It's not very often you see a young actor go from ABC Family to the Academy Awards, but that very well could be the storyline for Shailene Woodley, the 19-year-old best known for her lead role in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," who is drawing raves for her performance as George Clooney's oldest daughter in the Alexander Payne-directed "The Descendants."
Clooney plays a father of two who discovers his wife's been unfaithful -- but only after a boating accident sinks her into a coma from which she won't likely wake.
Shooting a movie alongside George Clooney in Hawaii, and getting some Oscar love for the effort? Not a bad way to kick off your movie career.
Your character Alexandria is rebellious and a little rough around the edges, but she has a good heart. Did you see much of yourself in her?
It's funny … What attracted me to her is her normalness of being a 17-year-old going through an angsty period. Within, you know, the rules and restrictions of her character, every teenager goes through those feelings, those emotions, those vulnerabilities, those hardships in their own individual way. So I thought that would be fun to kind of bring to light, a broken girl, and fix her. Not all the way fix her but kind of tune her up.
But as far as getting into character, I didn't do anything. I'm more of an actor who, I think if you're right for a role, you're right for a role. And if you're not, you're not. It's just simple as that. And when you have a screenplay that's so brilliantly written as Alexander's there isn't really any acting to be done. It's more about showing up to set, professionally, with your lines memorized, and listening and being present to all the phenomenal actors that I got to work with. And there's no way that the emotion wouldn't naturally be evoked because the words are so truthful and the actors are so present that the emotion just kind of flooded into you.
So it's your first big film role and not only that but you're doing this out in Hawaii with George Clooney. Pretty surreal?
Yeah. It wasn't so surreal as just dead on 24/7 living with gratitude and being so grateful for every moment. I mean I got to film for four months in Hawaii with Alexander Payne and George Clooney and I got to work on a screenplay that was like the best I've ever read in my entire life. And not only that, but being in Hawaii for four months and being immersed in the culture, the indigenous culture of what it's like to be Hawaiian and the hikes and the climbing up waterfalls and the kayaking and doing the things that we shouldn't have been doing. It was just a spiritual awakening for me.
Were you a big fan of George Clooney's heading into this?
Yeah. I mean George is George, right? I thought he was a brilliant actor and I didn't really know much about him as a person because I'm not a big blog reader or magazine reader. But yeah, I was really excited to work with him just as far as him being such a great actor.
What did you find most surprising about him?
I didn't really have any expectations of him so I wasn't too surprised by many things. The one thing that I was so excited to learn about him, to find out about him, was his gratitude. That man lives in gratitude every second of his life. He is just as grateful to be on a movie set as the grip or the craft serviceman or someone like me. And I think a lot of people lose sight of gratitude whether you're an actor or selling insurance. You forget that you do choose your life and there are so many things to be grateful for and I feel like society has gotten to that point where we're always looking for the next and the better and we lose sight of what's actually in front of us. I thought it was beautiful, someone of his nature, someone of his stature, to be as grateful and as generous as he is.
He has a reputation for being a big concept prankster. Was there a lot of that going on?
Yeah, totally. We didn't have any infamous George Clooney pranks because our set was definitely like a big ohana, which means family ... But we did get a lot of practical jokes. The fart machine would come out every now and then.
There was a fart machine? Does he bring that with him?
It was like an application on the phone, you know. Those iPhones nowadays. You can anything with them.
Do you think that fans of yours from "American Teenager" will go see "Descendants"?
I think some will. "Descendants" is rated R so I don't think all will because a lot of them probably won't be old enough to … Or they'd have to go with their parents.
Could you see "American Teenager" turning into a movie?
No, because it's been four years now and I feel like there's been so much character development that it might be quite boring having her, just her, in a two-hour-length feature. But I do think that if it was still season 1, absolutely you could make a feature out of her, because the character hadn't been so fully developed that audiences would still be questioning who she is, what she's doing, and the themes around her storyline.
Do you see "Descendants" as sort of a first step in breaking out of the pigeonhole that a series like that might put you in?
I don't ever look at the politics of acting, so I don't really know if I'm in a pigeonhole or if I'm not or if this is a breakout performance or if it's just something I love to do. Acting is fun and I refuse to get involved in the semantics and the politics of strategy and breaking out of something or doing something because you need to do something else. For me it's all about what fuels my soul and if I'm passionate about a screenplay then that's what I'll do next.
There are a lot of people predicting you do get some awards attention, how do you feel when you see that sort of buzz?
It's so weird. I don't know. I keep telling this to everyone. It's like you're a junior in high school and you apply to Columbia or NYU or somewhere and you get told you're going to get in and everyone's so excited because you got a 4.3 and you're an athlete and community service nut and yeah, you're totally gonna get in. And then a letter comes and says you don't get in … My expectations, I have zero expectations. My expectations for the movie were exceeded. Today is exceeding my expectations so I don't even know what tomorrow will bring. I'm just living every single day in gratitude and I get to be in New York right now with Central Park out the window. I mean that's pretty great. I just am living in the moment.
Campaigning for awards and for Oscars is almost like political campaigning. Do you feel like you're already on the campaign trail in a way?
Yeah. I had no idea that people campaign to get nominated. Every single year since I was like 7 we would always throw Oscar parties. My friends would come over and we'd all make dinner and do little ballots and put five bucks in and whoever won or got the best guesses would win. We would just sit and watch it and look at all these people wearing beautiful gowns and I never realized that there was politics behind it all. I'm still learning as I go. I'm so fortunate to be working with Fox Searchlight, who is the most generous, down to earth studio in this industry. I am fully confident in saying that. They know how to do it. This whole side of the business. And they're kind of walking me through it in such a beautiful, family kind of oriented way.
Okay, let's end on some A or B questions. Mac or PC?
Twitter or Facebook?
Rap or Rock?
Rock. Alternative. Indie.
What are you listening to right now?
I listen to a lot right now. I'm obsessed with Angus & Julia Stone. They're from Australia. Bon Iver, T. Rex, kind of all over the board. Little Richard, The Temptations.
"Potter" or "Twilight"?
Bieber or Timberlake?
You know I would never ever say Bieber in a million years but there are those days when I'm so down in the dumps and I'll put on one of his songs and instantly get in a better mood. But then Justin Timberlake is really philanthropic. Justin Timberlake.
Vampires, zombies, or werewolves?
Apples or oranges?
Only organic apples because non-organic apples are the number one absorber of pesticides. So if it's an organic one, apple.