By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—After a star-making turn playing George Clooney’s surly daughter in “The Descendants,” Shailene Woodley delivers another noteworthy performance as a teenage “nice girl” who befriends a charming but troubled classmate in “The Spectacular Now.” The drama was penned by the “(500) Days of Summer” co-writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by Tim Tharp.
The 21-year-old Southern California native, who recently appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote the coming-of-age-drama with her co-star Miles Teller (“Rabbit Hole”), spoke about playing an intelligent and focused young woman who nonetheless has little experience with romance until she starts dating Sutter, who is dealing with family and self-esteem issues. A natural beauty, she arrives for an interview wearing little makeup with braids of her long hair swept back in a clip. She is casually dressed in a striped sweater, black jeans and flats. She is toting a Mason jar filled with spring water. No nasty, earth-destroying plastic water bottles for this environmentally conscious actress.
Q: You and Miles share a nice, natural kind of chemistry. Can you talk about how you met and how that worked out?
Woodley: We met at a restaurant. I expected Miles to be quiet and introverted like he was in “Rabbit Hole,” and he was not. He was like, “I just got back from Vegas, man, and I danced for five days straight and wore an astronaut suit. It was great.” I was like, “Whoa. Who is this person? I’m so excited to meet him.” And I had my little Mason jar. We just naturally have a good rhythm together. So we’re very lucky.
Q: Your director, James Ponsoldt, said he was with you at the restaurant and was watching how you and Miles interacted with each other. As an actor, is it weird knowing you’re being watched to see if you two have chemistry but you have to try to be natural?
Woodley: (She laughs.) It was super casual. It was fun. It’s not always like that, you know. Meeting Theo (James) for (the upcoming sci-fi thriller) “Divergent” was different. Meeting pretty much any other guy that I’ve ever worked with has been different. Me and Miles just sort of naturally had this brother-sister (connection) like, “Yeah, buddy, what’s up?”
Q: I read that you took Chinese herbal supplements before your kissing scenes with him?
Woodley: Well see, there’s this situation where I would take my little Chinese herbs and (Miles would) be like, “Shai, you just ate dirt.” And I’d be like, “Miles, you just ate Twizzlers. They’re processed food.” (She laughs.)
Q: This is the first time you’ve shown so much skin in a movie. Was that awkward?
Woodley: It was actually the first time for Miles and I to do an intimate on-camera scene and it was lovely. He’s such a gentleman. He would hold the sheet up for me. There were only a few people in the room so it felt very safe and it felt very comfortable. One of the things that I talked to James about before we started filming is I was like, “Listen, I notice that there’s a sex scene in this movie and nothing bugs me more than watching two actors have sex on screen and have it be over-exaggerated,” like in “Top Gun” with—what’s that song that plays in the “Top Gun” sex scene?
Q: “Take My Breath Away.”
Woodley: (She nods her head and laughs.) James showed us that example when we did our table thing. It was sort of a hilarious joke. But I was like, “You know what? It’s different in that movie. But I don’t like sex scenes in films that are so exaggerated, especially between teenagers because that’s just never realistic. I also don’t like sex scenes where a girl has her bra on and the guy has his boxers on. I’m confused. How does this work?” So we wanted it to be as real as possible. We also didn’t want it to feel exploitive. We wanted it to feel natural and comfortable for our characters but not comfortable for the audience. I think we achieved that.
Q: Since you were a teen not long ago, did you talk to James about the teen experience, like drinking alcohol out of a flask, and how that related to the character you play?
Woodley: Yeah, I think one of the most special things about this movie is it’s an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be an adolescent in high school. It doesn’t try and hide the fact that alcohol exists. But it doesn’t also make alcohol a character in the movie. It’s just something that’s there, which is how high school is whether people want to accept the fact that that’s what their kids are doing or not. It is what they’re doing. Or it’s what their friends are doing.
Q: What about the drinking and driving aspect in this and the consequence?
Woodley: Teenagers are not talking to their parents, the parents not being around because they’re trying to work to feed their children and at the same time their kids are off living lives that they don’t really know exist. So I think that for me at least, it was a big honor to be part of a film that I feel—like looking at all coming-of-age films —most accurately represents what my high school experience was like in a different way. I had a very different family and very different circumstances but just the truth of it and the way that they were dressed and the lack of makeup and the lack of glamour and over-exaggerated storylines or themes. I think it’s really special and I really hope people get to go see it.
Q: Before you made this, did you have a favorite coming-of-age movie?
Woodley: I like three: “The Goonies,” “Dirty Dancing” and “Big.”
Q: Are you going to cut your hair for “The Fault in Our Stars” in which you play a cancer patient?
Woodley: I am. I tried on wigs yesterday to see what length we want to do it and I’m going to cut it in two weeks.
Q: How was Comic-Con?
Woodley: I didn’t get to see anything. I felt gypped on the Comic-Con thing because we saw the inside of hotel rooms and then I had to leave. I was like, “Where’s all the ‘Star Wars’ people?” I saw R2-D2. That was pretty cool.