Insurgent: Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet’s character, Jeanine, returns after suffering a devastating defeat to Tris and Four at the end of Divergent. “Jeanine is a psychopath and probably the smartest person in the world,” says producer Lucy Fisher. “And she’s been stung by a bee, so she’s mad and she’s motivated.”

Winslet describes her character as “one of those inherently terrible, awful people whose strength comes from a place that is not necessarily genuine or even remotely honest—even though she believes she is being genuine and honest. She is a strong woman who likes power and will stop at nothing in order to get more of it.”

Or as Shahbazian puts it: “Jeanine truly believes in using any means necessary, including torture and cruelty, to keep their society functioning. She has a passion for science and for leading the city but applies her own ‘natural selection’ which makes her even more sinister. The beauty of Jeanine is that she’s a multi-dimensional villain. Kate is fantastic in the role—and your heroes are only as good as your villain.”

Kate Winslet relished the opportunity to give audiences a closer look at Erudite and step back into Jeanine’s shoes. She also loved the sleek, ominous wardrobe that helped bring her malicious character to life. “It’s been really nice being able to wear all the cut, fitted dresses that help create such an intimidating villian. It’s made Jeanine feel much more powerful, cattier and nastier. It’s also been great coming back together with everyone else.”

Winslet loves how Tris challenges Jeanine’s growing wickedness with an even more intrepid resolve of her own in Insurgent. “Tris and Jeanine’s relationship has become a power game,” says Winslet. “Jeanine has a very bizarre and uncomfortable fascination with and admiration for Tris because Jeanine does not have the power to do what Tris can do. She is quite awed by Tris.”

The filmmakers recruited an impressive trio of seasoned actors to play the faction leaders: Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer portrays the Amity head, Johanna; Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts leads the Factionless as Evelyn; Daniel Dae Kim is Jack Kang, at the top of Candor society.

Octavia Spencer

“Octavia Spencer is a fantastic actress with great energy, and she brings a certain level of integrity to Johanna. She really elevates the part,” says executive producer Barry Waldman. “When you cast somebody with that much talent, her appearance at the beginning of the film really emphasizes a moment in their journey.”

Roth met Spencer, who is the author of a series of middle-grade books in addition to being an actress, when they were both speakers at Book Expo America. “It was really fortuitous that Octavia would want to work on this movie because she’s an extremely talented actress and I knew she would do an excellent job,” comments Roth. “And then to top it off, I saw how incredibly nice she is. During filming, she sat at lunch in the big trailer with everybody. She was so down to earth and so funny,” Roth continues.

Johanna, whom the author describes as one of her favorite characters in the book series, has a scar on her face, a visible sign that she is a survivor of violence. “Having been through a difficult situation, she recognizes herself in people who have lived through something terrible,” says Roth. “When Tris and Four come to her for help, that’s what makes her put herself and her faction at risk. A really powerful part of her character is that she doesn’t entirely agree with her faction about what to do. That struggle is one of the most interesting parts about her.”

The film’s young leads were thrilled to work with the celebrated actress. “Octavia is such a master at this craft because she’s just so pure,” says Woodley. “When she’s on camera she just simply exists, and that’s the greatest gift you can give another actor.”

James concurs: “Octavia Spencer was awesome and ingenious, and brought to Johanna this sense of gravitas that she naturally has.”

Spencer was impressed with Woodley and James as well. “Shailene is this down-to-earth person, and possesses wonderful qualities: vulnerability, openness, approachability. You want to root for her character, Tris, you want her to win—especially since Tris lost most of her family in the first movie. Theo is a very different person from Four. He is gregarious, funny, and really off the cuff and quick. Four is very reserved and guarded and that serves him when he needs to be lethal. But when we see that window into his soul, the way Four is with Tris, we get to see just a little bit of who Theo actually is.”

Fans and filmmakers alike were eager to find the actress who would play the game-changing role of Four’s mother. For most of Four’s life he thought his mother was dead, but early into the film, he discovers that she is alive. “Evelyn has a very complicated relationship with her son,” explains Lieberman. “They hadn’t seen each other in a long time, because she left when he was very young. Having been in the dark about her whereabouts (and intentions) for so many years, Four doesn’t know if he can trust her. Does she want to reestablish a relationship with him, or does she just want him to help her take down Jeanine and take control of the city?”

Naomi Watts

Watts was cast as Evelyn. “We were really happy when Naomi came on.  She plays against the cliché of ‘I’m the strong woman,’” says Fisher. “She is much more mysterious than that. You’re dealing with somebody who has a complicated past and has channeled it into revenge, no matter how long it will take her to execute it. You never know what she is thinking.”

Roth was excited to see what Watts would bring to the character, whose motives are unclear to Four—and to the audience. “Naomi Watts is incredibly talented and I was curious what she would do with Evelyn, since you’re not sure if she’s a good guy or a bad guy at any given moment,” the author says. “When you meet Naomi, she’s so petite and unassuming. She’s quiet and clearly a very thoughtful person.”

Waldman compares Watts to World War II General George Patton. “Obviously Naomi’s a lot more attractive than Patton, but she also has a very commanding presence when she walks onto that set. When she struts out there in those costumes Louise found for her, it feels like she’s a rock star.”

“She is a little frightening,” adds Roth, “because she’s leading this group of people perceived as weak and disenfranchised, and we soon see they’re actually quite strong and capable of challenging the Erudite. Is the enemy of my enemy actually my friend, or just another enemy?”

For the role of Jack Kang, leader of Candor, the filmmakers had to find an actor who could credibly play someone addicted to the truth. “We auditioned so many different people, but when Daniel Dae Kim came in we knew he embodied Jack Kang. He’s perfect,” states Lieberman. “Daniel’s got the great authoritative voice; he looks like he’s in control and would tell the truth. His past roles helped him expertly plays Jack’s character as vaguely intimidating, which adds some suspense to Tris and Four’s first encounters with him.”

Candor are not warriors or leaders—they’re truth-tellers. According to Kim, “The greatest impact that Candor has is as the moral compass of society. The Candor do not play sides for politics. They’re pure in the sense that all they care about is truth.”

Kim, known to television fans as Jin-Soo Kwon on Lost and Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii Five-0, was attracted to the project for several reasons. “I was impressed and moved that Veronica decided to include an Asian-American male character in her stories,” he says. “From where I sit, there isn’t a lot of representation of Asian-American males in film,” Kim shares. “I give her a lot of credit. It’s not often that an author is able to so clearly describe someone of another race or gender.”

Jai Courtney returns as Eric, a Dauntless leader and longtime rival to Four.

In Insurgent, Eric is firmly on the side of Jeanine, helping her identify Divergents. “This film has even more excitement,” says Courtney. “It’s a different landscape and the script was written to cater to the strengths of the established cast. We all know our characters really well, so there wasn’t that feeling-out process. This was play time!”

“Jai’s performance really illustrates the miracle of casting.  The character Eric is basically a thug” says Wick.  “But Jai has so much inner life, intelligence and humor that he makes Eric a riveting presence in the movie.”

“We were very lucky to get Jai,” says Fisher. “He’s becoming a giant star for one thing, but he’s  also  really funny  and smart and  brings  extra   presence and weight   and  humor to everything he does. He’s also really built and can do his own stunts.”

The stunt coordinators were also impressed with Jai Courtney’s athletic ability. “We’ve seen Jai outrun all the tools we use to film actors running,” laughs Darrin Prescott, stunt coordinator. “We’ve had cameramen tracking him, electric grip vehicles driving next to him, octo-copters chasing him, and we’ve had to say to him, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to take a little off because you’ve left the camera behind.’ He’s crazy fast.”

Tris’ brother Caleb Prior, played by rising star Ansel Elgort, becomes more central to the plot in Insurgent. We discover that the seemingly submissive Caleb is capable of a lot more than Tris has anticipated, a character turn that will undoubtedly excite his ever-growing fanbase. “Ansel just exploded after the first movie. He was only 19 and the way people connected with him was extraordinary,” says Wick.

“One of the opportunities in Insurgent was to explore the brother-sister relationship further. Even though Caleb does some pretty dastardly things, Ansel manages to convince us that he believes in some greater good, even if it’s at the risk of his own sister’s life.”

Elgort relished the opportunity to share screen time with actresses Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. “Shai and I have worked together recently on the Divergent movies and The Fault in our Stars. She is the best young actress around right now, so I couldn’t be happier. And Kate Winslet’s obviously a legend.”

Miles Teller had a great time reprising his role as the villainous Peter and enjoyed the chance to give audiences an even closer look at his complicated character in The Divergent Series: Insurgent. Teller explains that Peter wants to align himself with power, and so, lets himself be drawn to Jeanine. But, he says, “Peter eventually gets belittled and tossed aside by Jeanine, and that doesn’t sit well with him.

“Peter’s cockiness comes from a place of insecurity,” adds Teller. “But he’s fun because he enjoys giving Tris a hard time, and that’s important. You can’t have everybody just talking about Divergents and factions all the time. You need to have an instigator.”

Zoë Kravitz returns as Tris’ best friend Christina, who must forgive Tris for a terrible secret that has come between them. “Everyone’s in a chaotic place,” says Kravitz. “If we weren’t outcasts before, we are definitely outcasts now. At first Christina finds comfort that Tris is alive, but she also feels betrayed by her, not only because of what she finds out happened to Will during Jeanine’s mind control simulation, but because she kept it from her. In Divergent, Christina is often the comic relief. She’s very funny and sarcastic. In this film, you see a darker side of her.”

Maggie Q is pleased with the evolution of her character, Tori, in the new film. “Tori was the unwilling mentor to Tris in the first film,” she comments. “Now you see her in a less mysterious light. She’s at Candor headquarters when Four and Tris seek asylum there and are reunited with their old comrades from the first film. Everyone’s been on the run, so in this film, we really see Tori’s dedication to get on board with Tris and Four in the rebellion.”

Another long-time Dauntless member is Max, played by Mekhi Phifer, who along with Eric has now sided with Jeanine. “Max and Eric storm Amity, checking to see if anyone is Divergent and will audiences really get to see what evil they are capable of. I like playing the bad guy, even though I’m a good guy in real life,” laughs Phifer. “In the film, we have this new portable scanner that can test on the spot to see if people are Divergent,” he explains. “We have this intimidating conversation with Octavia’s character, who’s wonderful, about how we’re going to test all of her people in Amity. Of course, as their leader, she wants to protect them from us, and an intense struggle ensues.”

Abnegation leader and father of Four, Marcus Eaton, played by Ray Stevenson, starts the movie having taken refuge with his son and Tris in Amity. There, as a true politician, he quickly ingratiates himself with Spencer’s Johanna. “Ray is one of my favorite actors and working with him, as the reserved leader of Abnegation, was so much fun. Before we started some scenes, he would serenade me!” laughs Spencer.

Several other new young faces are introduced in this installment of the Divergent franchise. Up-and-coming leading man Jonny Weston plays a cunning revolutionary named Edgar who is Evelyn’s second in command of the Factionless. The Edgar character is a new addition to the series, and although he is not featured in Insurgent, he plays an integral role in the film. “Edgar rose through the Factionless ranks and became Evelyn’s right hand [man],” says Weston about his position in the Factionless. “But now that Four has appeared, Edgar feels the threat of losing the position he has held all along, which causes him to instigate a separation within the Factionless.

Insurgent will also introduce audiences to Keiynan Lonsdale, Rosa Salazar, Emjay Anthony and Suki Waterhouse, who play Dauntless rebels beloved by fans of the Divergent trilogy. Their characters are part of the army that escapes Dauntless to unite against Jeanine.

“Uriah, played by Keiynan Lonsdale, was one character fromDivergent whom we were unable to include in the first movie because we had too many characters,” says Fisher. “There were so many fans who were vocally disappointed because they loved this character, and so did we. We did a huge casting search for Uriah. We were slightly nervous when Keiynan’s role was announced because the fans had been so rabid about Uriah, who is also Divergent like Tris, but we hit the jackpot with him.”

“Only after I actually landed the role did I learn what the fans were saying about Uriah,” admits Lonsdale. “This is the first project that I’ve done that has a built-in fan base. I read the books, so I understand it. I did feel the pressure. I want to do the character justice.

“A week after arriving from Australia, I was on a rooftop in downtown Atlanta shooting a gun for the first time,” Lonsdale continues. “Then I got shot myself, and all this glass was exploding, everything’s crazy. It was so cool to be above downtown, shooting these amazing scenes and bringing this beloved character to life.”

Veteran actors Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn as well as Ben Lloyd-Hughes appear briefly in The Divergent Series: Insurgent, even though their characters were killed in Divergent.

“My character, Natalie Prior, dies in her daughter’s arms in Divergent,” says Judd. “One thinks Natalie has passed from this world, but in the world of Veronica Roth’s extraordinary imagination, nothing is as it seems. So in this film, Tris gets to re-experience me, but not via the typical storytelling device of a flashback. My appearance as well as her father’s and her friends’ appearances are embedded within this extraordinary world of Tris’ interior psychological landscape.”

Cast members were impressed with the new director’s attention to character while creating a big, action-filled film. “Robert Schwentke is incredibly collaborative, and he’s keen on making sure that the first movie is honored, but at the same time he’s imprinting his own voice and colors onto this film. Not an easy task, but he’s doing it gracefully,” comments Woodley. “Even though this is an action movie, he’s committed to the truth of the characters of Tris and Four. He doesn’t really have an ego, which is very rare to find. He’s a true artist.”

Co-star James agrees, “As much as we loved working with Neil Burger, it’s nice to have a new perspective that injects the project with a different flavor. Robert’s quite emotional, which is good because he’s great at carrying on the narrative’s character through-lines within the action in The Divergent Series: Insurgent. With all the fun and the gloss of an adventure movie, character is important because there are places they’re going to go. Robert has done that really well, not only for Shai and me, but for Miles’ and Ansel’s characters as well.”

“I have been so blown away by working with Robert,” comments Winslet. “I’m a huge fan of Red; I thought that was such a wonderful movie. But I didn’t really know anything about Robert at all. I arrived and this lovely German man started giving me great direction immediately. His ownership of this second movie was very reassuring. This is a man who’s done his homework. He knows exactly the type of story he’s telling and how he wants it to feel, visually and emotionally.”

One big change since the first film is that many of the cast members have become full-blown movie stars after appearing in Divergent. “You hire people because you think they’re the best actors around, and rarely do you get to be so right in casting the coolest young people,” comments Wick. “It was an extraordinary thing on Divergent that six of them went on and got the leads in other movies. We got a really good measure of luck in casting the first film.”