Shailene Woodley Admits She’s Seen ‘Very Few’ Films and Derives Acting Inspiration Elsewhere

There seems to be this cliché among actresses. We imagine them all coming from small-town America, where they watch tons of movies and dream of making it big. One day, they move to Hollywood, and the rest is history.

Except, this isn’t always how it happens. As Shailene Woodley proves, there are many different paths that an actor can take to fame, and different ways of handling it once you’re there. 

Shailene Woodley is a nomad at heart

Shailene Woodley on the red carpet
Shailene Woodley | Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Woodley’s sweet smile has recently become very recognizable in media. She first gained popularity with her starring role on The Secret Life of an American Teenager, and has also acted in The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, The Divergent Series, and Big Little Lies. Most recently, she starred in the romantic drama, Endings, Beginnings. 

In between filming, you won’t find Woodley hanging out in one place. Instead, she prefers to travel and experience new cultures. 

“…For most of my 20s, I lived all over the world,” Woodley told Interview Magazine. “Whenever I did a movie somewhere, I’d just stay afterwards and get to know that culture. Or if I wasn’t doing a film for a while, I’d move to a foreign country.”

What keeps Woodley motivated to travel, is learning about other cultures. She believes that it really allows her to examine her own culture, and it shapes the way she views the world. 

“My desire to be so nomadic came from being a curious bastard,” she said. “I want to know everything there is to know about the human experience. I want to taste it all and smell it all and see it all.”

Part of her inspiration for living a nomadic lifestyle comes from watching others, sometimes whole families, who live on the road. They teach their children to prefer experiences to accumulate material positions. Woodley admits that kind of lifestyle has always intrigued her.

As she explained, when a person stays in one place, they tend to accumulate lots of stuff. And that can sometimes lead to making material items your biggest priority. But Woodley has a different idea of how she wants to lead her life, and where she wants to place her priorities. 

“I wanted to search for a level of depth that I couldn’t find in inanimate objects,” she said. 

Shailene Woodley admits that she doesn’t watch many films

Living a life on the road means Woodley has less time to sit in front of a TV. Maybe that’s why she claims that she hasn’t actually watched many films, even though she’s an actress. 

“I didn’t grow up watching films and I have still seen very few,” Woodley said. She knows that other actors will sometimes watch lots of movies to gain inspiration for their roles, but she has another way of doing that.

“The way I gain inspiration is by witnessing the world around me,” she said. Woodley explained that she carefully watches people in the environment around her, and how they handle themselves. Often, their eyes, the shape of their mouth, and their general expressions will give away a lot of emotion. 

“Those are all little psychological bits that I store in my head,” she said, “so that when I’m building characters, I can pull from things that I’ve seen in real life.”

Shailene Woodley was able to improvise an entire movie

Woodley’s process may be untraditional, but it’s working well for her. She has a reputation for playing deep characters. Perhaps that’s why she was recruited to work on her latest project, Endings, Beginnings. As Woodley explained to The Hollywood Reporter, the entire film was improvised, so the characters became incredibly intimate and authentic. 

“Yes, incredibly authentic, real, raw and stripped-down — more so than any other project I’ve ever been a part of,” Woodley said in response to the Hollywood Reporter’s question about Endings, Beginning’s emotional impact. “Because the entire thing was improvised, there was a sense of immediate sensitivity and vulnerability that had to exist between ourselves with ourselves and ourselves with each other.”

It’s obvious that Woodley is unlike other actresses of her generation, but that’s a good thing. In a world full of copycats, her unique process for portraying interesting characters makes her a breath of fresh air.