Twenty-two-year-old actress Shailene Woodley is self-aware enough to know that she’s young. The idealistic young actress had plans to study interior design, but has since drastically shifted career paths. She’s starred in such films as The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, and the upcoming Divergent. In her new movie, White Bird in a Blizzard, Woodley plays a 16-year-old girl whose mother suddenly goes missing in 1988. We talked to Woodley after White Bird’s Sundance premiere about working with Mysterious Skin director Gregg Araki, acting in a period piece/ghost story, and sitting next to her father while baring her breasts onscreen.
ESQUIRE.COM: White Bird in a Blizzard has lots of specific ’80s references. Depeche Mode posters, that ostentatiously placed Joy Division bumper sticker. Do those mementos resonate with you at all? It’s almost as if you were inhabiting someone else’s adolescence.
SHAILENE WOODLEY: I was born in ’91, so I did not know that world at all. But the great thing about acting is we get to be great pretenders. We got to pretend to exist in a world that I would honestly love to exist in. That whole late ’80s — even early ’80s — scene is so fascinating to me, especially the grunge aspect of it, the punk and goth scenes. And Gregg knows that world so well. He was very helpful in educating me about certain trends I didn’t know. I knew most of the bands, but different styles of attire… It was different back then. They didn’t have the same technology, so you never see Kat sitting there watching TV.
ESQ: Were there any bands that Araki insisted that you know that you didn’t already?
SW: Before we started, he sent us videos of goth dance clubs as well as multiple CDs of music he wanted in the film. You know exactly what he wants when you get there because he has such a strong, unique sensibility and tone. So there wasn’t a lot of guessing. If I had a question, he was right there with all the answers. He’s an incredible director.
ESQ: In interviews you say — and this is fairly atypical for an actor — that you have a pretty healthy relationship with your mother.
SW: [Laughs] I do, so healthy. Oh my God. She’s here somewhere…
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