If you haven’t heard Shailene Woodley’s name by now, you soon will. The 22-year-old American actress is about to enter that other-worldly celebrity stratosphere that plays host to the likes of J-Law and K-Stew (although S-Woo doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…)
Why? She’s the star of the latest mega tween franchise Divergent, based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling books and boasting more ticket pre-sales in the States than the first Twilight film. Woodley plays gutsy heroine Tris Pryor living in a futuristic Chicago and failing to fit into one of five personality-determined factions – an anomaly that leaves her in mortal danger and at the mercy of Kate Winslet’s evil leader, Jeanine Matthews.
But Woodley is hardly a newcomer to the game. She began acting at the tender age of eight and has already won plenty of acclaim for roles in The Descendents and The Spectacular Now. Need a crash course on America’s next young star? Look no further…
After recurring early roles in US series The District and Crossing Jordan, Shailene landed the role of Kaitlin Cooper. No, she’s not the sassy teen tasked with keeping the show afloat after Marissa kicked the bucket. She was the cute kid from series one, eventually packed off to boarding school by her distracted parents.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager
We have it on good authority that were we living in America, Shailene would have been on our radar long ago thanks to this ABC teen drama which she headed up from 2008-2013. As 16-year-old Amy Juergens who falls pregnant after a one night stand, she fostered an army of teen fans long before her Divergent days – the role may not have attracted much critical attention beyond the Teen Choice Awards jury, but it put her name on the map.
And then came a starring turn opposite George Clooney. Not bad for a 20-year-old. Woodley shone alongside her Oscar-nominated co-star as the pair portrayed a Hawaiian father and daughter struggling to come to terms with their wife/mother’s fatal speedboat accident. This time the critics paid attention, with Shailene awarded an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress, plus nods at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards and a win at the Cannes Film Festival. Her Hollywood career had lift-off.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Riding high from her Hawaiian stint, Shailene beat out fierce competition to win the part of Mary-Jane Watson in the Spider-Man sequel…only to see her scenes cut entirely after filming, pushed back to the third film in the franchise. She admitted to being “bummed” at the time, before adding, “I am a firm believer in everything happening for a specific reason.” A masterclass in how to handle a PR crisis.
The Fault in Our Stars
A marked departure from Spider-man’s love interest, Shailene’s next move was cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster – the lead role in the hyped adaptation of John Green’s bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars. A self-titled “grenade”, Hazel attends a cancer support session and meets dishy Gus (Ansel Elgort) and romance ensues… Think She’s All That meets A Walk to Remember. Boy meets girl (but with added tears and tissues).
The role that’s already made her a star, Divergent sees Shailene enter the bleak dystopian territory that first brought Jennifer Lawrence to our attention. As fearless Tris she demonstrates the sort of female empowerment that puts teenage bums on cinema seats – and her dishy co-star and on-screen love interest, Theo James, only serves to heighten the hype behind the latest challenger to the Hunger Games crown. While reviews have been lukewarm, the momentum is inevitable as Divergent looks on course to reign the global box office for weeks to come.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news