In anticipation of the home video release of Divergent, we had the opportunity to speak with director Neil Burger about the making of the film. Among the topics of discussion, finding the right Four, Kate Winslet's pregnancy, the zip-lining scene that almost didn't happen and the challenges the sequel faces.
While we don't get into major spoilers about the movie, we do talk openly about the film, so consider yourselves vaguely spoiler-warned.
Shailene Woodley was cast immediately. Finding Four took forever.
Neil Burger told us that Shailene Woodley was the first person they offered the role of Tris to and she took it right away. Finding Four was more of a challenge, and part of that was due to Woodley's powerful presence. "We would audition her with some guy, who was a really good actor, and she would actually kind of steamroll him," Burger said. "In a scene when they had to have an argument or something like that, because she was so strong, so we needed somebody who would intimidate her, who would be stronger than her."
They were looking for a Four who was "a stone wall in a way, yet with just the slightest vulnerability that you could sense through some of the cracks." They searched the globe for the right actor, including Germany, England and Australia, among other places. It was casting director Mary Vernieu who suggested Theo James. "Of course I’d seen Downton Abbey," Burger explained. "And I was like oh, that guy’s fantastic, and then we brought him in and like, it was this huge wave of relief, first to see him and then we put him with Shailene and it was exactly the dynamic I was looking for."
Ansel Elgort tried out for Four.
Burger noted that Ansel Elgort auditioned for the part of Tobias, but from the sound of it, Burger didn't think the actor was quite ready for this kind of role. "What’s so wonderful about Ansel is that he is so approachable," Burger explained, saying they were looking for someone who was a bit more intense. "If you’ve seen Fault in Our Stars, he’s such a great guy, and sometimes that carries over." They ended up casting a little bit older for Four because they needed the character to be this powerful leader. "I think Ansel will get there," Burger added. "But he wasn’t there at the moment when we were casting it."
Elgort ended up playing the role of Caleb, which gave us our first preview of him and Shailene Woodley on screen together, this time as siblings. The two would go on to play love interests in The Fault in Our Stars.
The zip lining scene almost didn't happen.
Burger confirmed that the draft of the script he was working from originally didn't have the zip-lining scene in it. The reasoning behind almost omitting such an iconic scene from the book was that it wasn't really life-altering and it didn't present any kind of obstacle for Tris. "She’d had other victories already," Burger explained. "With the capture the flag scene which comes right before it."
But in the end, Burger fought to get the scene in the movie. "I just felt like it was such a great spectacle and also such a signature event in the book that it had to be in there," he said. It certainly was one of the most fun scenes to watch in the film, and it sounds like that was Burger's primary goal, as he said he worked really hard to make it as wild and fun a ride as possible.
Kate Winslet was pregnant during production.
"I'm still doing the movie," is the first thing Kate Winslet said to Neil Burger when she called to inform him that she was pregnant. Burger said Winslet offered him that assurance before going on to say, "I’m pregnant and you know, it might take some reworking of things because by the time I’m shooting I’m going to be really pregnant,"
He said she actually wasn't showing that much, but they did have to redesign some of her clothing and recut it to make it fit and "somewhat camouflage" the pregnancy. As for any of the more physical scenes near the end of the film, that went mostly as planned, though they had to use the stunt woman a bit more. "But she was always game for it," Burger said, going on to talk about how committed Winslet was to the performance, and how it was his job to reel her back in (and remember that she's pregnant.) "As any great actress, they actually lose who they are and go into the character and throw themselves head long, literally or figuratively, into the scene. So in her case, she'd be losing the fact that she was pregnant and my job was to make sure she didn't hurt herself."
If you watch the film with the commentary, you'll spot one scene where, according to Burger, Winslet almost fell down. But it sounds like she made it through the production without major injury or mishap.
Divergent was filmed in Chicago. Insurgent won't be.
Neil Burger is executive producing the sequel, but he's not involved in directing at all, this time around. That wasn't originally the plan. "I actually started prepping it and hired a line producer," he said. "But then it came to a point where it was like I can’t finish this movie properly and be prepping this other big movie, and so I bowed out at the end of last year." He's spoken to Insurgent director Robert Schwentke, but it doesn't sound like he's all that involved in the followup.
For Divergent, Burger wanted to shoot as much of the film in real locations, in Chicago, as possible. A lot of what you're seeing in the background is at least partially actual Chicago, with digital effects added in to create a more dystopian version of the city. The bonus features on the Blu-ray demonstrate some of that really nicely, showing off how they made the ferris wheel look distressed and how they presented the buildings and streets of Chicago in a more futuristic way. Insurgent is being filmed in Atlanta, and from what Burger said, it sounds like the decision was for financial reasons, but it'll create more work in the long run.
"It’s really challenging in the sense that they don’t have that infrastructure there. They don’t have that physical environment to use. They have to create it all and it’s not easy," he said, adding, "Not to mention that they have a reduced prep schedule and a reduced post-production schedule, so they have got their work cut out of them. But I think they're doing a great job and it's all going really well so far. So I think they're pulling it off."
As of right now, Burger's not involved in Allegiant, the two-part feature adaptation of the final book in the Divergent trilogy.
Learn the real reason why the eye-stab scene was taken out of the movie here!
[[ br. ]] Divergent is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD!
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