ATLANTA-- The screams of hundreds of teenage girls echoed above the cell phones held overhead when the cast of Divergent arrived at the Regal Atlanta Station for the Atlanta premier Monday.
The movie, based on the novels by Veronica Roth, hits theaters nationwide March 21. 11Alive's Julie Wolfe watched the first screening of the film and sat down with main actors Shailene Woodley and Theo James.
Roth was in her freshman year in college in 2006 when she came up with the idea for Divergent. "I had this inkling about a subculture of people who wanted to eradicate fear in normal individuals, to create people without phobias," she said. The future world is divided into five factions based on human virtues in an effort to overcome human nature and avoid war.
The books have become massively successful, with a dedicated audience of young adult readers. Total book sales for the three-book series surpassed 11 million copies and spent a combined 183 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller lists. In January 2014, Roth achieved a "hat trick" when Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant were featured as No. 1, 2, and 3 on USA Today's Bestselling Books list.
Just months after the first book was published in May 2011, Summit Entertainment bought the rights to the film. The head of the film division at Roth's literary agency said, "The editors likened it to The Hunger Games meets The Matrix and the ball started rolling very quickly."
The cast for Divergent includes more than a dozen main characters, but the majority of the screen time is shared by just a few.
Tris (Shailene Woodley): The heroine is in almost every single frame of the movie. The producers knew this main character would make or break the movie and expected a long search. They were wrong. Almost immediately after meeting Woodley, they cast her as Tris. The actress is best known for her roles in The Secret Life if the American Teenager and as George Clooney's co-star in The Descendants. She sealed the deal with producers when they found out she was honing her survival skills.
Four (Theo James): The search for Tris' love interest was more difficult. Producers went to several countries and auditioned thousands of actors. "We were getting near the end of our rope," producer Lucy Fisher said. English actor Theo James grabbed the part. He appeared in Downton Abbey and was named to People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive issue in November 2013.
Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet): Producer Douglas Wick quoted another film great, "Hitchcock said a movie is only as strong as its villain." Winslet agreed to play the cold genius after reading the book. "I've never played an evil person before now," she said. "It's been fascinating to try to get inside the mind of that type of person."
The Interviews: Behind the Scenes
I'm not an entertainment reporter. But I've been a journalist for 13 years, and interviewed plenty of celebrities in that time. They are rarely what I expect. Sometimes they disappoint by the way they treat the people around them. Sometimes they surprise me with their humility. Woodley and James were amazing. From the moment Shai hugged me hello (I'd read she was a hugger) to the moment I chatted on my way out, they were both so nice. And, let's be honest, "nice" isn't used that often to describe Hollywood actors.
Press tours can be nightmares for everyone involved. The actors sit in one spot while reporters file in one after another, squeezing in as many questions in the 10 minute window as possible. Answering the same questions over and over can lead to wooden responses. Reporters trying to get "real" responses are sometimes desperate enough for fresh material to ask bizarre questions. Ten minutes isn't enough time to warm up interview subjects or get comfortable over small talk. For local reporters, it's exacerbated by the reality the press junket is just one assignment of many for that day.
It takes a unique skill to make these things work. Woodley and James clearly have that skill. I left the interview a bigger fan of their work, with more respect for them as people and professionals.
Have you read the books? Do you plan on seeing the movie? Let me know on Facebook at Julie Wolfe 11Alive.