“To me, the F-word is ‘famous,’ and the C-word is ‘celebrity,’” Shailene Woodley says. “I hate those words with a passion.” She might try getting used to them: The 20-year-old actress is poised to break out in November in The Descendants—an adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’s acclaimed novel, directed by Academy Award–winner Alexander Payne and starring George Clooney. Woodley plays Alexandra, the troubled, dagger-sharp daughter of Clooney’s Matt King, a magnate struggling to keep his family together following a boating accident. Woodley’s long-limbed charisma brings to mind the young Julia Roberts, yet her beauty belies an intensity all her own. “Shai’s fearless—and very intuitive,” Payne says. Despite her youth, Woodley is an industry veteran, discovered at age five via acting classes in suburban Los Angeles. “An agent called, and my mom was like, ‘What’s an agent?’” she says with a laugh. Soon she was landing parts on The O.C. and CSI: NY, and at 15 she scored the lead as a pregnant high schooler in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Though The Descendants is Woodley’s first major movie, she’s taking her success in stride. “I’m not a good actor, just a professional listener,” she says. “You don’t have to cry because the script says so; you’ll cry if you believe it.”
Photography by Robert Maxwell. Styled by Neil Rodgers.