Shailene Woodley prefers fresh air to nightclubbing and tells Michele Manelis she's learned a thing or two from George Clooney.
When unknown actress Shailene Woodley was cast as George Clooney's surly daughter in The Descendants (earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2012), it was soon apparent that Hollywood was grooming her as a future leading lady.
Starring roles came in quick succession: Last year's The Spectacular Now and this year's Divergent in the much-coveted role as heroine of the young adult trilogy about a dystopian future. And now comes in The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from another best-selling novel. Woodley, 22, appears to be nipping at the heels of Oscar-winner, Jennifer Lawrence, 23.
Woodley has heard it all before, of course. The similarities between them are obvious -- from choice of girl-warrior roles to their "relatable" appeal both on and off-screen. There's even a vague physical resemblance.
"Well, I think Jen is a badass empowered woman, so if people are going to compare me to anyone, then thank you, she's awesome.
But at the same time, it's like, really? Hasn't that headline expired? It isn't creative anymore, " she says holding court in a hotel in New York's Soho district.
Woodley landed her first substantial role in the TV series, The Secret Life of the American Teenager from 2008 to 2013. From that, Clooney saw in her an unaffected and talented actress ready to be plucked from semi-obscurity.
Now in the much-anticipated weepie, The Fault of Our Stars, Woodley portrays a 16-year-old girl with cancer who falls in love with a fellow cancer patient played by Ansel Elgort (Carrie).
"I'm sure through doing this movie there was a lot of change and a lot of growth in me but I don't think it's something that I'm actually consciously aware of. I actually got to meet a lot of people who were going through what my character was going through," she says. "That was incredibly inspiring. It really rocked my world.
"This movie teaches you that nothing is guaranteed in life and nothing is justifiable," she shrugs.
"Life just isn't fair, so to waste your time on things like guilt or worry or stress or anything external is redundant. Life is fleeting. It's important to be your own friend and to nourish yourself."
Although her philosophies are certainly not ground-breaking, the sentiment is genuine. What makes her a positive role model for young women is the way she conducts her life. Like Lawrence, she's not falling out of nightclubs. In fact, her modus operandi couldn't be more different from the ambitious, self-promoting movie stars so prevalent in Hollywood.
"I'm not on Facebook or Twitter. I've never dyed my hair or had hair extensions, and I don't wear makeup other than for work. I don't even use a cellphone very often."
Now in the enviable position of affording life's expensive treats, she insists that luxe items like the high-end skincare lines many of her peers deem essential are of no interest to her. She says, proudly, "I make my own toothpaste, my own shampoo, my own deodorant. I don't like all the chemicals they put in them." She smiles.
"You can use baking soda, cinnamon, essential oils, and clay and it smells great."
She also ingests clay for its supposed health properties in balancing the digestive system.
Woodley's eco-friendly canteen, perched on the table in front of her, is filled with water she collects herself from natural springs. "I go up in the mountains with friends and we get our water that way."
Given her predilection for all things natural, does Woodley see herself as a modern day hippie? "Well, I don't really subscribe to labels. Labels are like factions. And though part of my life is like that, I'm also a fighter. But I guess if I had to have any label, I don't mind representing that one," she says. "But I'm not just a hippie. I'm a very natural person. I believe in natural healing and natural products."
Had her acting career not taken off, she is certain she would be pursuing a profession as a herbologist. "I'm so passionate about herbs and it plays a huge role in my life. I study herbology online and I go to seminars and do workshops," she says.
"Our plants are our allies. I never feel alone because there are plants everywhere. I love to make my herbs every morning and I make my own tea whether I'm staying at here the Four Seasons or whether I'm at home. I believe you should always bring with you the lifestyle of who you are. When I wake up, wherever I am, I meditate and say, 'Thank you for this breath.' If you strip everything down, if we have oxygen, that's really all we need."
Born and raised in California's Simi Valley with her younger brother, Woodley lived half an hour's drive from the beach. "I grew up in suburban Los Angeles. I was a normal kid. The only difference was when my friends went to soccer practice after school, I went to auditions, but I still did the usual things like camping and hiking. Essentially it was the perfect childhood. That's not to say we didn't go through things [her parents divorced when she was 15] but every family is dysfunctional in their own way."
She says her career came about by accident. "I've been acting since I was 5 years old. No one in my family is in the business but an agent thought I was a cute kid and from that I started doing TV commercials and went into Movie of the Week films."
Nowadays, thanks to Clooney, her mentor and former co-star, Woodley is far from those little-seen roles in mediocre television fare.
"He's like a big brother to me. He's got my back, definitely. If I have a question, or if anything were to ever happen, he's there for me."
What did she learn from Clooney the political and humanitarian activist?
She thinks for a moment. "You can use this platform of celebrity for yourself or you can use this platform for a greater cause and pay it forward. George taught me that at a very young age because he does that. He lives his life in service. He uses what he's been given and he turns it over and spreads it like a tidal wave. And so I thought, 'Why not?' I'm so down for that train."
Be it acting or environmental issues, she says, "I love a challenge. It's like, if you see a mountain in front of you, are you going to turn around and run or are you going to climb it and get to the top?' I'm definitely a person who will climb it."
Who: Shailene Woodley
What: The Fault in Our Stars
When and where: Opens at cinemas today
Next story: Movie review: The Fault in Our Stars