News Column

Simi Valley actress Shailene Woodley unveils 'The Spectacular Now' on July 29 in Thousand Oaks

July 26, 2013

YellowBrix

July 26--Shailene Woodley's "now" is pretty spectacular. It's also pretty exhausting.

The Simi Valley actress, whose film career began to gather steam in 2011 with her insightful performance as George Clooney's troubled daughter in "The Descendants," has been living life at a breakneck clip as she zips from project to project, interview to interview, and photo shoot to photo shoot. The buzz that's building around her now is expected to explode March 21 when the film "Divergent" opens nationwide. Woodley stars in the movie, adapted from Veronica Roth's best-selling young adult book series, and industry prognosticators predict it could launch a cinematic franchise as potent as "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games."

If so, Woodley's career would careen into the stratosphere. For now, though, despite the Golden Globe nomination she received for "The Descendants," despite the recent Entertainment Weekly cover, she hasn't quite ascended into the rarefied air of a true A-lister. She's just working like one.

The past nine days have been particularly hectic. Just take a peek at her calendar:

July 16: After a strenuous four-and-a-half-month shoot in chilly Chicago, "Divergent" wraps up at 9:30 a.m. By that evening, Woodley's on a plane back to SoCal.

July 17: Instead of sleeping in, Woodley hits the highway to San Diego for an appearance the next day at Comic-Con.

July 18: "Divergent" director Neil Burger unveils a two-minute clip of the film for 7,000 screaming Comic-Con attendees. A panel discussion about the film follows, as well as an endless stream of interviews.

July 19: After a busy morning meeting with the international press corps, Woodley finally catches some sleep -- in the car on her way home.

July 20: A day to herself. She hangs out with family and spends some quality time with her cousin's 6-week-old baby. It's a blissful change of pace.

July 21: Bliss is over. Woodley is back on a plane, zooming to New York City.

This week: It's been one Big Apple blur. She spent Monday at a hospital, doing research for her role as a cancer-stricken teen in "The Fault in Our Stars," a film adaptation of the John Green novel that begins shooting next month in Pittsburgh. Then she switched gears to promote the indie romance "The Spectacular Now," which opens in limited release Aug. 2. That meant appearances on "The View," "The Daily Show" and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," plus a photo shoot for a major magazine.

Exhausting? Yes. Exhilarating? Definitely -- especially when she gets the opportunity to work on a movie like "The Spectacular Now." She's especially proud of the film, which is why she's giving up a rare night off next week to host the movie's Ventura County premiere at Muvico in Thousand Oaks. The Monday night event is a fundraiser for All It Takes, a nonprofit organization Woodley and her mom, Lori, started four years ago to inspire "individual action." The money raised on Monday will help fund the group's next student leadership camp, slated for Nov. 8-10. During the camp, sets of children from different middle school cliques are brought together and they learn how to trust and accept one another despite their differences.

In addition to Woodley, the film's director, James Ponsoldt, is expected to attend Monday's event, as is Woodley's co-star, Miles Teller (who also has a role in "Divergent"). The trio is slated to mingle with guests at a pre-screening dinner at Bogart's Bar & Grill, located on Muvico's second floor, then take questions from the audience once the film is over. Tickets are $75 for the dinner, film and Q-and-A, $40 for the screening and Q-and-A only.

"I really love how human this film is," Woodley told The Star on July 19 in a quick, post-nap phone interview. "It's an authentic take on what it means to be a teenager."

'A real human'

Woodley first read the script for "The Spectacular Now" about four years ago. This was before "The Descendants" came out, back when she was still playing teen mom Amy Juergens on the ABC Family drama "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."

The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber "jumped off the page," Woodley said, and she quickly fell in love with the honest way they captured the unexpected romance that develops between Sutter Keely, a party-hardy high school dude who lives in the "now," and quiet Aimee Finecky, a "nice girl" who reads science fiction and doesn't have a boyfriend.

Woodley wanted to play Finecky, but another actress was attached to star. In typical Hollywood fashion, plans changed, the other actress dropped out of the project, directors came and went, and, once "The Descendants" gave Woodley some Hollywood clout, the role of Aimee was hers. Teller was chosen to play Sutter.

"I wanted Aimee to be a real human," Woodley said. "She comes from a broken place, like a lot of people, and she doesn't have a lot of confidence. She values Sutter's security and his confidence."

Ultimately, Aimee has to make some tough choices, Woodley said.

"She starts to lose every part of herself to appease him," Woodley said. "It's something I went through in high school and it's something a lot of people go through. At the end of the movie she has to make a decision to honor herself or get caught up in an unhealthy and co-dependent relationship."

The film "came from a place of passion and integrity," Woodley said. To make the character of Aimee as relatable as possible, Woodley wore almost no makeup during the shoot. She and Ponsoldt, the director, worked hard to avoid "all teenage stereotypes."

The result, she said, is something special.

"It reminds me of a John Hughes film," Woodley said. "After this film comes out, I think (Ponsoldt) is going to become one of those directors everyone will be clamoring to work with."

Critics certainly clamored over the film when it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Spin hailed it as "the next great teen movie." The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy called the movie "a sincere, refreshingly unaffected look at teenagers and their attitudes about the future." He had high praise for Woodley, too. "Looking plain, even homely and singularly unadorned, Woodley is worlds away from the svelte hottie she portrayed two years ago in 'The Descendants' but again is entirely terrific," McCarthy wrote.

Woodley's mom, Lori, a longtime Ventura County school counselor, hopes the film will find an audience.

"It's a special movie," she said. "It'll either be one of those films that comes and goes fast, or it'll be one that comes and grows. We just don't know yet what it's going to be."

Life in A walled city

"The Spectacular Now," with its indie vibe and minuscule budget, is most definitely the antithesis of "Divergent," an $80 million thriller with a huge cast, a huge crew and jaw-dropping special effects.

"Divergent," set in a dystopian near future, follows 16-year-old Tris (Woodley) as she tries to choose what direction her life will take. She lives in Chicago, now a walled city, and the people there are grouped into factions based on their personalities. Unrest is in the air. Tris opts to join the Dauntless, a group made up of the bravest members of this fractured society. The decision places her in grave danger.

The shoot was grueling, said Woodley, estimating that she did 80 percent of her own stunts. "Whatever the insurance company allowed, I did," she said. "It's the most difficult role I've ever had."

In the clip shown at Comic-Con, Woodley is seen leaping from a moving train onto a roof, plunging several stories into a deep hole, and crowd surfing in a cafeteria full of Dauntless members.

"When a stunt was too dangerous, I had the most badass stunt double on the planet there to make me look really good," she said.

If "Divergent" is a hit, the other two books in Roth's trilogy -- "Insurgent," which was published in 2012, and "Allegiant," due for release later this year -- will be made into movies, too. For Woodley, it represents a four-year commitment -- one she was hesitant to make. A big concern was the loss of anonymity she'll face if the franchise becomes a phenomenon.

After mulling the decision over with her mom, and eliciting advice from her "Descendants" director Alexander Payne, she decided to take the plunge.

"What I like about Tris is that she isn't perfect," Woodley told Entertainment Weekly. "She's not a superhero -- she's not ('Hunger Games' heroine) Katniss. I really responded to her."

'A new normal'

Another franchise looms large in Woodley's life -- "Spider-Man." She was picked to play Mary Jane Watson -- the love interest of the web slinger's alter ego, Peter Parker -- but the scenes she shot earlier this year for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" were cut. It was a creative decision, she said, and she understands completely. Conjecture is that Mary Jane's storyline is being saved for "The Amazing Spider-Man 3," due out in 2016.

"A script for the third movie hasn't even been written yet," Woodley said. "There's no way to know what will happen."

The same could be said of Woodley's career arc. Will it surge into the stratosphere when "Divergent" comes out, or will she somehow be able to cling to her low-profile?

She'd prefer the latter, but is already seeing signs that her fame is about to ignite. When she arrived at the airport on Sunday to fly to New York, the paparazzi were there waiting for her. She has no clue how they knew where to find her.

"We're preparing ourselves for a new normal," Lori Woodley said, "and we're going to learn how to ride this wonderful wave. We can do it."

'The Spectacular Now'

The coming-of-age film, starring Miles Teller and Simi Valley's Shailene Woodley, will have its Ventura County premiere Monday night at Muvico, 166 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. Woodley, Teller and director James Ponsoldt are slated to mingle with guests during a preshow dinner at 6 p.m. at Bogart's Bar and Grill, located on the second floor of the Muvico complex, then answer questions about the movie during a post-screening Q-and-A. Tickets are $75 for the dinner, film and Q-and-A, $40 for the 7:30 p.m. screening and Q-and-A only. Proceeds will go to All It Takes, a nonprofit organization Woodley and her mom started four years ago to inspire "individual action." For tickets or more information, visit http://www.allittakes.org or email info@allittakes.org. If tickets are still available Monday night, they'll be available at the door.

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(c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

Visit Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) at www.vcstar.com

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