This is what badass looks like About-tobe-a-star Shai­lene Wood­ley


Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - WORDS GABY WOOD

it’s a week be­fore her 22nd birth­day, and Shai­lene Wood­ley is liv­ing out of a suit­case con­tain­ing all her re­main­ing pos­ses­sions: some old clothes, a few trin­kets, crys­tals and al­tar­pieces to re­mind her of home, herbal sup­ple­ments, a jump rope. ‘I’ve only been home nine days this year,’ she says in her room at Lon­don’s Soho Ho­tel, ‘which is sort of what in­spired me to get rid of ev­ery­thing.’

Wood­ley has her soar­ing pop­u­lar­ity to blame for this ac­cel­er­ated work rate. Hav­ing spent most of her teenage years play­ing the lead in ABC Fam­ily’s TV se­ries The Se­cret Life of the Amer­i­can Teenager, in 2011, she was cast in Alexan­der Payne’s The De­scen­dants and im­me­di­ately proved what she could do on the big screen. Wise, grumpy, heart­bro­ken and mes­meris­ing, she stole the show from co-star Ge­orge Clooney. Since then, she has shot four movies and be­come the girl ev­ery­one wants in front of the cam­era.

To ex­ag­ger­ate the ex­tent to which films are ‘hotly an­tic­i­pated’ is stan­dard in Hol­ly­wood, but in the case of Wood­ley’s next two roles, that sense is gen­uine and pal­pa­ble. She has be­come the screen in­car­na­tion of two adored char­ac­ters from monster-sell­ing young-adult nov­els. In Di­ver­gent, touted as the new The Hunger Games, she plays Tris, a girl com­ing of age in a dystopian regime, too hu­man to fit neatly into just one of its five so­cial fac­tions – Ab­ne­ga­tion, Amity, Can­dor, Daunt­less and Eru­dite. (The sec­ond in Veron­ica Roth’s tril­ogy, In­sur­gent, starts film­ing in May; the third, Al­le­giant, has yet to get an of­fi­cial re­lease date.) In June’s The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s book, she por­trays a teenager who falls in love as she is dy­ing of cancer.The slick mega-ex­plo­sion of the Di­ver­gent fran­chise, for which Wood­ley trained in mar­tial arts,hand-to-hand com­bat and knife-throw­ing, is one thing. The im­pla­ca­ble, elo­quent heart­break of The Fault in Our Stars is an­other. That Wood­ley can do both is, some­how, in­cred­i­ble.

Those who know Wood­ley com­ment on her seem­ingly in­fi­nite ca­pac­ity for warmth, which is not to say she’s soft. In fact, by all ac­counts, she’s pretty tough. Theo James, her co-star in Di­ver­gent, tells me, ‘Shai’s em­pow­ered – she’s a strong ac­tress and in­tu­itive. She’s not like a “girl” in the Hol­ly­wood sense. Once we had to do a com­plex stunt – run­ning next to this train and jump­ing on and off. She fell off the train and smacked her head. But she was up five min­utes later, go­ing, “I’m good.”’

Wear­ing leg­gings, a tank top and no makeup, Wood­ley is like an advertisement for yoga (her pre­ferred form of ex­er­cise). She folds her­self up ef­fort­lessly, like a long-legged bird, and runs a hand through her hair, sheared for The Fault in Our Stars. One day, she says, she’d like to shave it or get a Jean Se­berg [a Seven­ties movie star] style: ‘That would be so badass.’

If Glo­ria Steinem’s fa­mous line – ‘This is what 40 looks like,’ in re­sponse to be­ing told she didn’t look 40 – changed the way women of that age were per­ceived, you could say Wood­ley has done the same for young adults. Not since the Fifties have teenagers been at the fore­front of en­ter­tain­ment cul­ture, and Wood­ley is about to be­come Hol­ly­wood’s best sym­bol of that rite-of-pas­sage phase. ‘I think there’s this big rise right now in giv­ing teenagers the worth that they have,’ she ex­plains. ‘For so long they were – and still are – de­picted as code­pen­dent whin­ers or rich, beau­ti­ful daugh­ters or dumb cheer­leader types. But teenagers are smart. I was prob­a­bly smarter as a 16-year-old than I am to­day. There is a zest for life that you have at that age that is beau­ti­ful.’

Iron­i­cally, Wood­ley has just be­gun to feel she has left her teenage years be­hind. ‘For the first time, I feel like I’m en­ter­ing my wom­an­hood.’ she says. ‘I’ve de­cided to take a few months off, just to see who I am as that woman in the world, be­cause I’ve never been able to ex­pe­ri­ence it out­side of this in­dus­try.’

Wise, grumpy, heart­bro­ken and mes­meris­ing, she stole the show

All this time, Wood­ley has been boil­ing wa­ter in a ket­tle and go­ing back and forth to the bath­room, where she has pre­pared some herbs so we can treat our­selves to a DIY fa­cial. She has brought lit­tle sa­chets of or­ganic grains, French clay and kelp, put to­gether by

a com­pany called Moun­tain Rose Herbs, which or­gan­ised the 2011 Root­stalk Fes­ti­val (‘a cel­e­bra­tion of plants, people and planet’) in Ore­gon, where Wood­ley met the people who are now her best friends. This is what she loves: herbal­ism, bare­foot run­ning, liv­ing in a house in Topanga Canyon. She’d like to live off the grid if she could and raise chick­ens and sheep.

Wood­ley is re­mark­ably re­laxed about ex­er­cise and food (al­though she’s ‘ad­dicted’ to raw choco­late and makes her own). Un­less it’s for a yoga class or a 5Rhythms ses­sion, she doesn’t go to the gym. ‘For my whole life I’ve been self-con­scious about be­ing skinny. Now I don’t care. All in­se­cu­ri­ties are pro­jected be­cause of what you think oth­ers are say­ing about you, but they don’t re­ally mat­ter at all. My only real in­se­cu­ri­ties in high school were hav­ing such long legs and thick hair – things I’m so very grate­ful for now.’

She continues: ‘It’s funny be­ing in this in­dus­try, be­cause ev­ery­one I talk to is like,

‘Noth­ing was overnight for me. And I feel very lucky that it was all baby steps’

“What diet are you on? What thing do you sub­scribe to?” I’m like, “Dude, di­ets are not the health­i­est things in the world.”’ Her calm is all the more re­mark­able for the fact that she suf­fers from sco­l­io­sis. As a teenager, she had to wear a brace 18 hours a day for two years. ‘It didn’t faze me,’ she says with a shrug. ‘Some people have crooked teeth, some people have bro­ken fin­gers, and I’ve got a back that…,’ she laughs a lit­tle, ‘has my ini­tial on it.’

‘“How do you stay so grounded?”’ That, says Wood­ley, is ev­ery­one’s favourite ques­tion. But she has only to think about the way she was brought up to re­spond: ‘There’s no choice.’ Both her par­ents are psy­chol­o­gists – her mother is a mid­dle school coun­sel­lor, and her fa­ther, a for­mer school prin­ci­pal, is a fam­ily ther­a­pist. Though they are di­vorced, they all spend Christ­mas to­gether with their re­spec­tive part­ners. ‘We’re like a big Greek fam­ily, but we’re not Greek,’s ays Wood­ley, who was raised with her younger brother, Tan­ner, in Simi Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia.

Her par­ents’ re­sponse to an agent’s ap­proach when Wood­ley was five years old was, she re­counts: ‘What’s an agent? Who are you?’ But Wood­ley, who went to act­ing classes as a form of day care, was pas­sion­ate about it. ‘I loved that it was a chal­lenge. I loved that I was told “no” 500 times, be­cause it was some­thing I had to work hard at. It was never a com­pet­i­tive thing for me, and it still isn’t.’

Kate Winslet, who plays the bad guy in Di­ver­gent as Eru­dite fac­tion leader Jea­nine Matthews, makes a point of prais­ing Wood­ley’s even-keeled sense of self. ‘There’s an hon­esty and an open­ness to her that is re­ally rare in young women of that age, let alone young women in a fast-paced busi­ness that can chew you up and spit you out as soon as it’s said hello to you. You see young ac­tors and ac­tresses com­ing up and do­ing well, and then sud­denly they start to un­ravel a bit and they for­get them­selves. With Shai­lene I get the sense that the more she does, and the more of the world she sees, the more well-rounded she be­comes.’

Wood­ley says she’s con­stantly asked if she feels weird about her new-found ca­reer. ‘In my mind, it’s new but not new. I mean, it took 13 years to get a fea­ture film, The De­scen­dants. It took 10 years to get a se­ries. Noth­ing was overnight for me. And I feel very lucky that it was all baby steps, be­cause if I’d seen this side of it be­fore I was an adult, I prob­a­bly would have said,“No, thank you, I’m done.” As a kid I [said], “I never want to be on mag­a­zines or go to the Os­cars.” Now it’s eas­ier to ra­tio­nalise and have fun with it.’

I won­der aloud how she’s pre­par­ing for the on­slaught of pub­lic at­ten­tion about to hit her. ‘I don’t pay any at­ten­tion to the fan thing, be­cause I think it’s a very strange cul­ture,’ she says. ‘People have al­ways been fans of people, but I can’t re­late to any of these girls or boys who scream. It’s idol­is­ing some­one you don’t know. None of those people knows me.’ So­cial me­dia ex­ac­er­bates that ‘100 per cent. It’s much eas­ier to get on with people you don’t know and to gang up on people you’ve never met over the in­ter­net. It’s such a beau­ti­ful gift, but the whole so­cial me­dia thing is too weird for me.’

She men­tions that she re­cently deleted her In­sta­gram ac­count. ‘Ev­ery­thing I was post­ing was for a story – like, “Look how in­ter­est­ing I am!” It felt dis­gust­ing to me. It feels as though we’re so de­tached from ac­tual hu­man con­nec­tion.And I got rid of my phone, too. We’re all such nar­cis­sists, and that’s what so­cial me­dia caters to. Our so­ci­ety con­di­tions us to be our own plan­ets, which is great. In­de­pen­dent think­ing is so im­por­tant. But then we ex­pect ev­ery­one around us to be our moons.’

A cou­ple of months later – af­ter she’s been trav­el­ling in Italy, gone home to ‘soak up’ her fam­ily and gen­er­ally checked out of the movie in­dus­try for a while – she calls me. ‘I kind of look at this year as a year to have fun and to ex­er­cise my power. I feel very alive right now. More alive than I’ve ever felt.’

with (left) Fran­cia Raisa and (right) Me­gan Park, 2008; in the 2005 TV movie Felic­ity,An Amer­i­can Girl; with Ge­orge Clooney in The De­scen­dants, 2011; with Theo James in Di­ver­gent, 2014.

From top Shai­lene Wood­ley with An­nMar­gret in the 2004 TV movie, A Place Called Home; in lon­grun­ning TV se­ries The Se­cret Life of the Amer­i­can Teenager

From top Red-car­pet style at the 2012 Golden Globes; at a screen­ing of Di­ver­gent, New York, 2014; at the Di­ver­gent pre­miere in Berlin, 2014; at a func­tion hon­our­ing Kate Winslet in LA, 2014.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.