Actress Shailene Woodley calls her experience working on writer/director Alexander Payne’s new dramedy “The Descendants” the four months that shaped her young life.
“I am so fortunate,” Woodley explains. “I learned a lot about the politics of the industry as far as directing and editing and what it is like to be on a film set. I really learned happiness and that you are responsible for your own happiness. I am a very spiritual person so I call it my spiritual awakening. That is when I really tapped into who I am and who I want to be and I think I will forever take that with me.”
Part of Woodley’s reasoning is based on the fact that “The Descendants” was filmed in Hawaii – a piece of land that the actress calls her “happy place that has no judgments” and encourages one to listen to their instincts and heart instead of their mind. Of course, the other part of said reasoning has something to do with her costar – George Clooney.
“He is such an amazing human being,” Woodley says. “He is so professional. He is never in his trailer. He is always on set. He is available for you whether he is on camera or off camera and that is really rare when you have someone of his stature. He is a good actor because he is a good actor – not because the editor makes him look good.”
In “The Descendants,” Woodley plays the daughter of Clooney’s character, a man who simultaneously struggles with the decision to pull the plug on his comatose wife while facing pressure from relatives to sell 25,000 acres of unspoiled Hawaiian land. Woodley claims that chance to work with the actor was not an intimidating experience but rather an exciting one.
“It is fun to work alongside really great actors because it puts you in a position to step up your game and you have to be reactive to what they are doing and saying,” says Woodley, whose role required her to use profanity toward Clooney’s character. “Arguing with George was really great because he is a really good arguer. I had to be on top of my game so that I could top him and it was this constant battle going back and forth.”
In fact, Woodley cites the primary thing that attracted her to “The Descendants” was Payne’s script, which was “raw and messy” as opposed to glamorized. She adds that it takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster via some extremely tragic scenarios while making one laugh hysterically during the entire process.
“There is something for everyone to latch onto and relate to,” says Woodley, listing the movie’s many themes. “Life is really funny and what we think is serious, when you are looking at it from a crow’s point of view, is not serious at all because everyone goes through things in life and everyone has their own dysfunction.”
And that is something that Woodley learned from Payne, someone she calls one of her “top five favorite human beings.” The actress adds that the filmmaker is calm and confident in himself without ever coming across as pretentious. She says that he is also really good at taking compliments in a very humble, down-to-earth way.
“Alexander is such a comfortable, happy human being that he really infiltrated that into his set,” Woodley explains. “If you were not positive, than you could politely escort yourself off the set. I think the reason why it was such an amazing environment is because everyone was so comfortable and grateful to be there. We became family. It was one big Ohana – which is family in Hawaiian.”
And no one demonstrated that aforementioned gratitude greater than Clooney, someone who Woodley says is grateful for everything he has in his life – and not in a materialistic way with respect to fame and fortune but rather in the way that has allowed him to be in a position to give back and to help inspire others.
“He is such a philanthropic man,” Woodley explains. “We talked a lot about that and about the United Nations and Africa and all the things that he is passionate about and all the things I was passionate about. He gave me advice on how to follow those and how to infiltrate into the world instead of just keeping it in a small community. “
And acting is something that Woodley is passionate about most. She claims that her technique does not involve doing a lot of research or attempting to immerse herself in any given character’s world. Instead, she simply does her best to remain present in a scene and allow a writer’s screenplay to speak for itself.
“When you associate with the script, it was so beautifully written that there was not a lot of acting to be done,” says Woodley of “The Descendants.” “It was more of just being myself and listening to what the other actors had to say. The emotion was naturally evoked because the words were so truthful. My approach to acting is just being 100 percent authentically me – Shailene – within the rules and restrictions of a certain character.”
“The Descendants” (R – 115 minutes) is now playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.