By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—In just a few years, Shailene Woodley has become the queen of coming-of-age dramas. She’s played a surly teen that has to reconnect with her estranged father in “The Descendants.” She was the nice girl party-boy Miles Teller’s character falls for in “The Spectacular Now,” and earlier this year she played an upbeat critically ill teen, who doesn’t allow her terminal cancer diagnosis interfere with her plans to live life to the fullest.
In “White Bird in a Blizzard,” the screen adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s novel, she plays Kat Connors, a teenager who is taking her first steps into her own sexuality as the world around her turns upside down when her overbearing mother (played by Bond girl Eva Green with a Joan Crawford-like menace) disappears one day. Soon, Kat embarks on an illicit relationship with a police detective (Thomas Jane) investigating the mom’s disappearance. She eventually begins to suspect her milquetoast father (Christopher Meloni) might have something to do with her mom’s absence, and her boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), may hold the key to the mystery.
Woodley, who turns 23 on Nov. 15, recently spoke about her newest take on the hurdles of adolescence. She has shed her trademark long brunette locks for a sporty short blond hairdo. The California-born actress says she enjoys playing these young angst-filled characters, and appreciates the honest presentation of teens in the film. The ‘80s-set suspense drama is written and directed by Gregg Araki (“Mysterious Skin,” “Kaboom”) who also grew up in The Golden State.
The filmmaker explains that he set the film 30 years ago because a story like this set today about teenagers might feel disconnected.
“It’s just not that interesting to me,” he says of today’s technology-obsessed teens. “This feels much more earnest, more human and more connected.”
He had been interested in working with Woodley since her work on “The Descendants,” in which she co-starred with George Clooney, and had spoken with her manager before he adapted “White Bird” for the screen.
“Shailene became attached to the project very early on and then, after that, we put the rest of the cast together,” he says.
The actress, who is poised and shows a strong confidence, says she is pleased to be part of the ensemble, and didn’t mind doing what it took—physically and emotionally—to get to the heart of Kat.
Q: How was it to put yourself up there emotionally?
Woodley: That’s something that I really loved about this role. Kat, even though she’s an adolescent, she’s extremely mature and strong and confident in a way you don’t often see in coming of age films. Part of that lends itself to the fact that her parents weren’t emotionally available for her when she was a child so she had to age herself completely and had to realize for her own survival she had to be her own parent. As we evolve and grow, the things that we suppress always sneak up on you. I thought it was interesting the juxtaposition of her as a teenager having so much anger and disrespect for her parents, in a way, and really tried to be somebody else, somebody that she wasn’t, and then when you see her at the university you realize that she has subconsciously become her mother, and subconsciously has some of her father’s traits. That’s something that we often do; the things we try to run away from end up running towards us.
Q: There’s a certain creep factor in Kat’s sexual relationship with the much older police detective. How do you prepare for that?
Woodley: As an actor, it wasn’t a creepy thing to do. It was more clinical. The thing about intimate scenes in movies is that it’s not like a sexy environment or that you’re really heated and in the moment. It’s sort of a very clinical action. I really loved that (seduction) scene. When I first read the script, that was probably one of the butterfly moments, because you don’t ever see that unfold (in other films) and yet I think that’s something that a lot, well not a lot, but some young people do. That’s definitely something that young people think about. So to prepare for a scene like that, you just have to learn your lines, show up and see what happens. There’s not really a lot of preparation. Thomas Jane is so good and so fun to work with because he was very much in the moment. Every time we did a take, it was a little bit different. Yeah, I love that scene.
Q: How do you navigate it? Do you talk about it with Thomas?
Woodley: It wasn’t like OK, on this beat, you should move here. Thomas was very natural in his movements. I love that it’s kind of creepy but you love it. You feel weird watching it but it’s kind of intriguing. I think that there’s something unique about it. You don’t often see it (in films).
Q: You have a couple topless scenes. How did you feel about revealing so much of yourself onscreen?
Woodley: I felt like it was very truthful and that it lent itself to this movie. It wasn’t exploitative. There’s something that bothers me about seeing people have intimate scenes in films and the woman has clothes on and full makeup and the man is wearing boxers—that’s just not how it works. So my feeling is intimacy is a natural part of being a human being. Especially when you’re young, you’re exploring that part of yourself for the first time. A lot of films that have young people in it don’t often explore that factor for various reasons, but I do love Gregg’s films because they are truthful and daring, especially this one.
Q: This film is set in the ‘80s and has a ‘80s soundtrack. Are you a fan of music from that era?
Woodley: Yeah, I am an ‘80s fan. The Cocteau Twins was a defining band in my own childhood, my adolescence.
Q: Like Kat, many teenagers create walls and separate themselves from their parents. Have you ever been in that rebellious place when you were a teenager?
Woodley: Oh yeah, I’ve definitely been through my own version of teenage angst. We all do. Mine was a very angry year, but I think that’s just part of the growing process.
Q: “Insurgent,” the sequel to “Divergent,” is due out next year. Have you finished working on it?
Woodley: Yeah, we’ve finished (shooting) that.
Q: Would you talk about the criteria you look for when you’re reading a script and when you decide to do a film?
Woodley: It’s sort of an instinctual decision when I read a script. I either get butterflies or I don’t. There’s obviously a lot of factors that go into choosing a project, whether it’s a director I really want to work with or a screenplay that affects me on such a deep level or certain actors (I want to work with). But at the end of the day, for me, no matter how much I love a director, or I love someone’s body of work, if the screenplay isn’t there and doesn’t elicit a certain physical response or physical passion to do something, then I probably won’t do the film, but I never say never.