Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort: True to character
Based on a popular John Green novel, The Fault in Our Stars centers on Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a 16-year-old cancer patient who falls in love with 17-year-old amputee Augustus (Ansel Elgort). Struggling to cope with the uncertainty of their health, they quickly form a bond that gets tested when they travel to Amsterdam to meet their favorite author, the curmudgeonly Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe). We met Woodley and Elgort, who also starred together in Divergent, to talk about their respective roles.
Talk a bit about what drew you to the movie.
S: I fell in love with the book. Well, really I fell in love with the script two years ago and I fell in love with the book thereafter. There are so many universal messages. I think right now in the world there’s so much fear around the future . . . in our society, our government and with the environment and global warming. There are so many unanswered questions. There always have been throughout history, but right now it feels like a critical time. This movie represents hope and represents small moments instead feeling anxious about the future or guilty about the past. It’s so vital. I believe in making a difference overall. So for me, it was really about the good and the beauty that can come from an opportunity like this not necessarily just for myself, definitely not just for myself, but for the world as a whole. I think this movie is incredibly important.
A: I agree with that. I think the way the book does that is really brilliant, such as the metaphor with imperial affliction and how Hazel is very worried about what’s going to happen to people after she dies. It’s really hard to appreciate the moment when you’re worried about dying because you’re going to hurt the people you leave behind and you’re worried about what’s going to happen to them afterwards. I think that both characters have a big struggle that is sort of like the common struggles that human beings have. That’s why everyone can relate to them so well. For Hazel’s character, I think she’s have trouble living in the moment because she’s so worried about what’s going to happen to her parents when she does die. For Augustus, he wants to leave his mark so badly and change the world that he also can’t live in the moment and enjoy what’s in front of him. So, it’s not really until both of those problems are solved that they can really just be together and have this epic love story. It’s a great payoff when their problems are solved. That’s why it’s happy, even though it’s very sad.
It’s a teen story without vampires, werewolves or science fiction. Why do you think teenagers have grabbed on to it so quickly even though to me it seems a little out of sync with what’s really popular these days.
S: I think that it is in the young adult genre, but I don’t think it’s a book for young adults exclusively. I think the reason why teenagers love it so much is because teenagers are fucking smart. I think they’re kind of getting bored of this . . . well, maybe not bored. Everyone likes entertainment. It’s like adults loving Lord of the Rings and X-Men. We as human beings inherently love to escape into a world that we can’t necessarily relate to because it’s exciting and it allows our imaginations to take over regardless of age. I think adults, like teenagers, respond to documentaries because they’re informative and they’re relatable and they’re interesting and they’re dealing with topics that are important. This book deals with topics that are important and it’s funny and it’s realistic and it also treats teenagers with a respect that most young adult novels don’t treat them with. It uses big words and it uses intelligence and it uses might and integrity and that’s a rarity.
A: I know John [Green] is saying that the majority of [moviegoers] just like a lot of the readers now are older people.
S: Yeah, demographically it’s adults who are buying the book now.
Yeah, but what he says never even thinks about writing for adults. He’s always writing for adolescents because he likes the time period in people’s lives when they’re figuring things out.
A: That doesn’t necessarily have to mean that is who it’s for, but it does put it in that genre, I guess. There’s plenty of movies that star young people that people of all generations love just because everyone was young at some point. Everyone can relate to it.
Your characters are both really well-defined in the book. What did you do individually to try to personalize and make these roles into your own?
S: For me it wasn’t about making it into my own. It was about really doing exactly what was on the page because that was the character that I fell in love with and that’s who I wanted to authentically represent.
A: Yeah, definitely. It’s the same for me. I wanted him to be Augustus Waters. I didn’t want him to be me. I’m glad because some people have seen it that are very close to me and they don’t’ feel like they’re watching me. They feel like they’re watching Augustus Waters. So, that’s great, but no matter how far you go as an actor, you’re still yourself at the end. It still looks like you. It’s still you. There’s always going to be an essence of yourself that you bring to the character. So, you don’t need to think about yourself too much. At the end, when you’re finished with your performance, there’s always going to be some part of you that’s part of it
The thing I liked about Augustus was that he always seems to be kind of smirking a little bit. Was that intentional?
A: Totally, yeah. He has to be. He’s grand. He’s on a rollercoaster that only goes up. It’s that kind of attitude. Then, there comes a time when he’s not smirking anymore. It’s not a false confidence, but it is. It’s like a front. Everyone has fronts and Augustus Waters has a very strong front and it’s charming. It can also get a little annoying at times. That was another challenge for me. I didn’t want to make him annoying. He has this over-the-top theatrical front, so I wanted to make sure it was realistic, but still a little over the top. But yeah, the smirking thing…it’s Augustus Waters. He has this crooked smile that later goes away. There are scenes where he doesn’t smirk at all.
You guys have really great chemistry in the movie. Did you do anything off set to foster that? I know you worked together before, but in this particular movie was there anything you did that enabled your characters to connect in the way they did?
S: No, I mean you know you sort of have it with somebody or you don’t. It’s like when you meet a new friend and overnight you become incredibly close. Some people just have that chemical reaction to one another and some people don’t. On Divergent Ansel and I definitely did. It was like an immediate sort of “wow we share very similar souls.” We’re very different people and we have very different interests in a lot of ways, but at the core, we’re very similar. I think that’s why I guess the way we see the world may be similar. Maybe not our view, but our ethics, our morals and our capacity for compassion. I think that that’s why we connected so quickly and one of the reasons why Divergent was such a great experience for both of us. Bringing that relationship into Fault, it always sounds so cliché when you see it in print, but it’s a gift, a true gift. Sometimes you kind of got to fake it till you make it, but with us, we really just got to play. We didn’t have to worry that our chemistry was there or not because it was there and it’s so wonderful.
One of you had a fake leg. One of you was on oxygen. What did you do to adjust to that part of your roles?
S: For me it was more about just trying to figure out how to gauge the breathing. If I were to actually personify exactly what would happen if I had lungs like Hazel had in the book, visually, it just wouldn’t be captivating. The movie would be very long. So, it was about picking certain scenes to exemplify what that looks like, but also not make it over the top.
A: I had a brace. The brace didn’t make me walk like I had a prosthetic leg, however, it did take away the flexibility of my ankles. My foot was a stiff foot. It couldn’t move side to side and it couldn’t move up and down. For overall walking, I worked with a kid named Tanner, who also went through losing his leg. He was 17. He lost it in a hunting accident and he still goes hunting. It’s that kind of attitude that was super inspiring for me playing Augustus Waters. I wanted to make this guy kind of like him. He has this overwhelming amount of confidence that’s dripping off of him.
S: [If you can get through that] what can’t you do?
A: Yeah, exactly. I think it emotionally changes someone that way because you’re overcoming something. For Augustus it did I think contribute to him having that sort of confidence. Now, I’m part robot, part cyborg, so that’s pretty awesome. Did you see the movie? That’s a little line in the movie. “Because then I lost this baby and now I’m part cyborg, which is pretty awesome.” They don’t have unlimited money and it was very expensive to put the leg on me because I don’t actually have a prosthetic leg, but I wanted him to have scenes where Augustus wears shorts because almost every time I saw Tanner he was wearing shorts. He’s proud of it. He thinks it’s cool.
I love the soundtrack. I imagine that the songs weren’t really added to the film until it was over. Did you guys listen to the music at all while it was being made?
S: Not the songs that actually ended up in the final cut, but Josh did make us all CDs before filming that were in the vein of what he wanted. Half of them were similar to what he ended up with and half were not, but it was more just to get us in the mood.
So what do you guys each have planned next? A lot of stuff?
S: No, for me it’s just Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent and nothing after that. I’m in no rush to do another movie. I’ve always been this way. I’m just waiting to read a good script. If it takes five years, it takes five years.
I thought I read you were doing a Gregg Araki movie or something.
S: I did that. We filmed that two years ago.
It’s all done?
S: Yeah, we filmed that two years ago. It will come out between September and December this year. We don’t know when yet.
A: I’m in a Jason Reitman movie. That will come out either near the end of 2014 or at the beginning 2015. That movie is awesome too. I’ve been lucky. It has great messages about the way the Internet and social media have changed relationships.
S: Which it majorly has.
A: It’s a dark comedy. Adam Sandler’s in it. He does these scenes that are just so dark, but he’s just so genuine that it’s hilarious. That’s a great movie, too. I’m really looking forward to it.