The Divergent Series: Insurgent follows the events of Divergent. In it Shailene Woodley and Theo James reprise their respective characters, Tris and Four, who are now running from Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite faction, who nearly accomplished the mass execution of the entire Abnegation faction. The two try to figure out what Abnegation sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. As they continue to run, Tris faces one impossible challenge after another as she unlocks the truth about the past and ultimately the future of her world.
We had a chance to sit down at the film’s press conference where we talked to Theo James, Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, and Todd Lieberman about the film, the training process, how their lives has changed since the first film, if their personal family upbringing mirrors that of their characters, and the need to see more strong female characters as well as seeing both strong female and male characters in one film. Hit the jump for more.
Change in tone and in physicality since Robert came on board as director, what difference was there for you in terms of amping up all of that?
Theo James: Second movie around, you’ve already set up some of the key storyline elements. So we had to luxury of jumping straight into it without exploring the characters and introducing them again. Also the energy is inheritly different, which is good, as much as we like Neil Burger, it’s always nice to add something different like new actors and new producers, it always helps to mix it up. So we had a bit more money, so that always helps.
Ansel Elgort: But at the same time though what is really cool about Robert, with no discredit to Neil, I remember the first day on set, Robert sat down with me in a room for about 20 minutes, and we just talked about my character’s arc throughout the whole story. And he’s like, “We’re going to keep having these conversations because I don’t want to lose the character in parts where he is not in it. Because it is an important arc.” And I have a feeling he felt that way with everyone’s character. At the same time he was being an action director, to me, he was also an actor’s director.
Theo, can you tell us what you like about the relationship between Four and Tris?
James: They have mutual respect for each other. I think this movie is different from the first in a sense that the first Shailene is playing catch up because she is introduced in a world, and four you don’t know where is coming from, he’s a little bit elusive. Whereas in this movie, he is almost trying to quell her revenge for the death of her parents. So I think the relationship is different in a sense that they, I think that they have a mutual respect for each other. Her femininity does not detract from his masculinity, and the other way around. She is still a very strong female lead character, but she is also feminine at the same time.
Was your training any different in this film than it was the last one? Jai you seem to do a lot of running.
Jai Courtney: The second unit, which takes a lot of control over the larger action sequences, was much larger on this. Whether it was budget or creative vision, it was one up this time. When we did Divergent, some people referenced it was an action film, I rejected that a little, but this movie is. It’s not to say this movie the story abandons where it is rooted, but it is fast-paced and pretty electrifying.
How have your lives changed since the release of the first movie?
Elgort: I think all our lives have changed a lot. Now everyday people when I am on the street people ask for pictures which I think is weird. But it is really nice to be recognized for your work because most actors don’t have the opportunity to be seen, so I am really grateful.
Theo, what was it like to work with Naomi Watts?
James: I was really excited to work with her, because she is a great actress and has done some phonemail work. She is really interesting in this film because she has a different energy. She is very calculating but she has a warmth, a kind of gentleness that almost juxtaposes what her real ambition is. It was kind of nice in a way because it puts you on the back foot. She’s not staring you down in an abrasive way, it’s very lulling and sweet, but at the same time I think those elements lended very well to her character.
Ansel, are you a little upset that you missed out on the action or are you happy with your character?
Elgort: I’m glad you asked this. Even while I watch the movie, I think Jai, is a bad ass. But Caleb is definitely not bad ass, he is not Dauntless. The reason he leaves Tris and Four, and goes back to Erudite is because he knows he is not cut out for this and that he will die. So it was definitely a conscious choice of mine to make sure Caleb – because I am a physical guy, I play basketball, and go rock climbing, but Caleb definitely isn’t. So when you watch the film you see that Caleb can’t run, he can’t even keep up with Four and Tris, to tell you the truth its something he never really did. And I wanted to make sure and make a conscious decision to be specific with that. Not everyone is a superhero. Not everyone is an action hero. I think Caleb represents the intellectual, and I think he represents someone who doesn’t run away, and I think that’s why he decides to leave them.
Ansel is it strange for you to be lovers with Shailene Woodley in The Faults in our Stars but then brother and sister in The Divergent Series?
Elgort: I’m so excited, because last time at the press junket, that was the only question I got asked, so you kicked it off. So yeah, it was definitely really weird, I don’t know how we did it, but we pulled it off some how. We’re really happy it worked.
James: You were in a kissing scene at one point right?
Elgort: Yeah, I had asked Theo if I could stand in. He wasn’t feeling well, and I told him I’ve done it before. They guys who do the visual effects in the film are good, so they could have easily changed our bodies.
There are strong themes of family in this film, did you draw from your own families as inspiration for your role?
James: No. Not directly in a sense, especially Four, he doesn’t have a great relationship with his parents. Luckily I have two good parents. That was one thing that needed to be addressed, because it is kind of the same. He is estranged from both parents, I didn’t want it to be a repeat of the same beat with his father. In terms of drawing from family, I think the importance of family is tantamount, and for me it is a big thing.
Elgort: For me I have a great loving mother and father, sort like how Caleb has a great mother and father. It was just about feeling betrayed at a point where you can feel you can trust them. My character felt betrayed by his parents. They were hiding this thing underneath their house the whole time, and it could have ended the bloodshed that was happening, and it could have ended if they had given the box to Jeanine. I felt that my parents are the type of people who would make that decision, because Caleb doesn’t know beyond that, he thinks that there is nothing wrong with giving up the box. I think there was a reason why they were protecting it, but Caleb totally feels betrayed by his parents. For me, I trust them, and if I was betrayed I’d be very hurt, upset, and probably be numbed by that.
Shailene tends to be an open book at times, but what is the one thing you have learned about her during the course of working with her that you know about her that no one else does?
Elgort: I think what most people don’t know is that Shaliene is an open book but at the same time she is a very complex person. I think most of the stuff she wants to let you know about her, she tells you, and that’s cool. But then the stuff she needs to keep to herself, she keeps private. That’s the same with all of us.
How important is it that we start to see strong females in films?
James: It is extremely important, even more so now that you have Octavia [Spencer], Naomi, and Shae, and Kate [Winslet] of course. The central story is about Tris, it is about her journey and ascension, and her emotionality and her ability to forgive. The great thing about this is that you have a character at the center of the film, who is a superhero in a kind of way in terms of she is very powerful, but at the same time she isn’t afraid to be scared or fearful or feminine, and all those features. On top of that you have these great and strong leading performances from other women too. I don’t think it detracts from the men. I think the men and the women are very much equal, and I think that is quite refreshing in itself.
Insurgent opens in theaters on March 20.