"Well she was walking down the street and – er, nah, I’m kidding," jokes Theo James about how he first met Divergent heroine (and herbalist) Shailene Woodley. James is one of those zero-to-hero "hot young Hollywood up-and-comers" with his mug plastered over bus and billboard for the dystopian action film dubbed the "next Hunger Games". Divergent follows Tris (Shailene Woodley), a girl so talented she passes a test and becomes a cold-blooded warrior. She meets Four (Theo James), who trains her up nice and good before maybe falling in love with her.
He's known for his brief stint on Downton Abbey and appearing in Ben Palmer's The Inbetweeners Movie, but nothing has prepared him for this. "For other stuff I’ve done, (getting recognized) is kind of the normal thing that happens," James says. "In terms of Divergent I don’t think it’s started yet. We'll see when I get in tomorrow – maybe I’ll be greeted by a bunch of sexy fans!" He's a riot over the phone, cracking jokes like a whip. And he's perhaps downplaying the shower of attention he's about to experience, especially after a certain on-screen smooch with Shailene Woodley. Soon he'll experience the Notting Hill effect, with horny tweens banging down his door for a glimpse of the tramp stamp he sports in the film. But first, Theo James, rising star in all stratospheres, talks about how he went in for the big one with costar Shailene…
Dazed Digital: So what was it like kissing Shailene for the first time?
Theo James: Terrible – and the full penetration sex was also very awkward. (laughs) It was easy, to be honest. I’ve said this before: I think sometimes you have to make stuff happen chemistry-wise. You have to force it. But when you don’t and it’s very real and natural, that makes for the best scenes and also the most fun because if you have natural chemistry you can have fun and you can build on that.
DD: Did you guys practice it at all?
Theo James: Yeah, constantly, constantly yeah, with a videotape (laughs).
DD: Were you nervous when you walked on set and were filming that scene?
Theo James: No, because by that time we had bridged the boundary and the friendship gap and she knew how weird I was and I knew how weird she was. The only thing that was difficult was grounding any of those scenes in something real because doing a kissing scene where you’re showing tattoos – and the awkwardness of having to take a shirt off and the fact that you’re in this dystopian future with strange clothing – the key is to anchor it as much as you can and find the reality in the situation.
DD: Is she a good kisser?
Theo James: Incredible, yeah.
DD: How close were you guys off the set?
Theo James: We all hung out a lot. It was fun. We were all in this one apartment. We’re all sharing a bed – me and Shailene just shared a single bed and were just like spooning every night! (laughs) Erm no, we were all in this same apartment block so it felt like camp for better or worse. It was fun and we hit the town quite a lot and drunk our weight in tequila.
DD: Do you have any hilarious stories, like tequila nights out?
Theo James: Yeah, but I couldn’t tell you because I would get arrested.
“It takes a little bit of time when you get to know anyone. You’re feeling each other out and what boundaries you can push and what ones you can’t. (Shailene) definitely understands what a fucking weirdo I am”
DD: Are there any differences between British and American actresses that you work with?
Theo James: Probably. I’d say it depends, maybe in England people are a bit more used to sarcasm, so my jokes don’t go down as well (in the US).
DD: Did Shailene get your sense of humour?
Theo James: She did, yeah. It takes a little bit of time when you get to know anyone. You’re feeling each other out and what boundaries you can push and what ones you can’t. But yeah she definitely understands what a fucking weirdo I am.
Would you ever get a back tattoo like the one in the movie?
I want to get one on the base of my spine, one of Snoop Dogg directly on my lower back. (laughs) No, I’m kidding. I wanted a tattoo for ages and I thought it would kind of come to me, I thought I’d be in the wilds of the Amazon jungle and some tribesman would be like, “YOU ARE NOW HONORARY MEMBER, THIS IS THE SYMBOL” and that would all make sense, but I guess nothing stuck in my mind.
DD: What’s the worst tattoo you’ve seen?
Theo James: A friend of mine – I never saw it. He’s so paranoid, he won't show it to me – but he was saying when he was a kid he found this Roman coin and he got the coin tattooed huge on his thigh and he literally walked out of the tattoo parlour like, "Jesus Christ, what the fuck is that?!" which is kind of funny.
DD: The film is set in a dystopian future. How do you wrap your head around pretending you’re from a different time?
Theo James: That was something that I had to mentally do. It’s easy if you’re playing an Elizabethan character and you have the history, or you’re playing a New York jazz singer. You have to spend a little more time and use a little more of your mental capacity to make sure you do understand the world and you make it as real as possible.
DD: You were saying that you had tried to infuse your character with a bit of sensitivity. Was it evident reading it that this was kind of the guy you wanted to play?
Theo James: It was something that I felt was important to have in the character because he’s quite tough and unreadable. He’s quite moody and kind of rock-like. I felt it needed to be infused with a different shading, a different colouring here and there to make him a full, interesting, complex character – otherwise he’s a stock tough guy with a back tattoo constantly killing people. It’s still masculine. He’s not suddenly becoming a pussy, but he’s big enough to relay his sweet message when he can.
DD: Do you have any memories of shooting in Chicago?
Theo James: Yeah, me, Miles (Teller) and Christian Madsen went to watch hockey quite a lot. We went to the (Chicago) Blackhawks game and we met the mayor which was kind of fun, kind of random.
DD: The mayor?!
Theo James: (laughs) Yeah, we met the mayor of Chicago. He was quite cool, quite chilled actually.
DD: Have you seen Divergent yet?
Theo James: No I haven’t. Most of the time I don’t watch them.
DD: You don’t watch your own films?
Theo James: Not really, no. When it’s useful to then I do, but sometimes I can find it counterproductive. If you’re doing a TV show, for example, sometimes it can be useful to watch some of it to see that character progression and make sure you’re still on track. But with a film, especially if you’re going to have to do more, then it can be counterintuitive, especially before it comes out.
Divergent is out Friday, April 4
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