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Shailene Woodley and Naomi Watts: Insurgent’s Strong Women

Mar 17, 2015

By: Lynn Barker

Let’s see, you meet your boyfriend’s mom who was supposed to be dead and she is the strong leader of a group about to rebel and take down the current government. Your brother may or may not be a traitor and you can’t tell what, in your strange world, is real and what is simulated. Just an average day in the Divergent universe.

In Insurgent, the second film based upon the “Divergent” book series, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is on the run as she and her love Four aka Tobias (Theo James) fight evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) who is determined to force Tris to help her rid the world of Divergents once and for all.

Tris faces Jeanine's torture deviceTris faces Jeanine's torture deviceCourtesy of Lionsgate

Meeting the boyfriend’s parents is always stressful but when “mom” is the supposedly dead leader of a huge faction of misfits, rough times are ahead. Naomi Watts (King Kong) takes on the complicated role of Evelyn, leader of the Factionless fighters and estranged, assumed dead mom to Tobias.  Shailene Woodley is playing Tris Prior who has had to grow up too fast and lost too much. In Insurgent, even more is at stake. Check out what these two strong actresses had to say about their characters and personal challenges.

Tris trapped in Jeanine's simulation chamberTris trapped in Jeanine's simulation chamberCourtesy of Lionsgate

Q: Shailene, what was it like to get back into Tris?

  • Shailene: Getting back into Tris was more difficult than I anticipated because I didn’t take into account that I myself had grown for a year and I figured getting back into her would be simple because I would just go back into that mindset. My personal mindset had progressed a year in evolution so I had to go back to who Shai was a year prior in order to get back into Tris’ mind.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) with Four/Tobias (Theo James)Tris (Shailene Woodley) with Four/Tobias (Theo James)Courtesy of Lionsgate

Q: Out of all the action sequences, which one made you feel like a badass the most?

  • Shailene: There’s one really rad sequence when Tris is chasing the house and I think one day we had four or five stunt doubles. There were just a bunch of women with short hair in the same exact outfit walking around, it was really funny. But I got to do a lot of when the house is tilting. There was one sequence where the house was tilted at almost a 90 degree angle and we were on wires. That felt pretty badass because I was like ‘If I don’t grab this pole I’m not going to get hurt but I’m going to be dangling in the air with a crazy bad wedgie’ [laughs]. So yeah that was pretty fun.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) fears the futureTris (Shailene Woodley) fears the futureCourtesy of Lionsgate

Q: Naomi, how exciting was becoming part of this franchise and what interested you to do this?

  • Naomi: Well, it’s something I haven’t really done that much of and I remember back in the day when I was sort of at the very end of my ingénue days being in King Kong and having to do quite a lot of physical stuff, making the promise to myself that I would never do that again but now I’m a much more mature woman and I don’t have to do quite what Shailene has to go through but we’ll see about that for next film (Allegiant).

Naomi Watts in King KongNaomi Watts in King KongCourtesy of Lionsgate
  • I saw the first film so I was incredibly impressed with the sense of adventure and fun and, at the center of it, this great theme; a struggle of identity, who are we when we leave our families? Who do we become? What are we capable of? That’s something that never leaves us. It begins at that point in your life as you leave the nest and I don’t think we stop wanting to explore that question.
  • That drew me and, when I arrived on the set, it was a little scary because this was a very well-oiled machine and I was just wildly impressed with how things were going and how fast they were moving and how disciplined all of these young actors were and how unified they were. When there’s that many people you can sometimes sense a little rivalry here, a few little issues there, but they just felt very connected and very collaborative so it was a great thing to be a part of.

Evelyn in a quiet momentEvelyn in a quiet momentCourtesy of Lionsgate

Q: Shailene, what is your favorite part about Four and Tris’ relationship? How is it different from other couples?

  • Shailene: One of the reasons I fell in love so deeply with “Divergent” originally was the relationship Between Tris and Four because it was grounded in truth and respect and authenticity. It wasn’t based on surface level physical attraction or infatuation. Tris and Four equally saw each other as individuals they were inspired by, individuals who they were intrigued by, curious about. There was a sense of mystique about each of them and I find it fascinating.
  • I loved that, in Insurgent, their relationship is rocky, it’s not 100%, it’s not every time they see each other they feel safe and they feel protected and they feel like they’re able to be vulnerable. They put up walls against each other and that happens in partnerships, everything has an ebb and flow and I thought that was one of the smartest things (author) Veronica (Roth) could have gifted to the young adult world in a way.
  • There are lots of books that do that as well but I just think it’s great for everyone to recognize that relationships can be based in truth and be vulnerable and at the same time when your walls go up and you recognize that you’re keeping somebody at arm’s length because of your own defenses, not because of anything that they are doing. That’s all defense mechanisms are; an ability to protect our own inner vulnerabilities.

Tris is captured by Erudite forcesTris is captured by Erudite forcesCourtesy of Lionsgate

Q: Naomi, as a mom to two boys, how did that inform your role for playing Evelyn who abandoned young Tobias?

  • Naomi: Well it’s hard to imagine that you would abandon your child. So yeah very hard to reconcile that one but we know that she was going through something that she felt was life-threatening; a great deal of abuse that was a survival choice that she had to make. I think of course she would be filled with regret and that’s what she comes in with, the intention to try and resolve that relationship but perhaps there’s something else going on as well. She knows that both of these characters (Tris and Tobias) are going to help her achieve things. So it’s hard to establish what her motives are in this movie. We’ll obviously explore that more in the next movie.
  • I couldn’t imagine anything could be so bad that my children would be left but this is the world of storytelling it’s a fun character because that’s a complex thing to take on; the regret but she’s got drive and she wants to fix the relationship genuinely but, through the time that she’s become this factionless person, she’s strengthened and created the Factionless as a powerful force to be reckoned with; this collective group of many different traits that have now come together and created great numbers and diversity.

Evelyn (Naomi Watts) tries to reason with FourEvelyn (Naomi Watts) tries to reason with FourCourtesy of Lionsgate

Q: Shailene, what was it like working with a new director on the series after the comfort you had with the first film? And, Naomi, what was your impression of this cast and director?

  • Shailene: When we first found out Neil Burger wasn’t going to be directing the second film, it was a little strange to wrap your head around how somebody else would fill those shoes because Neil created the visual world, of Divergent.  He took Veronica’s book and then he added all the visual aspects to it and breathed life into it. (Director) Robert (Schwentke) is a genuinely warm, pure human being and he makes you feel immediately comfortable and he doesn’t have an ego really so he’s very open to collaboration with actors which I think it’s such a blessing.
  • He’s a family man, his kids were on set all the time and he shows up every day with a smile on his face and a “Let’s do this” attitude but he’s also committed to having fun on the job. To have a creative leader/captain of a ship bring that sense of spontaneity and that sense of passion while also retaining the integrity and dedication to the hard work that needed to be done was really wonderful and I’m excited to be working with him.

Evelyn (Naomi Watts) leads her peopleEvelyn (Naomi Watts) leads her peopleCourtesy of Lionsgate
  • Naomi:  Sometimes you arrive late in the process of the filming and yeah it does make it a little scary you’re like “Oh they already got this well-established technique going on and all the relationships are comfy and cozy and how do I fit in? When I first met Shailene I was enveloped in this giant hug and it felt so warm and just relaxed me right away. Robert is someone who has made a great number of films of this kind of genre and what you want as an actor is a great leader. I can’t bear it when I work with a director who doesn’t have a plan or their vision isn’t clear, it’s nerve-wracking. You want collaboration as well because ideas will always come on the day that aren’t necessarily there on the page.

Tris with the strange houseTris with the strange houseCourtesy of Lionsgate

The Divergent Series: Insurgent is in theaters March 20th, 2015!