The first day of Comic-Con has arrived, and fans are already anxiously queuing outside the San Diego Convention Center for the Ender’s Game and Divergent panels, both of which promise exclusive footage from the young-adult-novel adaptations that some are calling “the next Hunger Games.” Despite the palpable excitement surrounding the films, and their career-boosting potential, Divergent star Shailene Woodley tells us that she initially balked at the idea of starring in Neil Burger’s adaptation of Veronica Roth’s best-selling novel, for which a sequel is already planned.
When we spoke with Woodley at Comic-Con, mere hours after she arrived from the film’s dystopian Chicago set, she explained her reservations.
“I was nervous because I had just gotten out of a five-year series, which was a six-year contract,” Woodley explained, referring to the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, to which she was contractually bound, even after earning a Golden Globe nomination for her breakout role in The Descendants, the Oscar-nominated 2011 drama co-starring George Clooney. “I sort of learned my lesson about signing into things for a long period of time,” she told us. “The thought of signing a four-year contract was very daunting, and doing a huge franchise movie that has the potential to be very successful was frightening to me. I never wanted that amount of attention, and the thought of losing my anonymity was not something that I was looking forward to.”
To make her decision, Woodley explained, she consulted with many of her respected peers, including The Descendants’ director, Alexander Payne, and perhaps the only person who could truthfully advise her on the experience of a Hunger Games–type stardom: Jennifer Lawrence.
“I have still yet to meet Jennifer in the flesh, but I had a slight interaction with her where I asked her about Hunger Games and what it was like, and her life and how much it has changed. It was nice asking someone who has been through the process and is kind of seasoned in the young-adult franchise,” Woodley said. “She gave me really beautiful advice and said that I should definitely take it.”
Among the charming Oscar winner’s words of wisdom: “It will be the best thing that ever happened. But don’t be an idiot, do a sex tape, do drugs. And go to Whole Foods when your movie opens.”
When we mentioned that joining the Hunger Games franchise seemed to work out for Lawrence, or at least not hold her back—she won her first Academy Award earlier this year, for Silver Linings Playbook—Woodley voiced her admiration for the star and potential role model: “She’s a badass. She’s amazing.”
She continued, “In addition to her advice, I kind of came to the conclusion that there is a lot of beauty that can come of something like this, and if it’s successful, there are a lot of great things that you can do with that kind of attention.”
In Divergent, Woodley stars as a teenager trying to break out of her futuristic, homogeneous society, which divides people based on their personality traits. During her break, she joins a competing group and falls for an older man.
Divergent is scheduled for release on March 21, 2014. The film’s trailer will be unveiled later today at Comic-Con inside Hall H.