Don’t hold it against her: as if shooting a movie with George Clooney wasn’t enough, Shailene Woodley got to do it in paradise.
The 20-year-old actress says that when it came to shooting in Hawaii for director Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” she loved “every single minute and second and breath there. I got to work with Alexander Payne, one of the best filmmakers of today. George Clooney, one of the best actors of today. Plus Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard and Robert Forster and the list just goes on and on. And we were in Hawaii for four months. The worst day was having to leave and go home, and every other day just kept topping the one before.”
Amid all the praise she’s gotten for her much-buzzed-about supporting turn as Clooney’s eldest daughter in the serio-comic film – which has their family coming to grips with the fact that their mom is not going to come out of her coma – Woodely insists that she didn’t have to do too much work to reach the trickier-to-get-to emotions.
“This is not coming from a pretentious place, I promise – It's coming from a very humble and grateful place – but we really did not have any challenges,” Woodley tells PopcornBiz. “Because we had a screenplay that was so brilliantly written. As actors we didn't really have any blanks to fill. They were already filled. The screenplay told us everything that we wanted to know and when there was an emotional scene I didn't have to do anything to get myself to a dark place or to a sad place, because the words were so emotional.”
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One of the most dramatically charged sequences Woodley had to pull off was when she learns of the inevitable fate of her mother after their falling out, and the actress had to express her overwhelming grief while underwater.
“That was such a fun scene for me to film,” she explains. “In the script it's written that she goes underwater and she distorts her face. I thought that it was beautiful. There's a saying in Hawaii that Hawaiians learn to swim before they learn to walk. So, I thought that it was kind of beautiful that Alexandra, being Hawaiian, would recede into the water, into her comfort zone after hearing the tragic news and would be able to be vulnerable for the first time in her comfort zone. I thought that was beautiful and I love to swim. I learned to swim when I was like eight months old, so for me to be able to go underwater and scream and cry and selfishly have my own therapy session, it was great.”
After launching her acting career before she turned ten, Woodley’s big break came in 2008, with her role as Amy Jurgens on the ABC Family series “Secret Life of the American Teenager." It's a job she'll be sticking with for the immediate future.
“'Secret Life' is awesome – we're a family,” says Woodley. “They're very different from a creative standpoint, 'Descendants' and 'Secret Life,' but they both have their advantages and they're both such amazing experiences.”
Still, as her Hollywood horizons expand, her eye is focused on the big screen. “I definitely love film – that's where my heart has always been,” she says. “So I want to continue to do films. I'd love to continue to do films. But there's a sense of strategy that people talk about now. They're like, 'Oh, Shay, you're on the wave. You have to ride it.' I'm like, 'I ain't on no wave. I'm going to stop and look at the turtles and swim with the flounders.' For me acting is fun and it's about the butterflies that I get when I read a script. So until I read a script that I get butterflies for I'm not going to do another movie – even if that takes two years. I hope that it doesn't take two years, but if it does, it does."
“For me it's not about the magazines that you're on,” she adds. “It's not about the dresses that you wear or that stupid F-word, which is ‘famous.’ I hate that word. For me it's about the passion and the art of actually being on a film set. So, until I get those butterflies I'm going to study indigenous cultures or do something else.”
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Aside from the F-word, there’s an O-word that’s also being bandied about – Oscar – something Woodley tries to keep in perspective. “The Oscar buzz is crazy – like, you talk about it during the day and then the next day you kind of get back to your roots and who you are as a person and kind of forget about it, not in a rude way, but for me I have so many other passions,” she explains. “I used to say it was the maraschino cherry – but I do not want to endorse toxins because I realize that was bad – so the bing cherry on top. It's beyond the cherry on top. So yeah, I have zero expectations for the future. I'm just so grateful for every day. I mean, how can you exceed this?”