Thanks to her starring role in the girl-powered sci-fi epic Divergent, actress Shailene Woodley is quickly becoming Hollywood’s next “it” girl. Here, she opens up about sisterhood, sound bites, and staying hippie-dippie.
Dress: Meskita; Slip: Johnny Was; Bracelets: Dream Collective; Ring and Necklace: Gabriela Artigas
The first thing I notice about Shailene (pronounced “Shay-LEEN”) Woodley is her feet—they’re bare. She’s just arrived at the Los Angeles hillside house where we’re shooting her BUST cover, and ditching her footwear outside the front door was the first thing she did. The shoes she slipped off are those articulated-toe getups that allow you to be out and about in the world while being as close to barefoot as possible. They’re the same kind of shoes the 22-year-old actress got an endless amount of shit for in the press, when she wore them under a chic black, one-shouldered gown to a Golden Globes after party in 2012. The Telegraph warned that it would be watching her “every fashion mistake,” and Gawker decried that she should be shot. But her choice in footwear exemplified what becomes most apparent about Woodley as the day goes on: she doesn’t care. The star—whose upcoming lead role in the hotly anticipated sci-fi blockbuster, Divergent, has secured her a spot among the young Hollywood elite—loves acting, but she’s not about to conform to the industry’s rules regarding how a starlet should dress or behave. And wearing toe shoes on the red carpet was only the beginning.
“I was at this Elle event two nights ago,” Woodley says, when we sit down to chat at a long wooden table on the patio before the shoot. She’s referring to the magazine’s annual “Women in Hollywood” gala that took place at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where she was given the Emerging Star Spotlight Award. “I had to get up and give a speech, so I led everyone in a meditation: ‘Close your eyes, blah, blah, blah.’ When I finished, I was like, Well, that’s probably never happened before in a room full of these people.” By these people, she means the A-list celebrities and highfalutin fashion folks who were in attendance, including Reese Witherspoon and Rachel Zoe. “Afterwards, I was like, God, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. But then I was like, Fuck it. We have to make a change, and we gotta do it now, and that’s the only way,” she says, pounding the table with her fist but punctuating her tirade with a peal of laughter.
Dress: Vintage; Hat Janessa Leone; Brass bracelet: Dream Collective; Rosegold and silver bracelet: Gabriela Artigas
Suggesting to an audience of designer-clad film stars that they “send warmth to every woman on the planet” is a manifestation of what Woodley self-deprecatingly refers to as her “hippie-dippie-ness.” Combined with her enthusiasm (“Look at this beautiful life we’re living!” she exclaims, looking out over the hills), self-awareness (she swears by meditation and yoga), and easy-going energy (when I tell her this is the Love and Sex Issue, she says, “Oooh, I love love and sex”), it’s what makes Woodley seem like the free-spirited sister you dreamed of having as a kid. Pair her IRL personality with the complex, authentic depictions of teens that she brings to the mainstream, and it’s easy to understand why we’re so psyched that she’s leading the crusade for girl culture in Hollywood. She did it first as the star of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a TV show that ran from 2008 to 2013, which co-starred Molly Ringwald as Woodley’s mom and dealt with issues like adolescent sex and pregnancy. Then she wowed audiences by stealing scenes from the formidable George Clooney in The Descendants. As the lead in the critically lauded 2013 drama The Spectacular Now, she delivered a truly genuine coming-of-age story (the sex scene between Woodley and her costar Miles Teller is cringingly realistic). And in June, she’ll be appearing as Hazel Grace in the film adaptation of John Green’s heart-tugging novel The Fault in Our Stars (it’s been on The New York Times Young Adult bestseller list for more than a year), about two high school kids with cancer. But it’s Woodley’s turn as Tris Prior, the action-hero lead in the film version of Divergent, the first book of an insanely popular YA trilogy by Veronica Roth, that has her poised to rise to the next level of stardom. With its dystopian, futuristic setting; strong-willed female protagonist; and, of course, crushworthy male love interest, Divergent (which premieres March 21) has been hailed as the new Hunger Games. And because of its box-office potential, the film’s also been compared with another international blockbuster franchise: The Twilight Saga. It’s a movie that will likely blast Woodley into the Jennifer Lawrence stratosphere of fame, one of the main reasons she almost didn’t take the part.
I found out I got it, and I said no at first,” Woodley says. She was afraid of losing her anonymity, of finding campers parked outside her house at all times like Lawrence (whom she calls Jen) experienced. But a conversation with her mother, a middle-school counselor, helped sway her. Woodley told her mom that despite all of Divergent’s appeal, she didn’t want to do a movie with such a major budget. “And she said, ‘That seems so unlike you. Even though you love the character and you love the story and you love what it stands for, you’re gonna say no to it just because it’s $90 million and not $9 million?’” Woodley says. “And something clicked. I was like, ‘You’re so right!’ I can’t base my decisions on fear of what other people are going to create in my life.” Along with The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, Woodley’s portrayal of 16-year-old Tris, a girl who ranks as high in ass-kicking as she does in smarts, marks the return of the canny female action star, of which pop culture has seen an incredible dearth in the last 10 years. “I feel like we’ve skipped a generation,” Woodley says. “We had, like, the Ashley Judds, the Sigourney Weavers, the Demi Moores, and then it sort of faded and went into [a period of] making women appear dumb, like they had no worth in the intelligence arena. Now there’s this reemergence, and the fact that I get to be part of another cycle is so exciting. I plan to do some major shit with it,” she says, laughing.
It’s clear that the materialistic side of Hollywood doesn’t vibe with Woodley’s values—she’s wearing a white T-shirt, jeans, and red meditation beads around her neck. Her not-quite-pixie cut, which she unconsciously runs her fingers through on the regs, seems to suit her personality more than the dramatic, nearly butt-grazing locks she sported before. And her hands—which she motions with emphatically while talking about things like Hawaii (her home away from home) or being BUST ’s cover girl (“Truly, this is very exciting”)—reveal a weathered black-polish mani. (“P.S., they were painted yesterday, and do you see how many chips there are already?” she asks. “If my fingernails weren’t painted, you would see a lot of dirt right now.”) But despite this no-frills attitude, she does like using her position of rising fame as a way to talk about the things that are important to her, particularly what and how we eat. She showed up at the BUST shoot armed with mason jars of matcha tea and kombucha that a friend had made, along with a meal from Café Gratitude, a vegan L.A. eatery, just in case the food on set wasn’t organic and GMO-free. It’s an obsession that began with the avid environmentalism of her high school years. “That’s when I started learning about the food system in America,” she says, “which is so fucked.” After a long period of reading books and watching documentaries about meat production and the way genetically modified foods have taken over our agriculture, she began studying herbalism, too, and would probably be just as happy living in the mountains, whipping up tinctures, as she is acting—the latter of which she’s been doing for more than three-quarters of her life.
Dress: Bon Vivat by Monica Byrne; Necklaces: Gabriela Artigas; Bracelets: Dream Collective; Flower crown: Yasmine Mei
To read the rest of Shailene's interview, find our Feb/Mar 2014 Issue on newsstands now or get the digital issue HERE!
By Lisa Butterworth
Photographed by Michael Lavine
Styled by JAK
Makeup by Roxy
Hair by Campbell McAuley
This story appears in the Feb/Mar 2014 issue of BUST Magazine