Theo James recounts grueling filming process in Insurgent
The first itch is pretty easy to scratch. The outdoors-loving Englishman co-stars in one of the more successful young-adult movie franchises of the moment, the Divergent series, which means lots of work visits to Hollywood and extra days spent exploring the Golden State.
“I still live in England, but I spend a good bit of time here,” says James, 30, during an interview in Beverly Hills. “Being a Brit, I always try to stay in Santa Monica when I’m here because you can see the (expletive) sea! But I love the state. Every time I come, I’m still amazed at the breadth California has. Big Sur, Yosemite, the desert … I love it.”
Though set in the same dystopian future Chicago as Divergent, Insurgent was mostly shot in Georgia last summer.
That experience just made James appreciate California more.
“Sprinting for a full day in Atlanta in midsummer proved very challenging,” says the actor, who plays the now rebel super soldier Four and trilogy heroine Tris Prior’s lover and co-insurgent. “That humidity is crazy. Georgia is a beautiful state, but the weather is intense. I was warned, but for some reason I thought it would be like L.A. in the summer. The reality? No.”
This time the rebels find themselves reluctantly allied with an organized group of the Factionless, folks who don’t fit into one of the five recognized citizen groups, or like Tris and Four are Divergents who have qualities from two or more of the official factions. The ambivalence mainly comes from Four, once he discovers that the Factionless leader is his own estranged mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts), whom he’s learned the hard way never to trust.
That adds quite a reverse-Oedipal spin to a saga already rife with teenage angst, alienation and guilt. James thinks it’s marvelous.
“Really weird things happen between those two characters,” James says of the roles in “Insurgent” and the upcoming “Allegiants.”
“It was interesting for me in this one because Four does evolve quite a lot and quite different from the first movie. I like that there’s a little vulnerability to Four now; in the first movie, he was kind of an ambiguous tough guy.”
Though it can be difficult, James feels it’s crucial to inject as much psychological realism as possible into multicharacter science fiction spectacles like this. Simi Valley-raised Woodley proved an apt partner in that particular process.
“It was great to get back with Shai, I’m very lucky to be doing this with her,” he says. “She’s obviously a great actress, but we also have a kind of shorthand now where we can question each other, question the scenes. We can say, ‘Is this feeling funky to you? Is it feeling right?’ Sometimes the answer is, ‘Yeah, this feels icky.’ So we take a beat and rework it out.”
“With these films inevitably, because they’re big spectacle pieces, they tend to evolve constantly. If you’re willing to change them right up until you say the words, that is a good thing,” he says. “Sometimes it’s discombobulating, but I think if you’re constantly in the process of questioning and developing these big movies, it’s a way of making sure it’s real in some way and makes it better.”