a novel about celebrity and our obsession with it, by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Hugs from Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley

The whole thing for me—with life—is truth. —Shailene Woodley

It’s no secret that Hollywood is full of spoiled brats who have more attitude than talent, and who throw away whatever breaks they get with foolish choices while blaming everyone else. The list is so big I won’t even bother to give examples.

That’s what makes Shailene Woodley so refreshing.

I first saw her in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants two years ago, a really fine, underrated film, the small-scale sort that Hollywood barely makes anymore. And what impressed me the most was that this relatively unknown teenager (actually she was 20 at the time) stole the show from the large list of far more accomplished thespians. And she seemed to do it without even trying.

I hadn’t seen—and still, I admit, haven’t seen—her now-ended ABC television show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Although no stranger to fame—she’s been in the business since six—when she found herself in a hiatus on the show she took a job at a clothing store in New York, she says, just to do something different and normal. (Similarly, Welsey Shaw starts hanging out in an ordinary Starbucks for much the same reason, but with psychologically-complex Welsey it’s a little more complicated.) But she quickly got a call from Payne about auditioning for the role in The Descendants.

She was all I could talk about after seeing that film. I thought I had witnessed a fresh, new talent, totally natural, managing a very nuanced and gradual transition in the film, from brat to sensitive young woman. And I blogged about my dismay that she decided, as so many actresses do after one legit role, to turn to spandex action flicks.  Her entire part ended up cut from that film, for reasons of time and structure, and honestly, forgive me Shailene, but I was glad. Scarlett Johansson, Ellen Page, Kate Beckinsale, Kate Winslet, Anna Kendrick, Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, and so many others have gone the superhero(ine) franchise route. Do something real. Do something different. You’re too good to hang from wires in front of a green screen.

“We’ve got a set amount of time in our lives, you know. You might as well make every conversation count. So that’s like the hug. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I’m real. You’re real. Let’s connect.'”

But what makes Shailene—who’s just 22—so refreshing is how level-headed she is. She’s been in front of cameras all her life, is technically a Valley Girl, had to deal with the divorce of her parents when she was just fifteen, has had some crushing emotional ups and downs. Yet she seems to have grown up well-adjusted, philosophical (her reaction to finding herself cut from Spiderman 2: “It made sense in terms of the story, ultimately”) and without that attitude of entitlement that many say can’t be helped of anyone who becomes famous young. Lindsay Lohan and you other troubled divas, take note. There is another way, a better way.

She doesn’t watch TV (despite having been in a critically lauded TV show) and doesn’t do the whole smartphone thing, saying the way to make friends is face-to-face, something Entertaining Welsey Shaw is all about too. Shailene’s a bit of an earth-mother, a free-spirit who seems to feel you can be free without hardcore drugs or causing a scene in a New York or LA nightclub that requires the intervention of police. Her lifestyle is full-blown 60s (minus the drugs) in the 80s, but she means it. She’s not the type of celebrity who preaches saving the earth while her stretch limo idles outside. Instead for tinsel glam she opts for the tranquility of yoga, which she says she does in the shower…

“There’s something about that primal state of being naked in a yoga pose.”

She hugs everyone she meets, saying handshakes are impersonal, treats everyone the same, as if they were her oldest friend, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it may cost her some brownie points in Hollywood’s conformist community. (She has no hesitation saying the Twilight books and movies are bad behavioral examples for today’s young teens, for example.) She has stated she loves both males and females, saying the gender is less important than who’s inside of it. Although she had a steady boyfriend once, someone older than she who friends apparently tried to warn her was “manipulative,” she now steers clear of monogamous relationships and is happily single, often traveling to far-away places alone. I get the feeling she is not spouting off prepared answers from a press agent when she talks but is finding herself, and admits she will make some mistakes along the way. And I love her for it.

Now, post-Spiderman, Shailene (‘Shey-leen, not ‘Shy-leen, btw) is in another franchise film, Divergent. But she’s also coming out in the highly-anticipated The Fault in Our Stars, and this film hits the screens in June, in the summer months more typically reserved for the aforementioned spandex flicks. On the minus side, last summer she came out in the critically-acclaimed The Spectacular Now, which played in about two theaters nationwide before going to home video. Then she appeared in another indie film, White Bird in a Blizzard, which suffered the same fate. I can hardly blame her for wanting to grab some of that Jennifer Lawrence/Hunger Games excitement. And as the soft reviews for far for this flick have shown, it’s hard hard hard to find good parts nowadays. Especially if you’re female.

I wish Shailene the best of luck and hope her star burns bright for many years to come. I think she has gobs of talent and maturity beyond her years, and maybe someday I’ll even be lucky enough to get a hug from her. Hollywood needs more Shailenes—and better movies for them to act in.

“I don’t pay any attention to the fan thing, because I think it’s a very strange culture nowadays. People have always been fans of people, but I can’t relate to any of these girls or boys who scream … It’s idolizing someone you don’t know. None of these people know me.”

Welsey Shaw couldn’t have said it any better.

Read a new interview with Shailene here. And see her sporting a chic new short ‘do in a late night interview here.


3 responses

  1. I loved her in the Descendants, too! “Refreshing” is the perfect word for her.


    March 21, 2014 at 4:34 am

  2. Interesting . . . I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t even heard of Shailene Woodley. Love her quote at the top. So few people today, let alone celebrities, even seem to admit the existence of truth, let alone strive for it in life as the highest end. Her face alone appears a testament to what you have written about her. Very open and friendly-looking. Not the look-at-me-I’m-important sneers one would see the typical Hollywood actor flash.

    Glad you mentioned Alexander Payne, too. I have The Descendants on my list of movies to see (yeah, I know I’m way behind the times). I don’t like George Clooney, but thus far I’ve quite liked Payne and have seen and reviewed both SIdeways and Election. The thing I’ve been really liking about Payne’s films is their unpredictability and well-written, sometimes acid and sardonic, scripts (Election was a hoot). Frankly, he’s one of the very few more modern directors I’ve really liked.


    March 21, 2014 at 6:56 am

    • > Frankly, he’s one of the very few more
      > modern directors I’ve really liked.

      What, not Jason Reitman? ;-P

      Here’s a great scene with Shailene from The Descendants:

      And here’s her wonderful movie The Spectacular Now, which sadly, gained no traction and was barely released to theaters. It’s now on video:


      March 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm

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