Movie Stars: Woodley, Shailene–Hollywood’s New It Girl?

the_fault_in_our_stars_2_woodley_elgortIn The Fault in Our Stars, Shailene Woodley, one of Hollywood’s hottest and coolest actresses right now, takes on the role of Hazel Grace Lancaster.

The young star of Divergent and The Descendants says the film will forever leave a lasting impression on her.  “It was truly one of the biggest honors of my life to be a part of this project.  Both the film and novel explore the most powerful and universal themes.  The story taught me that all is fleeting, that nothing is guaranteed, and that however long or short a life you live, it is the small moments that mean the most.

the_fault_in_our_stars_7_woodley_elgort“I wanted the role so badly I sent John Green a long, long email about how much I loved the book, and how I had to play Hazel,” Woodley continues.  “So I sat down with the studio executives and producers and said, ‘I’ll be a P.A. or an extra, just please, please let me be a part of it!’”

Fortunately – for Woodley and the filmmakers – she was able to keep her day job, largely, says Boone, thanks to her spectacular audition. “We read close to 150 actresses for the role, and I saw about 50 of those.  Within ten or fifteen seconds of Shailene’s audition, I knew she was Hazel.  She held up her script pages and just her eyes were peeking over them.  Shailene has these incredible, expressive green eyes, and she could do so much with them.  She was emotionally available and creates such nuanced and subtle work.  I don’t know how she does it; it’s like some kind of magic.”

Woodley’s views on the story, themes and characters mirrored those of her director and the producers.  “The Fault in Our Stars” is a love story about two kids with cancer, but it’s not about cancer,” she explains.   “I was so deeply moved by Hazel and Gus, who are able to see things that a lot of us are too busy living our lives to see.”

Woodley worked hard to capture Hazel’s many shadings and complexities. “Shailene understands Hazel so deeply,” says Green.  “She gives a raw, honest and totally unselfconscious performance.  I’m so grateful for what she’s done with the character.

“Hazel is a pretty sarcastic person with a gallows sense of humor,” the author continues. “But she’s always very loving and deeply concerned about the effect her illness has on the people around her, particularly on Hazel’s parents.  She doesn’t want to be what Hazel calls a ‘grenade’ – whose death causes pain and destruction.   I mean, she’s a vegetarian who says to Gus, ‘I want to minimize the casualties.’  She possesses an under-appreciated kind of heroism.”

the_fault_in_our_stars_3_woodley_elgortIn addition to capturing Hazel’s many qualities, Woodley was tasked with conveying her physical limitations, chief of which is her need to be hooked up to a cannula – a flexible tube attached to an oxygen tank.  Here, again, Woodley’s research was important.  “I met with a lot of people who had been on oxygen, one of whom said it was like breathing through a straw,’” she comments.

The object of Hazel’s affections, Gus, played by Ansel Elgort, is someone who believes in big, heroic gestures.  He’s brash and tough, but also possesses an appealing intelligence.

According to book author John Green, Hazel and Gus’ attraction to one another stems from the fact they possess a similar wit and intelligence.  “There’s a line in the Philip Roth novel The Human Stain, where a character says, ‘The pleasure isn’t in owning the person. The pleasure is this.  Having another contender in the room with you.’  I think Hazel is someone who doesn’t have a lot of contenders in the room with her, and when she meets Gus she realizes, ‘Oh, this guy can hang with me.’  For Gus it’s the same thing.  He’s used to being able to attract women, but he’s never encountered someone like Hazel before.”

Gus is a complicated figure: he’s a former high school basketball star, and his favorite book – until meeting Hazel – is based on a videogame.  At the same time, he’s an intellectual who enjoys giving long, thoughtful monologues.

Ansel Elgort already had a connection with Woodley, with whom he stars – as her brother – in Divergent.  Woodley notes that this previous onscreen pairing was “a blessing for our work together in the new film because we already knew each other and had this on-screen chemistry, so it was easy to connect as Hazel and Gus. Ansel’s like my brother; he’s so curious about the world and everything excites him.”

the_fault_in_our_stars_4_woodley_elgort“With love stories it’s all about chemistry,” adds Wyck Godfrey.  “Shailene dominated many of the actors we had tested with her, because she has that kind of intimidating strength of character.  But then Ansel came in and he had this charisma, exuberance and energy that put Shailene back on her feet a little bit, which is exactly what you want her to feel.”

For Elgort, Gus was exactly the part he was looking for.  Like so many others, he was a fan of the novel.  “Above all, the book is full of beautiful ideas that make you think about life and love,” he notes.

Tackling his most challenging role yet, Elgort credits Woodley as a source of strength.  “I’ve had some moments in this film that have been harder for me than any in my career, so having Shailene by my side made it a lot easier.”

Shailene Woodley concludes: “It is an honor to have brought to the big screen one of the most powerful fictional characters I’ve ever met.  This movie rewrote the way I look at each breath.”