Why Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern Took On ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

Rising star talks about taking on the role of Hazel and handling fame.

May 22, 2014, 2:15 PM

May 22, 2014— -- “The Fault in Our Stars” features rising star Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old terminal cancer patient who falls in love with another cancer patient.

Based on John Green’s 2012 novel of the same name, “The Fault in Our Stars,” which will be in theaters on June 6, is a deeply emotional story. Before Woodley signed on for the movie, she was a fan of the book.

“I didn’t want to do this movie so I could be like, ‘look how I can cry as an actor, look what I can do,’” the-22-year-old actress said. “I wanted to do this movie because the book changed my life.”

In the story, Hazel attends a cancer support group where she meets Augustus “Gus” Waters, a chilled-out, dreamy former basketball player who has lost a leg to cancer.

Gus is played by another up-and-comer, Ansel Elgort, who, like Woodley, starred in this year’s sci-fi thriller, “Divergent.”

Hazel and Gus’ post-adolescent ironic detachment quickly succumbs to the earnestness of young love, even as they are besieged by mortality and the audience is besieged by the desperate need for a tissue.

“This movie is incredibly sad and incredibly heartbreaking, but it’s so celebratory,” Woodley said. “It celebrates life.”

Laura Dern, who was cast as Hazel’s indomitable mother, also read the book, which has now sold 10 million copies. Dern was drawn in by how compelling Hazel is in the first-person narrative.

“You can’t help but fall in love with her, but you can also relate to her longing for love, to feeling, as she says, that she’s a grenade and her job is to protect everybody else from her so they don’t get hurt,” Dern said.

In taking on the role of Mrs. Lancaster, Dern said she wanted to honor Green’s work in her performance.

“I think he captured the voice of a generation and this is not a young adult novel,” she said. “I think it’s as important a book for any adult to read than any in a very long time.”

“The Fault in Our Stars” is a film that dispenses with wizards, tributes and vampires through which teen romance has been depicted onscreen in the 21st century.

“These are teenagers who, yes, they do have cancer, but they’re also going through normal things that normal teenagers are going through,” Woodley said.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Woodley was just 16 when she got her first break, starring on the ABC Family series, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” A string of successes followed. Her big break in feature films started with 2011’s “The Descendants,” in which she played George Clooney’s daughter.

“When Shai started making that movie, [director] Alexander Payne… called me going, ‘You’re not going to believe this girl,” Dern said. “The way she uses her limbs reminds me of you, you talk the same way, you’re so gangly, you guys are so alike.”

Last summer, Woodley sparkled in the indie favorite, “The Spectacular Now,” and earlier this year, she starred in “Divergent,” her first franchise film.

When it comes to choosing a project, Woodley said that she relies on her intuition, and takes on roles that give her “butterflies.”

“When I read a script, I know immediately, intuitively, whether it’s something I want to fight for,” Woodley said.

Dern, who is most well known for her role as Dr. Ellie Sattler in “Jurassic Park,” understands what it is like to survive as a young actress in the spotlight. The “wildest time” of her career, as she puts it, was after appearing in steamy roles in the early 1990s in “Wild at Heart” and “Rambling Rose.”

“I feel protective having started close to the age [Woodley] started,” Dern said. “The directors and writers and fellow actors I worked with, even at a young age, became my other family. And they, like Shai’s acquiring, were fiercely protective supporters.”

Woodley’s fame experience has been a unique one. On the red carpet, she is a woodland sprite in couture, greeting every stranger with a warm hug. Woodley has said she draws her own spring water, makes her own toothpaste and her own medicines. She sunbathes nude for the vitamin D benefits and eats clay. It’s a way-way-back-to-nature lifestyle spurred by her time in Hawaii when filming “The Descendants.”

“I was connected to nature for a long time, but being in Hawaii there’s a different energy there,” she said.

Now, thanks in large part to Dern and Woodley’s performances, “The Fault in Our Stars” and its emotional wallop should leave its mark on moviegoers, while Woodley stands on the brink of what could turn out to be a transformative time for her to step out as Hollywood’s new “It” Girl.

“It’s the year of the horse,” Woodley said, “year of freedom, strength, play, get out there, have fun. Last year was the year of the snake, shedding some stuff. But this year is fun.”

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