In the next few months, you’re going to hear a lot about the actress Shailene Woodley. She is about to begin a reign as a teen queen at the box office. The first wave will come with a movie out on August 2, based on a YA bestseller called The Spectacular Now, where she plays the nerd girl to Miles Teller’s bro-coming-of-age, that netted both its stars a Special Jury Prize at Sundance. She was just at Comic-Con because she’s filming the big-screen adaptation of the YA series Divergent, a Hunger Games rip-off that has a few tricks of its own up its sleeve. And finally, she was recently cast as Hazel in the adaptation of the bestselling (and truly excellent) John Green novel The Fault in Our Stars.
Heretofore she was probably chiefly known to you as the elder daughter in the good-though-probably-not-really-deserving-of-an-Oscar-nomination The Descendants. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, and is undoubtedly the only former ABC Family star in recent memory to end up that close to an Oscar nomination. (Woodley, for several years, was the star of the weakly scripted but highly rated drama The Secret Life of the American Teenager.) But other than that, until now she hasn’t been subject to the kind of wall-to-wall celebrity coverage that might make adults take notice. In a recent interview with Emma Stone in Interview Magazine, she said that she’s asked about starring with George Clooney in every interview. If all goes according to plan, soon he’ll be telling people about the time he spent with Shailene Woodley, I’d wager.
And yet: she’s not a normal sort of star. Her interviews are always a bit offbeat in a way you don’t generally see from someone like, say, Jennifer Lawrence. Take that Interview interview, for example. It opens with Emma Stone remarking on how amazed she was that Woodley recognized the relatively common household herb thyme growing on her rental building’s roof. Which perhaps just goes to show how far celebrities get from reality. But then you read on, and you learn that Woodley has some unorthodox interests:
I was an environmentalist in high school—or, I guess, a self-proclaimed environmentalist—and I started reading about the food system in America and how it’s owned by all of these corporations. I was on a quest to find out what healthy really meant because people were saying that veganism was healthy or that the Paleo diet was healthy, but I really had no idea. So I started researching indigenous people and what their lifestyles were like because I was fascinated by the fact that they could still run in their eighties and still had amazing muscular and nervous systems, whereas in America now, by the time we get to our thirties, it’s really hard for us to lose weight and maintain a healthy body and composition. So I just started adapting my lifestyle to that of indigenous people, and what I realized is that we’re all indigenous creatures on this planet. The whole concept of re-wilding came about through some really good friends of mine, and it’s basically about adapting to your current situation. If you’re in the city, then you can’t go back to hunter-and-gatherer times, so you have to adapt to the lifestyle that’s out there. Herbalism is part of that, and knowing how to heal our bodies naturally and knowing about organic farming. It’s so important and essential to the Earth, to Gaia.
Yep, you read that right. She said “Gaia.” It takes her just a few more answers to get to mugwort tea. And then she talks about her attempts to not wear makeup to Hollywood events:
It’s important because I saw somebody—what I thought was me—in a magazine once, and I had big red lips that definitely did not belong on my face. I had boobs about three times the size they are in real life. My stomach was completely flat. My skin was also flawless. But the reality is that I do not have those lips and my skin is not flawless and I do have a little bit of a stomach. It was not a proper representation of who I am. I realized that, growing up and looking at magazines, I was comparing myself to images like that—and most of it isn’t real. So (a) I don’t really wear makeup that much anyway, so part of it is just a selfish, lazy thing, and (b) I want to be me. I do think it’s fun sometimes to dress up for the Oscars or for certain events—I get to be like a five-year-old again, wearing my Cinderella dress. But for some events where it’s a more casual vibe, I just want to be me.
There are those who would mock this kind of pseudo-hippie stuff. I don’t entirely count myself one of them, although I admit the Twitter bio did make me grin: “LOVER OF LIFE! gaia is my muse. dedicated to the empowerment of women around the world. re-wilding every step of the way. :))).” But the thing is, there’s something so refreshing about having a new teen star who is prepared to be so thoroughly weird in public. Even someone with as delightful a public persona as Lawrence often strikes me as very carefully earthy, rarely making the kind of misstep that anybody with any kind of personality is prone to. The pressure to conform, among teenage girls, has always been strong, but there was a brief moment in the 1990s, with the rise of riot grrrl and My So-Called Life and even something like Buffy, when the nerds and the weirdos threatened to come to the fore. For the last decade we’ve almost seen a backlash to that in the scrubbed Britney Spearses and Hannah Montanas the big-entertainment flacks handed us. It would be nice to have a star — and role model — who’s willing to go her own way, even when we disagree with her.
It helps that in each of the roles coming up, Woodley promises to play a bit of a freak, too. Her mousey nerd in The Spectacular Now doesn’t wear any makeup, so neither does she. In Divergent, she’s the girl who never fit into the tribe in which she was born. And in The Fault in Our Stars, in a role almost guaranteed to land her an Oscar if played right, her Hazel is both weirdly literary and preternaturally wise, owing to her childhood cancer diagnosis. There are those who say she’ll end up overexposed from so many high-profile flicks in such a short time, but I say: good. It’s time that weird girls got too much time to shine.