Q&A: Shailene Woodley Returns to Troubled Teen Land for ‘The Spectacular Now’

Shailene Woodley, the star of "The Spectacular Now," opening Friday, and Alexander Payne’s Oscar-winning "The Descsendants," turned twenty-one last November and became a card-carrying adult. But on screen, she continues to come of age - and come-of-age again -- playing teens troubled one way or another, and plagued with never ending identity issues.

Now, Woodley perches on the verge of entering Jennifer Lawrence-Kristen Stewart mega-stardom as the lead in the upcoming next big YA dystopian thing, "Divergent." But before that hits the screens, she comes to the theaters this week as in James Ponsoldt’s small-budget coming-of-ager, "Spectacular Now." In this festival circuit hit, Woodley appears as Aimee, an honor student with college prospects and a fractured family who finds romance, and a new self-confidence, with a hard-drinking charmer (Miles Teller, her "Divergent" co-star).

Talking by phone, the sloe-eyed star reveals that, though her current life is spectacular, amazing is the word she most frequently uses: "Alex Payne would poke fun at me because I say amazing constantly because I find life amazing."

Has your life changed dramatically since you turned 21?

The only switch is being able to buy my wine. Becoming 25 in a few years will be a bigger deal.

How do you personally resemble your characters Alexandra from "The Descendants" and Aimee from "The Spectacular Now?"

I’m a mix of all of them. I had the anger and the complex emotional drama of Alexandra. I also had the tenderness and the audacity and the search for knowledge of Aimee. Combining them is a healthy mix of who I was as a teen.

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Would you call Alexandra a troubled teen?
She was just a teenager playing with drugs but I wouldn’t say she was a troubled teenager. Most adolescents go through this phase and everything is relative. Alexandra came from a very broken family where she didn’t have a mom or a dad she could relate to. That led her to proclaim her independence that she didn’t have to be so righteous.

Now you play an honor student that takes to the flask and loses her virginity…

Aimee also comes from a broken family situation but while Alexandra wallowed in self-pity, Aimee found strength and turned it into a passion for future. She did get the grades, and was in the French Club and then she met someone.

That someone is Sutter, who introduces her to the flask, sex – and high school popularity.
Aimee's never gotten attention from someone so strong and independent with a keen sense of self-confidence, and she loses herself in him a little bit. I think that the thing with Sutter and Aimee is that he actually helped her. She got accepted into college and didn’t stand up to her mom who didn't want her to go. It's a normal process for teens to lose themselves in infatuations. They think it is a first love, but it’s more a deep infatuation because they lose themselves. You learn a lot in the relationship - but you learn a lot more after it’s over.

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And it's back to being a teenager for "Divergent," which opens big next March
I play Tris, a sixteen to eighteen year old who has to choose to value herself over her family. In the future there are many factions, and once you leave your birth faction you don’t return. In the course of the story Tris experiences the consequences of leaving her family behind. Her actions highlight her bravery and selflessness at the same time.

Have you personally had to break away from your family to hammer out your own identity, particularly as your star has risen?
I have the most magical profound family in the planet. I’m grateful for the fact every day. I spend most of my time with family and best friends. They go everywhere with me. I’m lucky that I didn’t have to try and maintain my relationships. They are maintained. You don’t have to think about breathing and I don’t have to worry about losing anybody because we’re all so interwoven into each other so closely.