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ICYMI: Shailene Woodley: In Profile

As part of a new, amazing ongoing online feature - ICYMI - we'll be showcasing some of the finest in-magazine features from Total Film issues gone past.

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First up, a fascinating chat with one of Hollywood's hottest up-and-coming actors, Shailene Woodley.

For a girl who wants to protect her anonymity and yearns to work in a bakery, Shailene Woodley isn’t exactly going about it the right way.

Having impressed with her sparky debut as George Clooney’s sulky teen daughter in The Descendents , the 21-year-old has landed a couple of the most high-profile franchises in Hollywood – with the potential to go multi-sequel and make her a household name.

Having auditioned for the role of Katniss in The Hunger Games , Woodley, with misgivings, went up for the lead in Divergent , an adapt of Veronica Roth’s compulsive YA dystopian future trilogy and a new pretender to Miss Everdeen’s cinematic success. She got it.

“I said no when I got the offer,” Woodley recalls, striking a yoga tree pose and nursing herbal tea in a London hotel suite after a limb-crampingly long flight from the US.

“I was like, ‘I’m afraid about the lack of anonymity, that lifestyle if the movie does well, the amount of commitment even for publicity’.”

Convinced to re-assess by her Mum (who reasoned that she liked the character and to turn down a film based on fame was like turning it down based on budget – something she assures us she wouldn’t do), Woodley threw herself into training and ‘chemistry auditions’ to portray Tris, the kick-ass teen girl leading a revolution against a factioned and oppressed society in futuristic Chicago.

A self-confessed outdoorsy type (she collects her own water from mountain springs and forages for food), Woodley was keen to do most of her own stunts herself and still has the scars to prove it (“It’s kind of fun to see the scars on my knee and go, ‘That was a great day’,”).

And she stepped up to lead a team of hot, young actors (including Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Christian Masden and Theo James) in a summer camp-esque location shoot in Chicago.

Though fun, when Total Film visited the set in May the pressure on Woodley to pull off a J-Law on Divergent and launch a franchise was palpable.

But, post-filming, she’s now viewing the role as an opportunity rather than a prison. “I feel very grateful for Divergent – knowing that if it does well, I’m going to have one big movie a year,” she muses, rationalising that in Clooney-style, one big movie gives her more choices to go after the Indie film roles close to her heart.

Of course, 2014 might have been a year of two monster roles but while she was filming Divergent , Woodley heard that her performance as Mary Jane in another big franchise The Amazing Spider-man 2 had been nixed with a view to revisiting the character in later, less character-packed, films.

“It was a surprise,” she confesses with a shrug and a smile, unphased at discussing something that was not always reported kindly at the time.

“MJ was introduced in the movie and she had three scenes and she’s such an iconic role. When I initially got a phone call I was like, ‘What? Really?’ But when I thought about it, it makes total sense. There was like one night of, “Oh my God! Freak out!” And then after that I was totally fine. MJ is definitely coming back but I don’t know that I’ll be MJ simply because of scheduling with Divergent .

If she comes back as a lead character, then there’s probably no way I can do it, just timing-wise. It’s kind of a bummer, but at the same time I’m an avid believer that everything is meant to be. Clearly if I’m not supposed to do it, I’m not supposed to do it.”

That’s no blustering excuse from the zen-like Woodley. She’s potentially up for two more Divergent films (including a gut-punch finale for her character) and has a number of smaller passion projects on the way.

She battled hard to win the role of teen cancer-sufferer Hazel in bestseller adap The Fault In Our Stars (she lopped off her long chesnut hair for the part and is currently hiding her crop in a cosy beanie) and is getting sexy in Gregg Araki’s adap of another beloved book /White Bird In A Blizzard/.

White Bird is definitely in the vein of Mysterious Skin ,” she enthuses. “It’s dark, it’s sexy, it’s messed up, it’s so sad and it’s so Araki.”

With all three in the can and ready to go, Woodley is now taking stock and looking for her next project – both personally and professionally.

“I’ve done five movies in the past year. It’s been such a blessing and at the same time I’m like, ‘I’m need to take a break. I need to know me.’ I also think I’ve done so many young adult films or younger characters, because that’s how old I’ve been, but now I’m getting this sense of becoming a woman. I want some life experience and get to know me. I want to do some travelling. Maybe get a job in a bake shop or a tea shop. I don’t know!”

With her future slate, her scone-serving days may be numbered…

Divergent opens 4 April 2014.

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Jane Crowther

Jane Crowther is the Editor of Total Film magazine and the Editor-in-Chief of the Film Group here at Future Plc, which covers Total Film, SFX, and numerous TV and women's interest brands. Jane is also the vice-chair of The Critics' Circle and a BAFTA member. You'll find Jane on GamesRadar+ exploring the biggest movies in the world and living up to her reputation as one of the most authoritative voices on film in the industry.