When Veronica Roth graduated from Northwestern in 2010, she had already written her bestselling novel Divergent and had sold her book to HarperCollins. Roth, now 25, has sold over 10 million copies of her Divergent trilogy so far, and is now looking at her first book-to-movie adaptation. And if the number of teenagers at the movie premiere is any indication of how successful this movie and series will continue to be, prepare to start hearing a lot more about this young Northwestern alum and her even younger heroine.
The story of Divergent focuses on Tris, a 16-year-old girl living in dystopian Chicago where society has been divided into five factions based on human virtues: Abnegation the selfless, Candor the honest, Amity the peaceful, Erudite the intelligent and Dauntless the brave. Tris must take an aptitude test to decide what faction she best fits into. There’s only one problem – the test doesn’t work on her. When Tris discovers a plot to kill all Divergents, she must find out what makes her kind so dangerous – before its too late.
Roth, who was a consultant to the screenplay, loved watching her story come to life.
“I similarly don’t have any ambitions to be screenwriter either so I kind of left it to people who know what they’re doing. But I guess I was open to being a consultant, so they would ask me about the world and I would tell them whatever they needed to know,” Roth said. “Other than that, I think its important to trust the people you decide to work with and kind of let go a little bit because otherwise you’ll go crazy. I think they did a wonderful job, which is very good.”
Set in a futuristic dystopian Chicago, Divergent’s visuals are stunning, including everything from an abandoned Navy Pier ferris wheel to the run-down John Hancock Center. We asked Roth and the cast how they felt about premiering the movie in the city where it takes place, and she admitted to getting a little choked up seeing her home-city during some of the scenes.
"That first big shot of the Sears tower... I got emotional, that’s my city," Roth said.
For those who have not yet read the book, the inner turmoil that comes with making hard decisions, especially for young protagonist Tris, is a recurring theme. An interestingly subdued source of conflict that sometimes proved to be a bit of a challenge for the movie’s filmmakers when translating the book to the screen. Theo James added that during production if they ever came across a scene that didn’t feel right they would often go over the passage. As a result, some scenes in the film feel a little slow. However, the young cast’s chemistry often makes up for the lulls.
Theo James’s Four and Shailene Woodley’s Tris make for a mostly cute, albeit interesting, couple; their couple heavily plays off of the universal truth that young couples are awkward. And although the actors did not really have any running jokes going to keep them loose during filming, their weird humor kept things light.
"No. Well we all have a really perverted sense of humor... him especially," Woodley said while nodding to her co-star James.
Another interesting aspect of the film is Ansel Elgort’s character, Caleb, who seems to be a little distant. He later explained that he barely got to shoot any scenes with Woodley and James, admitting that he’s looking forward to hanging out with them more during the production of the book’s sequel Insurgent.
For actress Shailene Woodley, the book-to-movie adaptation experience was unique, especially because of her character Tris.
"What I found so beautiful and unique about Tris that sort of set her apart from other young adult heroines is that the struggle between being selfless and compassionate and empathetic and being courageous and brave and going out into the world with a mission and accomplishing a goal was really beautiful," Woodley said. "I think that its something to look up to because there are so many things in the world that need to have light shed on them...at the end of the day there are a lot of messages that come from being an empowered woman. I feel like Tris isn’t badass by nature, she wasn’t born knowing how to survive in intense situations. She had to build her strength and dig deep for her bravery and her courage and I think that that’s something that we could all look up to."
According to Roth, not much from Northwestern translated into Divergent, except some of the pressures that students at schools like Northwestern face.
“I think I'm someone who’s familiar with fairly intense environments and competitive ones,” said Roth. “But other than that, there wasn’t really anything [from NU]. Feeling that pressurized, contained thing is what sort of translated into books well.”
We were left wondering whether or not there is any correlation between NU’s schools and the different factions. So, we asked the cast and Roth which faction they thought would be the least fun.
Theo James: “Abnegation...I would be [kicked out] within a few days."
Shailene Woodley: “Erudite...they always look so uncomfortable! Erudite for the uncomfortable outfits."
Ansel Elgort: “Candor. They’re dicks.”
Veronica Roth: “Dauntless. I would die.”
Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Ansel Elgort, will hit theaters March 21 in the U.S.