Behind the scenes with the stars of Allegiant
Douglas Wick, producer of Divergent, is watching the end of the world from the safety of a prison cell. “You know,” he says, pointing to a spot in the stark, grey room, “that’s where we shot Kate Winslet in the back!” In the next room, a grand, futuristic chamber, Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Theo James and Naomi Watts are crowded around a control panel, frantically trying to stop an onslaught of “memory gas”. And it’s here, with his eyes still fixed on the monitor, that Wick starts to tell us the most important thing he’s learnt from producing one of cinema’s biggest young adult franchises.
“You have to leave your cynicism at the door,” he says. “Because Divergent is accessible and [ its protagonist] Tris connects with the audience in a different way. [ The original books were] really trying to express something about identity and growing up, and that has great power in it. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I can tell you that whenever you set out to make a successful young adult movie, you’re probably doomed.”
We’re speaking to Wick, and his co- producer wife Lucy Fisher, on the set of Allegiant, part one of what will be the series’ swansong. Adapted from Veronica Roth’s book trilogy, it splits her third and final instalment into two films: Allegiant and 2017’ s Ascendant. These entries will conclude the tale of Tris Prior ( Shailene Woodley), an unassuming hero in a world – specifically, a future Chicago – where society has been divided into five factions, which its citizens are sorted into at the age of 16 based upon their personality. It is, essentially, the cliques of high school as dystopia, with Tris – raised as a quiet, selfless Abnegation – yearning to be a member of Dauntless, the brave, athletic group of cool kids. Instead she’s revealed to be Divergent: the rare result of someone who doesn’t fit into any one faction, and who is seen as a threat by the ruling Erudite ( intellectuals) government. Not fitting in – remember that?
in these walls
Following on from last year’s Insurgent, Allegiant picks up after the revelation that, for the past 200 years, the walled city of Chicago ( and its faction system) has all been an experiment by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, a shadowy organisation living beyond the wall. Thus begins a mission to find them, with Tris and co venturing into an outside world ravaged by a so- called “Purity War”: a time when the government, in the belief that society’s problems were caused by “bad” genes, began to modify them, with disastrous results. It’s here
– in the bright, red “fringe” – that they meet David, the Bureau’s leader, played by Jeff Daniels; a man whose motives may spell disaster for Chicago, or salvation.
“After two movies, we’d seen a lot of Chicago,” says Wick, “and we’d spent time in all of the different factions. We and the characters were ready to go beyond the wall to a different world. That’s been really fun to be open up.”
Directed by Insurgent’s Robert Schwentke ( The Time Traveler’s Wife, RIPD), it’s a story that will take Allegiant up to a certain point in Roth’s book – the scene we’re watching now, in fact – with other plot points being fleshed out. It’s an approach, of course, that follows Harry Potter and The Hunger Games – who split their final stories to varying degrees of success. Was carving up the third book really necessary?
“There was just a lot of story to tell,” says Fisher. “We had a challenge with every single book, which is that Veronica packs a lot of plot and characters in and we felt that we never got to service them all. We’re always apologising to the actors that their characters didn’t get to do as much as they do in the book, otherwise we’d have a five- hour movie. So it’s about having the time and space to do that.”
SFX mentions the criticism that dogged The Hunger Games’ Mockingjay Part 1: that it only felt like the beginning of a story, rather than a story in its own right.
“We were very intent on making [ Allegiant] a story in its own right,” says Wick. “We did our best to make sure that, as a movie experience, this would have a satisfying ending, and be a journey in its own sake. That’s why we chose this moment” – he gestures to the chamber, now filling up with gas – “from the book because it was very climactic, a real resolution.”
meeting of minds
The job of scripting the split has been credited to four writers: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Stephen Chbosky and Noah Oppenheim, the
we did our best to make sure this would have a satisfying ending
writer behind fellow YA film The Maze Runner. With the adaptation of Insurgent – just one book – there were big changes: with a newlyintroduced five- sided box taking centre stage in the film, and Winslet’s Jeanine being shot at the end by Evelyn, leader of the Factionless, rather than stabbed in the stomach by Tori. So how close to the source material is Allegiant? “There’s probably less changes than
Insurgent,” says Wick. “Because this book is so sprawling we’ve rejigged little things here and there but all the elements are Veronica’s elements. So sometimes we’ll just explore them more as that’s what’s good for the movie. Erasing memory is a strong theme in the book, for example, and we’ve chosen to explore that to build to our climax.”
“We’re scared of changing things because fans are so rabid,” chuckles Fisher. “In
Insurgent we made that big change at the end [ with Jeanine being shot by Watts’ Evelyn] as Winslet’s character is dismissed from the story two thirds of the way through the book, so we wanted to have that ending. But literally not a single fan complained about it. It’s more, ‘ I thought her hair would be more honeycoloured – how could you do that?!’”
Beyond the world itself, one of the elements that Allegiant opens up is its characters, who start to step beyond Tris’s spotlight. These include Miles Teller’s perpetually untrustworthy Peter, whose erratic loyalty and dark, callous morals are explored (“what if he can be redeemed?”); and Theo James’ Four, who must navigate not only his relationship with Factionless leader and estranged mother Evelyn ( who now rules over Chicago), but his romance with Tris, which begins to crack as soon as they reach the Bureau. As for Tris herself, you have her fractured relationship with brother Caleb ( Ansel Elgort), who watched her get tortured in Insurgent, and her new- found trust in Bureau leader David, whose views create the rift between her and Four. And as book readers know, there’s also the small matter of her eventual fate, “but we don’t like to talk about that,” teases Fisher.
For veteran producers Wick and Fisher – who, between them, have broken stars like Russell Crowe and Angelina Jolie – Allegiant is not only the beginning of the end for the franchise, but also them preparing to say goodbye to a cast that has risen out of relative obscurity to become bona fide stars. Namely: Miles Teller’s turns in Whiplash and Fantastic
Four; and Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley’s starring roles in the mega- hit adaptation of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars.
“The hardest part was knowing we were signing [ the actors] up for a franchise,” Fisher says. “So we were having to think, ‘ Okay, they look cute now, but how are they going to look in five years? But one of the real pleasures of this job is seeing these guys build their characters. I remember when [ Woodley] first walked through the door. She was so young and sweet and we thought, ‘ Right we’ve got the Abnegation thing, now let’s worry about the Dauntless part.’ We asked what she was doing this weekend, and she said she was doing an urban kidnapping where they take away your car keys, your licence and you have to get from one place to another on your own. And there was the Dauntless.”
The Divergent Series: Allegiant opens on 11 March.
Maybe by the final part they’ll have mastered how to kiss. Another case for Tattoo Fixers?
His black trousers must be in the wash.
Derek Meddings should have made this. What would Lloyd and Harry think? Run! Run! Run for your tents! They’ll save you!