SHAILENE WOODLEY is known for her talent, her sense of justice and her dedication to living as simply as possible, owning only what she can fit into a small suitcase. But the past two years have seen a shift for the actress, one that nearly saw her quit Hollywood. She tells JENNIFER DICKINSON why she nearly walked away and how Big Little Lies got her to stay
The acting, it appears, comes easily. Co-stars heap unusually genuine praise on Woodley, with the likes of George Clooney – whom she starred with in The Descendants, her sit-up-and-take-notice role – and Kate Winslet (the Divergent franchise) singling her out as one of the best actresses of her generation. Everything that comes with it though? That’s been a struggle.
“The idea of magazines, press lines, red carpets and fashion, all of that was so overwhelming that I stayed away from it all,” says the actress over herbal tea at a relaxed LA cafe, clad in a leather jacket and jeans. “I can’t half-ass anything, so when it came to me having to look a certain way or speak a certain way for this image I was meant to create, it turned me off. When I wasn’t filming I would work on a farm somewhere because that’s what I could hold onto that felt real.”
Cardigan Stella McCartney
“The idea of fashion is EXCITING again because I can now CURATE a look that’s authentically MYSELF. I suppose it comes down to control”
For a long time, none of that was Woodley’s thing. “I was only interested in making sure my physical footprint was aligned with my mental opinions and viewpoints,” she says. “Now I’m in a different place. The idea of fashion is exciting because I can now curate a look that’s authentically myself. I suppose it really just comes down to control.”
Right now, the actress is filming a second series of Big Little Lies. While she’s equally as proud of the TV phenomenon as her co-stars – Laura Dern and Zoë Kravitz, as well as executive producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman – the show represents something even more crucial for Woodley; until the script came along, she was considering quitting acting after all. “There was a point in my life, right before Big Little Lies, where I had hit a wall with acting. I felt it was time to do something different. I called my agents and said, ‘Please don’t send me any more scripts; I need to explore other avenues.’ They respected me and didn’t send me anything for almost a year until Big Little Lies. I didn’t know what it was or who was involved, I just said, ‘Thanks, I’m still not interested.’” The agents persisted, revealing the impressive names attached. “I read it, fell in love with it, and Laura , who I had worked with on The Fault in Our Stars, called me and that was really the push.”
“There was a POINT in my life, right before Big Little Lies, where I had hit a WALL with acting. I felt it was time to do something DIFFERENT”
“You have to shoot for the MOON, because you’ll inevitably come back HIGHER. Each time I do something NEW, I’m surprised by how far I get”
Whether her daughters – whom she says are “‘more conventional-looking” than Cindy Crawford’s “freakishly beautiful” offspring – will follow her into modeling or acting, she’s unsure. “They take all these selfies and borrow all my clothes and make mini movies, and I think they feel, if they are in control of that themselves, why would they do it for anyone else?” she muses. Rowan is a talented singer. “But I’ve told her that she needs an education. And no matter who your parents are, you either have it or you don’t, and you have to commit – it can’t be a hobby.”
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