Shailene Woodley landed her first acting job back in 2001 at the age of 10. She went from small TV roles to the lead of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and eventually pivoted to becoming a major film star in movies including The Fault in Our Stars, The Descendants, and Divergent. None of this, however, was in Woodley’s life plan.
Speaking with Porter magazine, Woodley opened up about her career, revealing that she nearly left acting for good before agreeing to appear on HBO’s now critically acclaimed show Big Little Lies because she “never wanted this industry to get in the way of my life.”
Woodley called the last of the Divergent films, 2016’s Allegiant, “a hard experience for everyone,” adding that the experience led her to realize she needed “human experiences outside of this industry and fall in love with acting again.” Before working on Big Little Lies, Woodley says she “had hit a wall with acting” and asked her agents not to send any more scripts. “The idea of magazines, press lines, red carpets, and fashion — all of that was so overwhelming that I stayed away from it all,” she said. “I can’t half-ass anything, so when it came to me having to look a certain way or speak a certain way for this image I was meant to create, it turned me off…I didn’t want to be a mannequin for someone to dress up and throw on a red carpet.”
So for nearly a year, the 26-year-old avoided Hollywood and focused on political and activist work until her agents insisted she give the script for a new show called Big Little Lies a chance. The tipping point was when Laura Dern, who was already on board for the show and whom Woodley had worked with on The Fault in Our Stars, called her to insist she give the script a chance. “That was really the push,” she said, and once she read the script, she says, she absolutely “fell in love” with the series.
On Big Little Lies, Woodley works with a powerhouse cast of women, including Reese Witherspoon, Dern, Nicole Kidman, and Zoë Kravitz. The show has been praised for its powerful and nuanced depiction of domestic violence. Her experience on the show, she says, brought joy back to her career, adding that she will be returning to the cast for the show’s second season, which will premiere in 2019. “I have the best job in the world,” she said. “I could cry talking about it.”