In the year since Shailene Woodley was last at Sundance with "The Spectacular Now," a lot has changed for the actress. Then a Spirit Award-winner for her breakout performance in "The Descendants," Woodley came to Park City last year with a lot of pressure on her to impress with her anticipated follow-up project. She did and swiftly got cast as the lead in pair of big-screen adaptations of popular young adult novels -- "Divergent" and "The Fault in Our Stars."
This year, she showed up to Sundance with Gregg Araki's sexually charged teen film "White Bird in a Blizzard," based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. In the film, Woodley plays Kat, a college-bound teenager whose mother (a hammy and delicious Eva Green) mysteriously vanishes. Was she murdered? Did she run away? Over the course of Araki's giddy new film, Kat gradually comes to discover the reason for her disappearance, all while exploring her own burgeoning sexuality.
Woodley called Indiewire days after leaving Park City to discuss the risque role, her love for all things Araki, and why she's so selective about what she takes on.
I wish we were doing this in person because I actually last interviewed you at Sundance for "The Spectacular Now."
Oh my gosh, we didn't run into each other at Sundance this year?
Well I think I saw you at the after-party for the movie?
Oh… you saw me dancing?
Yeaah! Right on.
Loved you in "White Bird."
Whoa, thanks man.
I grew up watching Gregg Araki, but you're eight years younger than me. How did you discover his work?
Yeah, I found Gregg, he's really good friends with my manager randomly, and so a few years ago my manager was like, "You gotta see 'Mysterious Skin,'" and this was just a few years before '"Kaboom" came out, and I watched "Mysterious Skin" and I was blown away, not just by the movie but by Joe's performance, by the entire thing. So yeah, ever since that moment, I was like "I have to work with Gregg Araki," and I started watching his other films, and I loved that he had such a unique voice. Every one of his films was so drastically different from one another and yet, they all could be related back to being a Gregg Araki film, and I think that's a rare quality and art, a very rare trait.
You're a bigger star now than when you came to Park City last year with "The Spectacular Now." Gregg asks a lot of you in the part, especially in the nudity department. Were you scared of taking this on?
I wouldn't say that it scared me, but it was definitely something I'd never done before, so it was a fun challenge. Gregg creates such a comfortable environment though, that it didn't feel like a vulnerable choice, it didn't feel that intimidating or that frightening. I think the biggest thing though is that, especially nudity-wise and sexuality-wise, nothing's exploitative, explotative, how do you say that?
Yeah, nothing's exploitative. So, it felt very truthful and natural, and that's what I'm really keen on when I see a movie and when I do film, because I want to make sure I'm being as truthful as possible.
And that's the thing I love about Kat's character so much, is that she's so refreshingly frank about her sexuality, and that the film in no way judges that. Did that kind of appeal to you?
Oh absolutely. I had someone say to me, "It's very rare in a movie that you see a woman chase a man, let alone a younger woman chase a man," not in a desperate way but in an empowered way. I thought that was really neat actually, and I love that about Kat, I love that she knew what she wanted, regardless of whether or not that was actually a healthy choice for herself, she knew what she wanted and she wasn't afraid to fulfill those desires.
Now, although you lose your virginity in both this film and in the film you had last year at Sundance, "The Spectacular Now," the two roles you play in each film couldn't be any more different. Who do you identify more with? The quiet girl you play in "The Spectacular Now" or kind of the brash and outspoken Kat?
I think I'm kind of a mix between both. You know, we're lucky… when we do characters, to be able to explore different colors of ourselves and different sides of ourselves. When I was in high school, my experience was maybe more similar to Amy's, story-wise, but my personality was more similar to Kat's. So yeah, I just feel that they're both extensions of who I've been throughout my life.