Divergent - Shailene Woodley, and Theo James
Divergent - Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) ©2013 Summit Entertainment

In May, 2011, Veronica Roth’s novel Divergent topped the New York Times Bestsellers list. Now the action adventure comes to the big screen, directed by Neil Burger (Limitless), starring Shailene Woodley (The Desendants) as Tris Prior.

Divergent is set in a futuristic Chicago, where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris is secretly warned that she is a Divergent and will never fit into any one group. She chooses to become part of the Dauntless faction,  that protests the boundaries of the city.

When she discovers a conspiracy by Jeanine Matthews, a faction leader (Kate Winslet), to destroy all Divergents, she realizes she must trust Four (Theo James, Downton Abbey), one of the trainers in Dauntless, as they join together to find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.

Shailene and Theo spoke with journalists at the press day for the movie.

How alike are you and Tris?

Divergent - Shailene Woodley
Divergent – Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) ©2013 Summit Entertainment

Shailene: A lot of who Tris is resonated with me. I was raised by two psychologists parents who are the most beautiful, selfless people I’ve ever met, and so compassion and empathy were two things as a young child that were ingrained into my system. It’s such a lovely gift, because I feel like those are two lessons that often don’t get learned until later on in life.

As a teenager, my struggle was how do I balance being empathetic and being compassionate towards my peers and also live my life for myself, receiving my happiness from my own experience rather than from people pleasing?

Tris goes through that as well. She was raised in a society and a faction where she had to be selfless, and yet she joins this other faction which is all about being selfish, and she has to find the balance between that.

I feel like I went through something similar, so that’s how I relate to her. As well as just being a very strong and empowered woman. I feel very strong and I live my life with a lot of integrity based on what I want for my life and who I am, and I think Tris is similar.

Can you talk about working with Shailene?

Divergent - Theo James
Divergent – Four (Theo James) ©2013 Summit Entertainment

Theo: You meet on the [screen] test and you don’t know each other, and it’s slightly awkward because you’re doing an intimate scene with someone you never even set your eyes upon. But she’s really refreshing and she’s very open to collaborating on making the scene as good as possible.

When you’re doing a big film like this you may be in the midst of a big stunt sequence or it’s a green screen, and sometimes it’s easy to get lost in that.

What she’s great at is to ground the work and bring it back to the fact that the reason you’re there is because you are trying to tell a story. She’s very emotionally intuitive in being able to bring a truth to something, even in the craziest circumstances.

What was the toughest stunt for you?

Divergent - Behind the scenes: Shailene Woodle
Divergent – Behind the scenes: Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) ©2013 Summit Entertainment

Theo: I think for me the end scene where there is a fight that leads into the climax of the whole movie.

You have this really dynamic fight scene and its visceral and painful, and Shay gets punched in the face many times, which is hardcore in many ways, but in the midst of the scene is really a story about her getting through to Four through love, and that is something I really wanted to honor.

Shailene: We definitely did get some black and blue bruises, and have a few scars on our bodies still, but Theo always says, ‘If you do stunts or a big action movie and you don’t walk away a little banged up, then you’re doing something wrong.’

In one scene, you both climbed an enormous Ferris Wheel, were you scared?

Divergent - Shailene Woodley, and Theo James
Divergent – Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) ©2013 Summit Entertainment

Theo: We were strapped in so you felt kind of invincible, although when I was up there I was like, ‘I’m going to test you guys and jump off.’

And they were like, ‘You can do that, but you’ll still break your arm.’ Maybe not! (he laughs)

Shialene: The Ferris Wheel  was super fun. I don’t think anyone has probably ever climbed the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel before.

We got to climb it during the full moon last year. And it was also a super moon, if you’re into astrology, but that was really exciting for me.

So we got to watch the moon cascade across the sky as we were climbing up and down this Ferris Wheel. It was so beautiful.

There was a report that Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence urged Shailene to do Divergent. She was asked if that was true? Click here to watch her reaction…


The author Veronica Roth, who loved Theo’s screen test, was on the set throughout the filming of the movie. Theo was asked about her reaction to his screen test and if he ever went to her for advice about his character? Click here to see his reply…


Judy Sloane

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