It’s always fun when as a blogger I get to talk to some of the talents involved in a movie. I think it’s especially awesome when I get to chat with an author of a best-selling series like Divergent. As part of the press tour nationwide, author Veronica Roth and cast member Ansel Elgort (who played Caleb Prior, Shailene Woodley’s brother in the movie) walked down the red carpet and greeted a throng of fans at Mall of America theaters. I only went to the screening right after that, but here are some pics from the festivities, courtesy of Zimbio:
Now, I haven’t got a chance to read any of the books before I saw the movie but I did go to the screening the night before the interview and I really dug it. It has similarities to Hunger Games in terms of having a strong female protagonist and that the story would appeal to adults as well as the targeted demographic of young adults. Yet I do think the story is quite different and a pretty compelling one too I might add. I’ve come to like Shailene Woodley a lot more after this (I’ve only seen her in The Descendants). I’ll definitely check out her next movie The Fault of Our Stars out this Summer, which also stars Elgort as Woodle’s love interest.
In case you haven’t read the books, here’s the plot of Divergent: The story takes place in the city of Chicago in the near future. The city is divided into 5 factions: Abnegation, meant for the selfless; Amity, meant for the peaceful; Candor, meant for the honest; Dauntless, meant for the brave; and Erudite, meant for the knowledgeable. On a given day each year, all 16-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them for which faction they are best suited. After receiving the results of their test, they must decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction.
Thanks ALLIED for co-ordinating the interview roundup. There are six interviewers in the roundtable so below are all the questions, I marked MY questions with an (*) in front of it.
Here’s the transcript from the interview:
Q (for Veronica): I work with 8th-graders and quite a few of them are into the books and the movie. What can kids like Tris who feels that they’re outsiders can take away from this?
Veronica: Gosh, I mean I’m a little afraid of messages, especially for young people. I just hope that the book entertains but also provokes questions that I hope they can find their own answers to them. But as far as kids who don’t fit in, I feel that what Tris ultimately learns is even though she can’t fulfill the expectations of her society, she can find belonging with people that she loves who can take care of her and whom she loves. That’s sort of the *message* that she embraces, which is that love and loyalties are more important than other categories.
Q (for Ansel): Do you have a favorite scene to shoot and why it’s your favorite?
Ansel: Well I have to mention two scenes for two different reasons. I’ve never done an action film before or something that had action in it, so chasing after the train and jumping off to it was pretty cool. Just ’cause like I’ve never done that kind of thing but now I got to do it for my job for the day. And the other one is the scene inside the Abnegation house as it was shot inside this gigantic studio and when you walk in, there’s this little house that’s so detailed, the floors are made out of this mosaic, wood tiles, I’ve never seen anything like it. The lights are like this [pointing to the bulb in the meeting room at Graves Hotel] except without the shade so it’s just the Abnegation-style light bulb and we did this scene, which was like the last supper before we leave our faction, it’s a pretty significant scene for my character and for Beatrice, too. I was in the kitchen, cleaning up and I say y’know, ‘Don’t forget, think about yourself tomorrow.’ So I enjoyed doing that scene… it was a nice scene to do.
[At this point Veronica turned to Ansel and said, ‘That was a good scene,’ as if to compliment him]
Q (for both Veronica and Ansel): Presuming that both of you are divergents, which category would you choose for yourself?
Veronica: That is a great question because everyone always asks which factions, and it’s like ‘no, no one should be in a faction!’ Everyone has multiple aptitudes. [turns to Ansel, do you know? Do you have yours? You can answer this as I have to think about this]
Ansel: I always answer this the same way, everyone has divergent, I think a little bit, so I don’t think anyone should have to choose. Like yesterday I said that I would be Amity, but sometimes I would want to be in Dauntless, it’s always changing. I’m not even 16, I’m 19, obviously I don’t know where I should go for the rest of my life, let alone a 16-year-old. That’s why it’s a super flawed system.
Veronica: [turning to Ansel] It doesn’t change when you turn 25 either. Hmmm, aptitudes. Well, if I had to pick them, I don’t know, I feel like I’d sound like a jerk if I say, ‘well let me tell you my strength’ … I’m all of them … some more than others probably. [She then starts to mention all the factions slowly one by one] A little like Tris in that way but not in most other ways.
*Q (for Veronica): How much input did you have going into this, and how open was the studio/director to your suggestions?
Veronica: From the get-go, we have a very friendly relationship and part of that is I think that… the second the book came out, I kind of let it go. I think it belongs to the readers so much more than it belongs to me now. I mean I’ve always wanted it in a particular way, but everyone gets to interpret it in their own way and form their own opinion, so I already let it go repeatedly over and over again, even before it got to me. So I really trusted them for their respect for it and their enthusiasm for it, so I just said, ‘ok guys do what you do best.’ So I think that creates a good dynamic, like a mutual trust kind of thing, I was really open every time [director] Neil Burger or screenwriter Evan Daugherty came to me with questions. I talked to Neil throughout the process of making the movie. As far as control, I don’t even think that came up, that wasn’t an issue as I was writing my third book and that was what I wanted to be doing, so yeah.
Q (for Veronica): I’m curious about writing about kind of your own dystopian fantasy. What’s it like seeing in the film that it was projected on your hometown [Chicago]?
Veronica: It was incredibly meaningful I think. I was so proud, when they were shooting, all the jobs that was created in the area, it was the most beautiful parts of the process for me in to know that you’ve contributed in some small ways for people getting work is really wonderful. And to see Chicago on the screen. I mean movies are shot in Chicago sometimes, but they’re rarely supposed to be in Chicago, they’ll be like Gotham … so to have it be Chicago, I mean dystopian Chicago is also incredibly cool so people can see how beautiful my city is.
Q (for Veronica): What are you working on next?
Veronica: I have these four stories written from Four’s perspective, there are four of them actually. It’s coming out in July, it’s in a collection called Four. Three of them takes place before Divergent chronologically, but the fourth one sort of overlaps significantly, which was really fun ’cause it’s like writing a little love story backwards, so that’s gonna be out in July so I’m just finishing up. I don’t know what the future holds, maybe a nap …
[turns to Ansel] You need a nap too, you’ve had a very busy year. A long nap
Ansel: A long nap …
Q (for Ansel): Are you working on your next film?
Ansel: Yeah. Never mind, we don’t get a nap as we have to go to the next movie. We’ll do Insurgent in May or June. That’s the hope, You never know, I mean you really don’t know, but I’m gonna be optimistic. I saw the movie and it’s good, right… you guys saw it, and it’s not like a bad movie at all, it’s a good movie… I mean if the movie sucks I’d be like, I don’t know, but they’re gonna make another one as it’s a good movie … It doesn’t have to be the biggest movie of the year, it just have to do well and I think it will.
Q: What’s it like to be successful at such a young age?
Ansel: Oh I don’t know. I haven’t got time to think about ‘oh I’m successful now’ yet. It sort of happened in the last year. Ah yeah, I guess I’m successful, it’s nice [laughter] I worked really hard. I went to an acting high school, acting middle school and I never wasn’t in a show for like 9 years of my life. And just, after school programs, Summer camps, whatever. And suddenly it sort of turned to be in real movies and stuff. Carrie [the 2013 remake] was the first one like I’ve been in anything with a camera in it, it was insane.
Veronica: [To Ansel] You said you worked really hard. But you’re also very lucky. Because to say that ‘Oh I worked hard and so I earned it or whatever’ is kind of lame because there are so many very, very talented people who worked very, very hard for a very long time and it just doesn’t happen. The timing of it I think is a big part of it, so I feel very fortunate. And also know that I have to work harder every day to become a better writer, because to say that you peak at your writing skills at 25, that’s kind of sad. So my goals is just to improve.
Ansel: I think luck is when opportunity meets preparation.
Veronica: Oh, nice. Whose quote is that?
Ansel: Not mine, I tell you that. Someone else told me that but now it’s mine [laughter]
Q (for Veronica): Out of all the human characteristics in the world, how did you choose the five of that you choose to represent the factions?
Veronica: Because they’re very personal to me. I think um, because a lot of it was writing this series was examining my own tendencies, which y’know, I, like a lot of people, categorize other people easily. And I think when we find those categories, you find it easier to dismiss people. So writing the books was a little bit, it was deeply convicting for me to examine my own tendencies to do that. So when I was creating the system, that’s kind of how I thought of it as very personal, which qualities that I think would form like a functional society, but also tackle most of the areas that I think are deeply problematic in human nature. So Dauntless was first, Candor was last. That’s why Candor was a little bit like, ‘What did I do again?’ [laughter] Now I know what Candor does, but in the first book I was like ‘Hmmm, hmmm…’ But yeah, that’s how I chose those factions.
Q (for Ansel): Can you talk a little bit about “Ansolo”?
[Per Wikipedia, Ansel started a soundcloud account and a facebook account a while ago with the name of “Ansolo”, the alter-ego that he uses for DJ and producer of House/Dance Music. He does remix of popular songs like Lana Del Rey´s Born to Die. He plays has a DJ in times in different clubs. Check out his music on Soundcloud]
Ansel: Yeah, yeah, y’know, the last thing that I write was like 6 months ago, but now I have about 4-5 original records that are releasing. I’ve signed with a top agent too for music, it’s going really well. That’s the thing… I don’t want to just be an actor my whole life. I mean I do want to be an actor my whole life but not only an actor, I want to be an artist. Before acting I was really into painting miniatures, when I was a kid I told my mom I wanted to be a miniature painter and she’s like, ‘that sounds good.’ I’m lucky that I have supportive parents and they’ve supported me in anything I want to do. Right now music is what I spend a lot lot lot of time on… specifically on dance music. Before dance music, I was just writing music on the piano and singing, like John Legend kind of like soul music. Then my friend showed me electronic dance music, and how you can produce music on a computer. It’s like our generation’s music and I was so into it and now I do it non-stop. My record should be coming out in about a month in a UK label, I’m excited to announce it and it’s gonna be cool. And yeah, all originals.
*Q (for Ansel): You’ve played Shailene Woodley’s brother in Divergent, but in your next one, you’ll be playing her love interest in The Fault of Our Stars. How’s the transition going, as you’re doing that in the same year, with the same co-star?
Ansel: It’s great. I took that as a huge, huge compliment. I mean of course there are people who aren’t actors, even people at the studio who I know were a little hesitant to cast me. But the fact that they put me with Shailene Woodley in two movies in a row. And I think Shailene is one of the best young actresses around right now, is a huge compliment to me. I was like ‘Damn that’s crazy, and of course I want to be in both movies.’ The fact that they overlooked that is great. But it should be overlooked. I mean Miles Teller was just in a movie with Shailene where they played lovers [in The Spectacular Now] and here [in Divergent] he’s Peter, who’s not exactly Shailene’s love interest in this movie. So that’s part of acting. I think back to in high school, for four years you’re with the same ensemble of actors playing Shakespeare, musical theater and all this different things, so it’s kind of cool that in the actual industry that I feel like I have this acting ensemble with Shailene and we’re really good friends, I hope that I’ll do ten movies with her before I die, y’know.
Q (Caleb): One of the more interesting things in the film is when Tris came to see Caleb and Caleb turned his back on her. Now, I was wondering about the motivation for Caleb, was he strong in his conviction or did he do it out of fear?
Ansel: No I think he was strong in his conviction at that point. I think in Abnegation in the beginning of the story, when Beatrice didn’t help the [faction-less] woman with the bags, he said, ‘What’s your problem?’ He plays by the rules, he’s a model citizen in any system he lives in. He leaves Abnegation because he wants to know more. But once he’s in Erudite, he’s proud to be there and he’s excited, he definitely believes in ‘Faction before Blood,’ He’s systematic and he goes with that, it’s pretty straight forward.
Veronica: I think it’s very logical, his Abnegation side. Ok I will follow the rules, it’s like what you’re supposed to do, I’m going to do it.
Ansel: There’s a woman with the bags, I go help her. That’s why he’s a lawyer in Erudite to begin with. [When Beatrice] says, ‘Our parents are in trouble, they’re gonna take over Abnegation’ And I said, ‘I know, I know they’re up to something, we should take over, Erudite should be in charge.’ Yeah I think it’s tough moment, you have to get yourself in that mindset, it’s a turning point in their relationship where she realizes there will be ‘faction before blood.’ It foreshadows what’s going to happen in the future.
Q (for Ansel): When you did your research for this book, did you talk to Veronica and say hey, this is what I see…
Ansel: No, we didn’t talk. I mean, now that we’re on a press tour together we talk about Caleb. It’s very beneficial to have the author, the creator of the character to be able to talk to you. But I did most of the figuring out for myself, and with Neil, because a lot of the times, the writer isn’t even on set. Or they give away, they sell the rights of the book and they’re off, they’re not part of the process at all.
Veronica: I was there.
Ansel: Yeah she was there.
Veronica: Pretty frequently, but for some reason less when Ansel was around.
Ansel: We almost never ran into each other, that’s why we didn’t talk. Otherwise we definitely would have as the talk we have was very beneficial.
Veronica: When I was on set, I’d just sit there and watch. If anyone had questions then I’d try to answer them It’s the actor’s job to breath life into the characters and to interpret them even if it’s different from the way I’d interpret them, because the character is theirs, in a way. So for me, it’s important for me to let them do their work, just like I would want someone to let me do what I do best. You know, so that’s kind of my policy. Besides, you have the source material. You have everything I think about Caleb, it’s right there. I don’t have much to add, well except for the series. But then we talked, so I hopefully I wasn’t imposing too much artistic license.
Ansel: Oh no, no.
And that’s a wrap! 😀
The interview was only 20-min long so that was the last question.
Both Veronica and Ansel were sweet and gracious during the interview. I’m impressed and inspired by Veronica’s grace, intelligence and humility in her answers, she’s got such an affable personality that you can’t help but root for her. I’m thrilled for her success and hope she’d continue to write great stuff in the future!
My three dear nieces are big fans of the series, so thank you Veronica for signing the book for them! 😀
Hope you enjoy the interview! If you’ve got any comments about the Q&A, do share ’em below!