Descendants - George Clooney and Shailene Woodley
Descendants - Matt King (George Clooney) and daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox, Photo by Merie Wallace

Shailene Woodley is currently seen in the popular ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, playing Amy Juergens, a single teenage mom.

In her new movie, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, she portrays Alexandra, the rebellious daughter of businessman Matt King (George Clooney). When her mother is critically injured in a boating accident, she returns home from school and must deal with her shaky relationship with her father.

How did you get this role?

Descendants - Shailene Woodley and Nick Krause
Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Sid (Nick Krause) © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

I read the script before Alexander or George were attached and I fell in love with it, because it was real and human and it wasn’t artistically licensed, and it wasn’t glamorized or beautified. So often I read scripts and I’m like, ‘This would never happen in real life.’

This movie was real and it was messy and I really responded to that.

What did you think about Alexandra’s character arc?

I loved her arc because she was a 17-year-old going through an angst period in life and she had taken on the victim role and thought the world was out to get her as so many adolescents and many adults do [she laughs].

Throughout the movie, there are a lot of tragic scenarios and she had to rise to the occasion and break down her walls that she had so thickly put up. I think there is a point in every teenager’s life where they are forced to come into themselves.

It’s fun to play this arc with her while she had to deal with such tragic occurrences in her life.

Descendants - Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Barbara L Southern and Robert Forster
Alex (Shailene Woodley), Matt King (George Clooney), Alice Thorson (Barbara L Southern) and Scott Thorson (Robert Forster) © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

What kind of back story or research did you do for your character?

I’m not an actor who approaches films doing a lot of research. I do zero research unless it’s a film where I’m playing a mock version of someone who already existed. Then you’ve got to do a lot of research, or if it’s a time period piece, you’ve got to do research.

On this film I did think a little about her back history.

When you’re on set and you professionally listen to what the other actors have to say, then, the emotion is naturally evoked, especially with this screenplay.

So many times you get a script and it says. ‘And then the character cries.’

Then you read the lines and you’re thinking, ‘That would never make me cry. Those (lines) are so untruthful.’

With this script, if our characters were supposed to be emotional, we would be overly emotional because the words were so thought-provoking and emotion-provoking. So, my approach is just to be honest to the situation.

Did you read the novel the movie is based on?

Descendants - Shailene Woodley and George Clooney
Alex King (Shailene Woodley) and father Matt (George Clooney) © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

I did read the book after I had booked (the job) but before we started filming, and that was incredibly helpful because a screenplay is 90 pages and a book is 300 so it kind of fills in the blanks. I did get that luxury on this film.

What was the hardest scene for you to film? Was it screaming underwater after you hear the news that your mother is not going to recover?

I thought it was fun to get to scream underwater. I thought it was beautifully written that she recedes under the water and is able to be vulnerable for the first time after hearing such hard news.

But, there actually was one hard scene to film logistically speaking. It was a scene in the hospital where George gets mad at me and spanks me. That was a hard scene to capture without making it all cheesy or preconceived something that we knew was coming.

That took a while between Alexander, George and I just figuring out the logistics of it.

Have you ever had a rebellious period in your life?

I think every teenager goes through their angst. People who are like, ‘No. I had a perfect adolescence block.’ I just wonder how that is possible. For me, probably between 14 and 15 is when I went through my angsty period. I never did things to rebel against society or against my parents, but I did think I knew everything.

I thought I knew it all and had it all figured out. Then, one day, I woke up and realized I was a dot in this universe and that quickly dissipated.

Can you talk about working with George Clooney?

Descendants - Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Amara Miller and Nick Krause
Alex (Shailene Woodley), Matt King (George Clooney), Scottie (Amara Miller) and Sid (Nick Krause) © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

He’s a superhuman. That is the only word I can use that will truly encompass everything about him. He’s just amazing. The thing about George Clooney is you never hear about him being a very philanthropic man. You hear little bits of sweet things he does but you don’t hear a lot about it.

I have never met a more generous, philanthropic human being in my entire life.

He will do anything for you, whether you are crossing the street and can barely walk, he’ll help you, or someone who is having a hard time and can’t feed their family, he’ll give you a generous amount to help you feed your family.

It’s small things he does on a daily basis to anyone and everyone that just blew me away.

He’s so incredibly down to earth. He was never in his trailer. He never used hair and make-up. There was one scene where, in the morning, he had to be clean-shaven and, in the afternoon, he was supposed to have like scruff.

Instead of using normal make-up, he used a ballpoint pen and stabbed his face for an hour and a half. I’m not joking.

I was like ‘Why are you doing that? Why don’t you just use make-up?’ He was like, ‘I’ve got two hands. Might as well do it.’  I was like, ‘You’re the coolest guy ever!’.

Working as an actress since she was 8-years-old, hear Shailene talk about what attracts her to the business – and what doesn’t. Click on the bar below

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.