"What's up gurrrl?" Theo James says as Shailene Woodley strolls by on the set of "Divergent," his eyebrows going in all directions.
This cheeky flirtation is in stark contrast to the cold, grey buildings surrounding us on the site of Abnegation, the "selfless" faction of the film's futuristic society, in downtown Chicago.
Seeing as he was a virtually unknown actor – well, except for that small but unforgettable turn on "Downton Abbey" – before being cast in the coveted role of Four, the big love interest for Woodley's Tris, it should be a relief for fans to see such chemistry. And the jokes didn't stop there.
Theo James and Shailene Woodley in 'Divergent' (Summit Entertainment)
"I took her out to McDonalds and we had two shakes," he said when we asked if they did anything to build their relationship. After expressing our own shock that they didn't just order one shake with two straws, he added, "We didn't do that – we thought that was too cliché."
Touché. But, according to director Neil Burger, it was James's strength, not his sense of humor, that won him the coveted role.
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"Shai is a really fierce actress and so we needed somebody who was even stronger than her. A lot of times, Shai would push forward and the guys we were auditioning would go back," he said of the audition process. "With Theo, it's like no, no, she steps back. He's just a really strong guy and a really great actor as well."
We had the opportunity to witness some of Woodley's fierceness firsthand, as we watched her and Ashley Judd, who plays her mother, shoot an intense action sequence that had them running, guns in hand, throughout the Abnegation neighborhood. In the scene, we see Tris – who was raised in Abnegation but opted to defect and become part of Dauntless, which is essentially the society's brave, military faction – evolve into something of a leader, even as she learns a shocking truth about her family.
"I love that Tris is an incredibly strong woman, young adolescent, but she's not anything extra-spectacular or extra-superior over anyone else," Woodley explained. "She's very normal in a lot of ways and I think that there's something really beautiful about exploring what it's like to be a normal teenager in a dystopian, futuristic world."
"Tris is somebody who starts out, she's a really unexpected character," Burger said after describing his star as "one of the best actresses of her generation." Nobody thinks Tris is going to be tough enough to fight and to make it in Dauntless, he explained. "And then she turns out to be this real badass.
"In a way, Shailene's the same way."
"Divergent" hits theaters on March 21.
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