Divergent's Veronica Roth And Neil Burger Discuss Tris, Stunts, Ziplining And More

Yesterday, those of us in attendance of the Summit panel at Comic-Con got our first look at some footage from the upcoming feature adaptation of Veronica Roth's Divergent. Before that happened, I had the opportunity to sit down with Roth, as well as director Neil Burger, to talk about bringing Tris Prior to the big screen, filming in Chicago and what we might expect from the anticipated zip-lining scene. Roth was also kind enough to give us a few hints about the third book in the series, Allegiant, as well as the previously announced e-Shorts she's planning to publish online, starting this fall.

From what Burger and Roth had to say, it sounds like they're both really pleased with how Shailene Woodley has performed as Tris Prior, the story's protagonist. The story is set in dystopian Chicago where society is divided into five factions. While being tested to determine which faction she's best suited for, Tris learns that she's Divergent, which means she'll never fit into one faction. She must keep that a secret as she chooses her faction and begins her training to find her place among her people. One of the first things I spoke to Neil Burger about was the challenges that might arise in trying to bring all of the aspects of Tris' personality out in the film.

Just talking about Tris’ nature as a character and so I wanted to just jump right into that. You’ve got her set up, she’s three different things and that really comes through I think, in the book, and I’m curious to know how you balance the bravery and the selflessness and the intelligence and also, the humanity that comes out on her. How was it adapting the character?

Neil Burger Well, it’s a really good question, because she has to have this journey where she goes from somebody who seems like she’s a really unlikely candidate for Dauntless into this woman that becomes this badass warrior at the end and does all these incredible things. Yet, she has to have some traces of that, you know, so that what she does do at the end doesn’t come completely out of nowhere. So, you’re right. It was a complete balance and a balance when you’re on the set, directing Shailene who actually is a really strong character and kind of fierce, and so to sort of keep her down, if you will, and kind of shy and kind of unassuming in the beginning, but not so much that you won’t believe later that she can be Dauntless and she can be that sort of soldier-warrior that she becomes. Does that make sense?

So, we’re going to see her kind of brought out?

Burger - Totally, well, when you see her in the beginning, she seems like she’s this shy, quiet, Abnegation girl, but yet she doesn’t quiet fit into that group, so she sort of speaks her mind. She can’t hold her tongue in certain ways and she does, she is willing to do things and take chances and things like that, but she’s torn, she wants to stay with her family and be a part of the Abnegation, yet if she does that, and it’s something that we all face, like she’s going to hurt her family if she basically realizes her dream of going into Dauntless and hurt them profoundly, so she’s really torn and so that’s it. It’s incredibly dramatic and it’s wonderful character that Veronica wrote.

Veronica and Neil

Veronica, I wanted to just ask you about your reaction when you learned that Shailene was going to play Tris and then later on, since the movie has been in production, what’s you reaction to it afterward?

Veronica Roth - Well, when they first told me that they were going to approach Shailene, I was pretty happy because I has seen her in The Descendants and I know she’s very talented and that she plays a very good authentic teenager, which is what Tris is. She’s not like a badass action figure, like she has a really intense emotional struggle. Do I stick with my family, do I leave, like what do I do? So, I think I was really optimistic that Shailene would be able to capture that and then the first time I saw her, man, she’s just so good, like it’s hard to describe. It’s just everything she says, everything she does feels very real and authentic. She never overdoes anything. She’s very subtle with facial expressions and her movements, I don’t know. And then she was able to do these incredibly difficult physical things on set and she doesn’t maybe look like she could do it, which is perfect for Tris, but she’s like climbing up this ferris wheel like it’s not 100 feet above the ground or however tall it is. I don’t know. I’m really impressed with her. Every time I went I was really impressed with her.

Let’s talk about the stunts then, since you brought that up. Now, we have the zip-lining thing, which I think people are really anticipating and that’s something we haven’t really seen So, how was it filming that?

Burger - Filming the zip line was amazing. We did it over the course of about three or four days and it’s all done in different pieces, but we strung a thousand foot zip line through the streets of Chicago and did it for real and even through the zip-lining itself probably would be longer than that going from the Hancock tower, would probably be almost a mile long or something like that. We have virtually a quarter of a mile of zip-lining where we did it and they got going so fast through this alley, just a few feet to spare with fire escapes on either side. It’s crazy, but we did it, so...

Could you talk a little bit about the benefits and challenges of filming in Chicago for the movie?

Burger Well, the benefits are that it shows a futuristic society or a future time in a completely real way. We’re on the streets using real buildings. It’s the real wind in their hair and the real sun kind of glinting off of windows and into the lens or into their eyes and it’s completely real and that’s what I was after for the movie because I feel like the characters, what the characters are going through is very real. I wanted it visually to feel very immediate. I didn’t want it to feel synthetic or too CGI or digital in any way. So, we shot on the streets. So, that’s all I could ask for in Chicago was this grand landscape to use as our backdrop. It’s always hard, when you’re out on the streets and shooting in the city and honking cabs and sirens and things like that, but you know, that’s kind of what it is with any kind of filmmaking. So, it was great shooting in Chicago.

Have thee been any challenges in terms of making it look more like this futuristic and kind of dystopian Chicago?

Burger - Yeah, I mean it’s always a challenge to do it in a very subtle way. We were looking to do it in a way that felt very new. We’ve seen other futuristic movies, other post-apocalyptic movies, so the challenge was how do we make it really new and cool, yet appropriate for Veronica’s story. So, I think we came up with something that does all of that.

Excellent. Just one last question, Allegiant and the shorts. People are really excited about them. Can you give us clues, any hints about what’s going to be happening in the last book and those four stories?

Roth - Well, it’s hard to give clues about Allegiant, because I just end up giving away crucial details. You get to see what’s outside the fence and what’s happening out there. I mean it’s a great exploration of that and as far as the shorts, they’re a kind of a little disjointed prequel to Divergent from Tobias’ perspective and there’s a little bit of overlap with Divergent, so there will be a little bit of Tris in the last one.

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site. She an expert in all things Harry Potter, books from a variety of genres (sci-fi, mystery, horror, YA, drama, romance -- anything with a great story and interesting characters.), watching Big Brother, frequently rewatching The Office, listening to Taylor Swift, and playing The Sims.