Divergent 's leading man Theo James talks creating the future, Ferris wheels and being (number) One
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the entire population has been sorted into five very different factions, Divergent centres on Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), who suddenly finds herself thrust into the living-on-the-edge world of the supposedly fearless Dauntless group. There she crosses paths with instructor/mentor figure/potential love interest Four (Theo James). Here, Brit actor James (who you may recognise from The Inbetweeners Movie) talks about finding his inner Dauntless...
What was your experience of meeting your co-star, Shailene Woodley?
She was very refreshing, actually. Inevitably you meet on the test and you don’t know each other, and it's always slightly awkward because you're doing a kind of intimate scene with someone you have never set your eyes upon. But she’s really refreshing and she’s very open to collaborating as two people and making the scene as good as possible. When we were filming, what she is great at and what we managed to do a lot is really ground the work and, as pretentious as that sounds, bring it back to the fact the reason you are there is that you are trying to tell a story of two people or several people. She is so great with that, very emotionally intuitive, and able to bring a truth to something, even in the craziest circumstances.
What was the director Neil Burger's vision for translating the book into a film?
I am a big fan of Neil, he is a very cool dude but also he is a smart person with very good taste. He managed to keep a lot of integrity, there is no dumbing down, there is no simplification and there are some really strong themes in it about questions of determinism, choice, identity things that people can relate to and things that are a little bit deeper than surface level. What we did, Shai myself and Neil, would also always revisit the scenes the night before, a few nights before, when things weren’t feeling right and do several revisions of it to make sure we were all at a place where we felt that this was a genuine good scene and worked not only in the context of honouring the material but it was real and specific and good essentially. Another thing Neil did, was really create a genuine world that you buy in to, well at least I hope, because I believe that. And one thing that he said was there is a point that in the book when someone dies, a wannabe initiate, someone dies very early on and we were asking why he thought that shouldn’t be there. And he said, look what you need to do is set up a construct –people like to use the word "dystopia" but its not really a dystopia in the beginning, you need to set up a construct where this is a world that seems to be functioning. You need to buy it because when inevitably the world comes down, the stakes are higher, it means something. Because if you live in a world where things are all shit and you don’t empathise with it, and you don’t want to be there and you don’t want to be in people’s company then you are not going to care.
When you were looking at the role before the audition, were there any aspects of the character that you focused on?
I immediately felt an affinity with the character; to me I think we share certain qualities. I think you try to use the things you share with a character in everything that you do to make it as real as possible. Fir me, I love this person. He is the type of person that walks into a room and doesn’t need to be the loudest voice but you still feel his presence, also someone that doesn’t speak too much but you know that he is thinking all the time. That is one thing that I wanted to bring – he is a perceptive person but doesn’t speak too much. On top of that, there's this kind of dangerous stillness that I felt that he had when reading the book and the script. Those things I wanted to draw on. I love masculine characters that don’t need to be shouting in someone’s face and wielding their masculinity. I love the old Paul Newman style.
Tris and Four have a very complicated relationship in the film. What do you think draws them together?
I think she is fascinated by him but doesn’t understand his motivations. He seems to be very cold and then momentarily hot, inevitably that is something that lots of relationships gravitate towards. But also I think he sees in her something unique and dynamic in a world where he sees lots of people coming through the system. Inherently I think it is an interesting relationship because it is not based on lots of swooning, it is essentially two people that respect each other and he really respects her and sees that she is completely selfless but also strong – and she sees his rippling abs.
What was the toughest stunt you had to do?
Toughest stunt was, I guess... Genuinely the kissing scene Shai and I, in a real way, wanted that to be as good as possible because it’s the only time they get together and the only time really kissy smooshy scene and we wanted it to be good and to fulfil the things that it needs to fulfil and be real and not ebb on the side of lots of cheese. We actually shot that a second time because the first time it didn’t feel quite right, we really wanted to honour it in a way that it is earned. Hopefully it is earned because there is not a lot of batting eyelids and kind of fawning towards each other in the whole film its quite a functional tough, intricate, complex relationship so when they eventually kiss I hope its earned.
You and Shailene actually climed the ferris wheel in Chicago for real, right?
It wasn’t too bad because we were strapped in so you felt kind of invincible. But when I was up there I was like, "I am going to test you guys and jump off", but they were like, "You could but you are still going to break your arm." So, maybe not then. But yeah in a good way because we actually did it, if you were feeling those feelings you could draw on them and make it feel as real as possible.
What would your Dauntless name be?
One I think. Then I would be the ultimate legend. I don’t know, that or Captain Semi-Greek or something.
Divergent is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and download, courtesy of Entertainment One. SFX's review can be found here .