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Hollywood, Hawaii, Clooney: Shailene Woodley’s real-life paradise

Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 13:12

Descendants Feature Shailene

Merie Wallace

Unlike most girls her age, Shailene Woodley will be spending her 20th birthday on a red carpet in Los Angeles next to George Clooney.

Best known for her role as Amy Juergens on ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," Woodley has put her TV persona on the back-burner to play Clooney's troubled daughter in "The Descendants."

It's a change of pace that reveals a new direction for her career, to be sure, but the experience impacted her even more personally, Woodley said.

Being on set in Hawaii with director/writer Alexander Payne and legend George Clooney inspired her to become a better person.

"I'm sure that I learned a lot, acting-wise, but I think those are more subconscious notes … things that I can't really verbalize," she said.

Woodley said she was very aware when Payne and Clooney's philanthropic nature rubbed off on her and credits them for making her a better human being.

"Alexander Payne is one of my top five human beings ever and George Clooney is super-human," she said. "They both have so much to give and do give it."

The ever-confident Woodley said she looks at "The Descendants" as one big piece of art rather than a collection of performances. She plays Alexandra, a typical self-absorbed teen that blames her parents for her shortcomings.

For Woodley, it was the raw and human script caught her attention. She said it was rare to find a role for someone in her age demographic that wasn't glamorized.

Alexandra's character lacks an eloquent vocabulary and opts to express herself through as many crude swear words as she can muster in a single breath.

Woodley points out that the only reason the film is rated R is because of the language, which is something most movies would never allow. However, the language feels real. It's disrespectful and rude, but it says a lot about the relationship between Alexandra and her father as she lets the swear words fly. 

When Alexandra's workaholic father Matt (played by Clooney) comes roaring back into her life she has no idea that it is because her mother has taken a turn for the worse. A boating accident leaves her in a coma, and doctors have ordered she be taken off life support.

Alexandra has to set aside her childish ways and not only become a crutch for her father, but a second mother to her little sister Scottie (played by Amara Miller). Her grievance process is all but normal. She has to pretend not to know anything so as to not upset her younger sister, and puts on a façade to comfort her.

Woodley flew out to Hawaii with Clooney three weeks before filming started, and they took field trips around the island to learn about the culture. By the time it came to start production, she was more excited than intimidated to get to work. Woodley spent a total of four months on set and is now ready to call it home.

"I had never been to Hawaii before and it is single-handedly my favorite place on this planet," she said. "I'm hoping to move there as soon as I can. It's magical. There's an energy that I can't quite describe."

Woodley said the movie also showed Hawaii for what it really is; a state that does more than cater to tourists. 

"I think it's the first time you see the real Hawaii in a film, and not just Hawaii but Honolulu – a giant, thriving, industrial city," she said.

As if working in paradise wasn't enough, Woodley said the set had a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere where they played basketball with the locals.

"Every single person on that set was normal. We did not have a single diva or person who stayed in their trailer," she said. "It wasn't like a normal film set. No one got in arguments or fights, and that's really rare not only in this industry but in any profession."

Repeatedly citing Payne's writing and Clooney's advice as a source of inspiration, Woodley said her approach to acting doesn't involve thinking too much about the character or researching the character. She said it is more important to just be very present.

"Especially in this situation," she said. "This screenplay was so beautifully and brilliantly written that there wasn't much else for us to do but listen and let the words naturally evoke emotions because they were so truthful."




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