Give Shailene Woodley an aptitude test and she’d inevitably end up in a faction called Hollywood Hippie. On the one hand, she’s a quintessential starlet—the 22-year-old has had a five-year run on the successful ABC Family drama The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she’s already worked with A-list movie stars like George Clooney, and she’s had her acting skills recognized with a Golden Globe nomination and an Independent Spirit Award. But look a little deeper and that’s where the actress from Simi Valley, Calif., (Mom’s a school counselor; Dad’s a school principal) proves to be truly divergent. “I think everything about my lifestyle is fairly alternative,” she told Flaunt magazine. “I gather my own spring water from mountains every month. I go to a farm to get my food. I make everything from my own toothpaste to my own body lotions and face oils. I make my own medicines. I make my own cheese and forage wild foods. It’s an entire lifestyle. It’s appealing to my soul.”
Having the spirit of a nature girl has helped Woodley – who doesn’t like to use the term “celebrity” to describe herself and who has an on-set reputation for being a big hugger—remain grounded in the wilds of Hollywood. “In high school, a lot of my friends didn’t know I was an actor because I didn’t talk about it,” she’s said. “They would come to school and be like, ‘Wait, were you on My Name Is Earl last night?'” Woodley – who started out modeling at age 4 – even took a second job at an American Apparel store while she was filming Secret Life. “I’d never done retail; I thought it would be fun,” she said. “I got to meet new people and lead a totally different life.” She’s also made a point of shaking up the status quo in Hollywood – both onscreen (she wore virtually no makeup when filming her surprise hit film The Spectacular Now) and off (yes, she actually did show up to a Golden Globes afterparty in 2012 wearing foot-shaped running shoes).
Woodley’s quirky personality, her sense of adventure and her quest for new experiences make her the perfect actress for the role of Tris Prior. “She has a real gut for how to portray young characters in a really realistic way,” says Divergent‘s author, Veronica Roth. With Tris, Woodley had a personal connection to the character’s emotional journey. “I relate to her because I went through a phase when you kind of struggle with who you are and who you want to be,” says Woodley. “You think so much about it, and you go from a heart-based place to an analyzing place. Throughout this movie Tris is trying to figure out: is she selfless, is she brave, who is she, what does she want, what are the important things in life? So in that way I do relate to her because I went through that.” Of course, if she were put in Tris’s situation, Woodley would have made some vastly different choices. “I would choose to be factionless,” she says. “Because I don’t want to be dominated by one trait.”
Nor does she want to be limited by the usual trappings of Hollywood. Now that the indie actress is delving into blockbuster territory, she’s hoping to maintain her same live-and-let-live lifestyle. So far she’s escaped being hounded by paparazzi, and she’s been able to keep a low profile about her relationships (though tabloid reporters did catch her kissing 29-year-old actor Shiloh Fernandez, her costar in the upcoming drama White Bird in a Blizzard). But how will Woodley handle it if the debut of Divergent does turn her world upside down? “I feel like there is no way to prepare for that or even think about it,” she says. “It’s so different than anything that I know right now in my life. Stressing about it does nothing for present reality. You never know what’s going to happen until it happens.”