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Catching up with Shailene Woodley:
‘The Descendants’ star talks behind-the-scenes of film

By Michelle Tennis
Shailene Woodley may be most widely recognized portraying Amy Juergens on the ABC television series of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” But that recognition is quickly evolving as Woodley currently stars alongside George Clooney in Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants.”

She recently took time out of her busy schedule to talk about her experiences during filming.THE DESCENDANTS Shailene Woodley with Michelle Tennis

Written, directed and produced by Alexander Payne, “The Descendants,” is set in Hawaii and follows the unpredictable journey of an American family at a crossroads.  Matt King (Clooney), a husband and father of two girls, must re-examine his past and navigate his future when his wife is in a boating accident off Waikiki.  He awkwardly attempts to repair his relationship with his daughters - 10 year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17 year-old Alexandra (Woodley) - while wrestling with a decision to sell his family‘s land. Handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries, the Kings own some of the last priceless virgin parcels of tropical beach in the islands.

Woodley said “The Descendants” has a little something for everyone.
“It deals with death, someone in the hospital, dysfunctional/disconnected families… a lot of people have big decisions in life to make that they know will affect future generations” she said.

In the film, Woodley portrays the feisty and free-spirited teenage daughter of Matt King who worries she takes after the mother she is angry with. Although she said she was not a particularly rebellious teen, she did recall a time when she went through a similar series of emotions as her character.

“I think every teenager goes through that angsty period,” she said. “Whether you want to admit it or not. I was about 14 when I thought I knew everything and thought that my parents were the most ridiculous people on the planet. That nobody could tell me something that I didn’t already know. That was short-lived when I realized that the world is really big.”

The film is an experience that bears no regrets for this young rising star.

“I wouldn’t change anything because it was such a flawless experience,” Woodley said. “I think the reason why it was such an amazing environment was because everyone was so comfortable and grateful to make this beautiful piece of art. We literally became family. It was one big ‘ohana’ [family in Hawaiian].”

Although Woodley made many lasting connections while making the film, she felt she learned quite a bit from both Alexander Payne and George Clooney.

Shailene Woodley with George Clooney“He [Alexander] is one of my Top 5 favorite human beings,” Woodley said. “He is so majestic in my mind. I think the world of him as a person. I learned from both him and George [Clooney] how to be a better person. Alexander is such a calm man and he’s so confident without being pretentious. He appreciates feedback. I’m very bad at taking compliments and he’s very good at it, but in a humble way. It’s rare to see someone take a big plethora of compliments and formulate it in a very humble and down-to-earth way.”

Woodley added Payne is also, much like her, connected to nature and environmentalism.“We just connected on a very personal level,” she said. “He’s amazing.”

Besides seeing the movie, Woodley also recommends reading the book. It also helped her prepare for her role.
“It’s such a good book,” she said. “A lot of the best lines from the film are from the book. She’s [Kaui Hart Hemmings] really a brilliant writer. The book is around 250 pages and the script is 100 pages. For me, the book filled in the blanks. So I got a little back history on the family without having to make it up.”

“The Descendants” is now showing. Check local listings for showtimes.

Michelle Tennis, social media manager and feature writer for, can be reached at or follow her on twitter @CinemaCLIPS. 

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