing process?

ROTH:  That’s a good question.  I like revision, a lot.  My rough drafts are just an insane word vomit mess.  They’re gross, awful and just terrible.  So, what I really love is getting really good notes, which I’ve gotten, and totally ripping it apart and putting it back together to find the story that I really originally wanted to tell.  I especially love late-stage revisions where you are just fixing little things and you start to see what it’s going to look like as a finished story.  It’s really amazing. 

divergent-shailene-woodleyHow has it been to have the characters that you saw in your brain brought to life by these actors?  Has it been surreal, or has it been exactly how you pictured it? 

ROTH:  I would be a little disappointed, if it were exactly how I’d pictured it, because then there’s no reinterpretation and no new discovery.  What I was most concerned about, when they were casting, was finding actors that could capture the internal world of the character, as opposed to exactly matching the description that I wrote.  In that sense, I think it’s been really amazing.  When I was watching them act, I was like, “Yes, this is it!  This is the person!  You did such a good job!”  Even with people who I was on the fence with, I was really swayed, by the end of the day.  They’ve done a good job.  I’ve been overwhelming positive online because I feel overwhelming positive about it.  If I wasn’t feeling that way, I would probably just be quiet.

When you were on set, did any of the actors come to you with any particular questions?

ROTH:  Yeah, I actually had a fairly long conversation with Miles Teller about Peter, which was really interesting.  Peter is a little confusing, as a character, and he’s definitely one of the stranger characters.  So, I had to explain some things to him that I think he was interested in figuring out.  I also talked to Theo [James] a little bit about Four, and Shailene [Woodley] a little bit about Tris.  I’m sure more of those conversations will happen.

Is there a certain scene that you’re excited to see come to life?

ROTH:  Oh, man, so many of them!  I’m excited to see some of the more intense moments, like some of the deaths.  That sounds really morbid.  Especially with Tris’ mom, that’s such an informative experience for Tris, and I’m interested to see how it’s realized and see if I cry, even though I’ve read it hundreds of times and wrote it. 

shailene-woodley-divergentHow involved are you going to be with the filming process?

ROTH:  I haven’t been involved, in terms of making decisions, because I like to write books and I was busy doing that.  I was happy to just watch it all happen, knowing that my work was done a couple years ago.  That’s been awesome.  But, they’ve kept me really informed of everything.  They’ve been really super welcoming.  They made me a director’s chair with my name, so they’re definitely happy to have me there, but I’m running around also.

Why do you think dystopian future dramas are so compelling right now?

ROTH:  I don’t know.  I’ve thought about that a lot.  I think it’s interesting because it pulls you in both directions.  You’re interested in the forward thrust of the story, and you’re also interested in the history of the world and how it became that way.  Anything that pulls your mind that way will be really interesting.  It also just creates a really dynamic backdrop for these very human struggles and stories.

What was the moment for you when you realized this film was super legit? 

ROTH:  When they told me they were talking to Kate Winslet, I was like, “Yeah, that’s going to happen!”  Seriously, that was my reaction.  I don’t believe anything until it’s actually official.  But then, when it was official, I had a little panic attack.  I was like, “Oh, my god, it’s really happening!”  The official strategy is defensive pessimism, always.  But lately, I’ve been allowing myself to get a little more excited.

Can you describe Theo James as Four, in four words?

ROTH:  Okay, handsome and intense and sensitive and bad-ass.  Is that good?

Even though you were only on the set one day, were you able to see the chemistry between Tris and Four, firsthand?  Is it really happening between Shailene Woodley and Theo James?

ROTH:  Yes!  Actually, when I saw the screen test, I [saw it].  It was really good!  There’s a reason they cast him. 

Do you know if Theo James has read Free Four?

ROTH:  I don’t know if he’s read Free Four.  I didn’t ask him.  I know he’s read the book, and probably the second one, at this point.  When I talked to him, he was just starting the second one.  I’m sure someone has passed Free Four onto him.  How do you pass that up?  It’s from your character’s perspective, and it’s not very long either.  

theo-james-divergentWhat made Shailene Woodley perfect for Tris? 

ROTH:  Shailene brings reality to Tris.  Tris is kind of an impetuous 16-year-old.  She has a harsh personality with some vulnerability.  All of the shades of what Tris is, Shailene is able to do, just in very small moments.  She’s pretty subtle, too.  That’s been great.  Even though she’s not a tiny blonde girl, she just is this character.  She seems like a real person who’s actually having those struggles.  I wasn’t that surprised because I know she’s a great actress.  I saw her in The Descendants.  I just didn’t think anyone would be able to do it.  Tris is so dear to me, even though I want to punch her sometimes. 

Lots of fans have commented on the ages of the actors who have been cast in certain roles.  How do you feel about that?

ROTH:  I think that headshots look a lot older than actual people.  When I was meeting them in real life, I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is not a problem.”  Seeing them all together, they definitely look younger than you’d think.  I was most concerned about the age gap looking okay.  I think Shailene is six years younger than Theo, but it doesn’t really look that way.  I think if you cast an actual 16-year-old and an actual 18-year-old, they look the same age, especially if the 18-year-old is a boy because they don’t age as quickly.  I think that would actually look kind of creepy, to watch children kiss.  So, I’m really happy with the maturity of the actors.  I think that was crucial to making this movie work.  By casting older actors, they’ve definitely gotten some of that maturity, which is amazing.  I think the gap looks great, in real life.

When you sat down to write Divergent, did you have any people in mind for the characters?

ROTH:  Not really.  I’m not one of those people who makes fan casts, mostly because I don’t really know actors that well.  I know some, but that’s about it.  And also, the images I have of characters and of the setting of the book is slightly more vague.  It’s like squinting at something from afar.  I think that has helped me to be a little more open-minded about watching the filming happen.  It’s been more magical than disappointing because it’s like seeing someone flush out the details of this thing that I imagined.

Which actor is the closest to your vision for the character?

ROTH:  That’s a good question.  Actually, I think Theo is the closest to how I imagined Four.  And then, Maggie Q as Tori is really spot-on.  I’ve seen her on Nikita and she’s a bad-ass.  She’s already dauntless.  It’s all good. 

If you were to place yourself into the story, which character would you see yourself as?

ROTH:  Oh, god, what a question?!  I don’t know.  Probably one of the side people, like Susan.

What faction do you see yourself a part of?

veronica-roth-allegiantROTH:  That’s an interesting question.  I used to think that I would choose dauntless.  I think that’s a desire that a lot of people have, to be a bad-ass.  But, I’m not.  So, I think I would actually choose abnegation. 

How do you feel about Uriah not being in the movie?

ROTH:  It’s obviously super disappointing when your fan favorite doesn’t make it into the first movie, but I will say that I’m comforted that they didn’t just slap-dash cast someone.  I’m happy that they’re going to take their time casting someone, for the second and the third, who’s really able to do justice with the role.  That’s how I feel about it. 

Can you talk about Neil Burger’s vision for the film versus your vision?

ROTH:  I was worried that the overall visual sense of the movie would be a little too futuristic sexy, like really sleek and shiny, and that’s not really the world of Divergent.  Everything is kind of falling apart.  And I think he definitely did that, which I was really happy about.  The visuals I’ve seen have been in that vein, and that’s been really exciting.  He’s got a really detail-oriented mind, so everything, down to all the little details that I saw, has been so well thought-out, in keeping with the philosophy of the world.  He and I talked for hours, and he asked me so many questions about things I had never thought of.  He was like, “How does commerce work in this particular faction?,” and I was like, “I don’t know!  Where were you when I was writing this?!”  Those conversations were really reassuring because he’s just so interested in every little thing, and I think that definitely comes across. 

You’ve said on your blog that what you want to write about has changed.  So, if you could write whatever you wanted, what would that be?

ROTH:  I was writing the same world and the same kind of story, when I said that.  But, I think Allegiant is different, just in some of the things that it tackles.  Divergent and Insurgent are heavy action, pretty violent books.  The third book has action.  It’s not like it’s not actiony.  But, a lot of my interest has moved towards the societal struggles that are happening and the wrestling that Tris is doing inside her head.  That’s more what I was referring to.  I’m an action girl.  I still love action.  But, I think it’s a little more balanced now. 

divergent-book-coverThis film is going to open this world up to a whole new audience that hasn’t read the books.  What’s it like have the last book coming out and to be wrapping up the story, not too far from the first film coming out and having all these new people just being introduced to it?

ROTH:  It’s a little weird, actually.  A lot of people are asking me about Divergent, and I’m just like, “Oh, man, that was so long ago!”  Sometimes I don’t remember the details.  But, it’s incredible, obviously, to see so many people gravitating toward the books, over time.  I convinced myself, after the first burst of readership that I got, that that would be it.  I thought it would be like, “Here we are, initiates.  It’s just you and me.”  But, it seems to be continuing to grow, and that’s amazing.  I’m glad I finished the third book before a lot of this movie stuff started, so that I could still imagine the characters the way that I had without that changing.  But, it’s been good to see it grow.

After being on the set and being somewhat involved this time around, do you think you’ll be more involved with the next movie?

ROTH:  I don’t really know.  I guess it depends on what I’m writing and how things develop from here.  We’re just starting, so I don’t even really know what this world is like yet. 

Divergent has such a strong fan base.  Do you have something that you were a super fangirl about, in that same respect?

ROTH:  Harry Potter.  Seriously.  I have a wand.  I’m going to Comic-Con this year, and I was really thinking about making myself some robes.  I’m a big fan of that.

Divergent is scheduled for theatrical release on March 21, 2014.


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