“We were getting talked through what the procedure was going to be for the duration of the shoot. They talked about having blacked-out vans,” Courtney said during a recent stop in Dallas. “It sounded so ridiculous, because we were just out there in the middle of Chicago, working on a movie at a studio. It was crazy, but who knows what it will be next time around if this thing does really well?”
Such is the reality for actors as part of the ensemble in this adaptation of the first in a series of three novels by Veronica Roth. It’s positioned to become the next big-budget, science-fiction franchise among the young-adult crowd. But with that payday comes an off-camera burden for actors who must travel the country for publicity appearances galore and fan meet-and-greets with adoring teenagers.
While he acknowledges that it’s unhealthy to buy into early hype, Courtney said he’s not faking his enthusiasm for the finished product. And he hopes the fans will agree.
“It’s a different kind of fan you get with a film like this,” Courtney said. “It taps into the genre. There’s a specific audience, but the appeal can bleed out all over the place.”
The post-apocalyptic story takes place in Chicago, after a devastating war that has left its survivors divided carefully into four factions based on human virtues — one each for bravery, honesty, charity, and intelligence. Tris (Shailene Woodley) doesn’t fit any of these categories. Instead, tests reveal her to be a Divergent, meaning she faces persecution by the authoritarian regime if she reveals her true identity. Instead, when it comes time to choose her faction as all teenagers do, Tris defies her Abnegation family of givers for a more daring life in Dauntless, reserved for rebels who must endure a military-style initiation.
The film hints not only at conflicts between the factions but of dividing loyalties among the Dauntless, with an instructor (Theo James) showing kindness to Tris against the wishes of his superior (Courtney).
“It’s about self-discovery and embracing what it is that makes you an individual, and what’s different about you, and getting in touch with those qualities — using that to your advantage and not being afraid of it,” Courtney said.
Miles Teller (That Awkward Moment) was one of the cast members who had to spend a couple of weeks prior to filming at a “boot camp” to prepare for the fight sequences with a couple of stunt coordinators. One of Teller’s altercations in the film was with Woodley, his co-star from the acclaimed indie drama The Spectacular Now, who convinced him to take the role in the first place.
“I wanted to do something more physically demanding,” Teller said. “I wanted to get in good shape and beat people up. When I’m running and jumping on a train, shooting somebody, or riding a motorcycle, I’ve never seen myself do that before.”
Courtney (Jack Reacher) bristles at comparisons between Divergent and the first installment of the Twilight or Hunger Games franchises, citing thematic differences. But he said he hopes the planned trilogy will experience similar success at the box office. After all, as Teller points out, the bottom line will determine whether they will get to repeat the experience all over again.
“They’re supposed to do a movie on each book,” Teller said. “But if this first movie doesn’t do a certain number, we will not shoot the second one. At the end of the day, it’s all based on results.”