Why Shailene Woodley Took A Break From Acting After Divergent

Shailene Woodley as Tris in Divergent Series: Insurgent
(Image credit: (Lionsgate))

Much like many young actresses, when 28-year-old Shailene Woodley got her start in Hollywood, it skyrocketed into years of contractual obligations and lighting the candle at both ends. On the heels of finishing her five-season run on teen soap The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she was flung into the spotlight as the lead of two beloved YA adaptations in the same year: The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent.

The latter sci-fi movie franchise didn’t reach its intended conclusion, but for three years, Shailene Woodley gave her all to Tris Prior in a whirlwind upbringing to widespread fame with Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz and Miles Teller. The actress understandably didn’t jump further into a slew of roles after the Divergent franchise ended, but now she’s explaining why exactly she did take a break. In her words:

I'm not going to share what it was, because it's deeply personal, but I had a lot of childhood traumas that I never worked through. I got to a point in my life where I realized that it was holding me back, and I had to seek help so that I could work through that trauma in a safe way. I grew up with two psychologists for parents. Therapy was not a foreign concept to me and my brother. But as an adult, it really just came down to timing. You have to make therapy a priority and I hadn't made it a priority.

Shailene Woodley details a time in her life when her physical body was “literally shutting down” and she needed to actively seek help. The actress decided to finally face her inner demons that had been eating at her long before she signed on to the Divergent movies. Woodley explains to Harper’s Bazaar how her high-profile schedule contributed to her putting off focusing on her mental health:

I was on an airplane once a week. I was working in different parts of the world. I couldn't rationalize it. How could I ever have a therapist? How could I ever maintain a weekly check-in? But then it just got to a point where I felt like my life was stunted and I needed help. I decided to rearrange my life so that therapy was a priority. No matter where I was in the world, no matter what my career looked like or required, therapy was going to be something that I was committed to week after week after week.

Shailene Woodley has since centered herself with therapy, making it a top priority. Although the actress did take a break from regularly acting, you almost wouldn’t know it. Woodley has since starred in Snowden with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Adrift with Sam Chaflin, as well as had a pivotal role in Big Little Lies. She hasn’t particularly taken on more tentpole films, although she doesn’t prefer one experience over the other. Woodley continued to open up about her time off:

I think a lot of what we deal with as adults come from the stories that we create for ourselves when we're children. It wasn't the experience of the Divergent series that gave me anxiety, but I think the end of the Divergent series allowed me to pause and look at my life.

That's true. If Shailene Woodley didn’t receive the exposure Divergent afforded her, she may not have had the luxury of taking a step back. Woodley has been lucky enough to be able to let certain opportunities go and come back at her own pace to her career, though she has been blunt about being given more roles in romance movies than anything else.

Shailene Woodley created her own non-profit organization with her mom called All It Takes, which focuses on providing social-emotional literacy to young people. She recently starred with Sebastian Stan and Jamie Dornan in indie flick Endings, Beginnings, which is now on VOD.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.