Here’s Why You Should See Shailene Woodley In The Teen Flick Of The Year

Laura Dern, the actress who plays Shailene's mum in The Fault In Our Stars, lets us into some on-set secrets...


by Jess Commons |
Published on

By now you’ll be all up on The Fault In Our Stars. Even if you didn’t read the phenonemally popular book by John Green two years back, you’ll have heard about this film that’s been fabled to make grown men weep. Having seen it, we can confirm that yes, a pair of dark glasses that surreptitiously collect tears would be an excellent purchase before your cinema trip.

The story follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a 17-year-old with a terminal cancer diagnosis. So far, so cheery. Encouraged by her mum (Laura Dern) she attends a cancer support group only to meet, then fall in love with, Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a cancer survivor who lost his leg while battling the disease.

While this might sound like the most depressing thing ever, it’s actually not. There’s plenty of funny parts and the end message is actually, almost hopeful.

We spoke to the excellent Laura Dern about how on earth you go about making a film with such heavy themes.

The Debrief: Erm, so we started crying about 22 minutes into the film.

Laura Dern: Girl, ME TOO.

DB: So I think the book’s been a huge phenomenon among teens. Can you tell us about the story because we’re old and don’t get such things?

LD: I think what newcomers will hear about is how fierce the fans are about it. Once anyone reads it they’ll know why because John Green is writing for every age, male and female. The book taps into theme like how can we be grateful for this moment? How can we honour our lives? How can we love deeply? Those themes are told through this story of two teenagers, namely this one girl whose mother I play and who has been given a terminal diagnosis of cancer, and she meets and falls in love with this young man who’s also gone through cancer treatment.

DB: Had you read the book before?

LD: No. They asked me to do the film and then I read the book. You have to say yes cos it’s John Green!

DB: Was it scary playing a character that all the fans of the books probably had preconceived notions of?

LD: The good news is, I wasn’t so aware of just how much people loved it! I was aware enough to want to be very protective of John Green, though mostly just because it’s such a beautiful story. The more aware I became of how enormous a following it had, the luckier we all felt, so we tried so hard to stay true to the book because if we tried to do something different it would not have been good.

DB: Was John Green around on set much?

LD: He was! He was amazing. Just individually talking through the characters with us, also just there being a champion and an advocate for everybody. He was such a cheerleader that way and it’s helped us all feel like we were doing his story justice.

DB: How did you research such a heavy topic?

LD: The book is a great cheat because it is based on someone John cared deeply about. Also we’ve all experienced cancer with someone we’ve loved, with the statistics being as horrifically absurd as they are – one out of three people have cancer in America and one out of four in the UK. In addition to all of that, all of the characters in the support group in the film are really cancer patients. They were so inspiring and I have a couple of families in my life that are going through it with young children right now, which is just devastating.

DB: Have you heard from any other mothers of kids with cancer about what they thought of your character?

LD: I have and I think they really felt support from the book and felt really happy with the film in that way. I’m grateful they do because you only want to pay tribute to what they walk through. It’s insurmountable in some ways. Just in general though, I loved the character. I’ve never played the mom in a movie and I’ve usually played very complicated and even damaged characters, so to play someone who is so wise to respect her child as a peer and to seek the wisdom of a teenager and to treat her with mutual respect was great because I am a mom, so it reminded me how important those things are.

DB: Did the bleak subject matter take its toll on the cast and crew?

LD: It’s amazing that it didn’t, given how emotional a film it is to see, but I think the main reason is that we made a commitment to spending our evenings together. So we finished the work day and no matter how hard it was, we’d gone through it together and now we were going to eat and share stories and laugh. We’ve all become really close friends and that’s really, really lucky.

DB: Poor Shailene spends the whole movie lugging an oxygen tank around – was it heavy?

LD: It was heavy. We asked for the tank to be full so we could feel what it would feel like most of the time, and that was hard, but we felt it was so important for us to know and understand the equipment and needs and how to prep for emregencies. We learned a lot.

DB: And how was it working with Shailene?

LD: She fell in love with the book and really fought for the part. It resonated a deep truth with her that she wanted to do it and boy, were they right to ask her to do it because she’s just so honest and such a pure actor. More than just the gift of the actor, she’s such a big open heart and she’s such a lovely truthful person and you feel it through the character. It wouldn’t work if it were just an actress doing a job. It wouldn’t pay tribute to the book the way it deserves, so I think the film got very lucky that it had Shay.

DB: Films and books for teenagers seem to be becoming a lot more serious recently. Why do you think that is?

LD: Yes, they're definitely more adult, just like the subject of cancer being one out of three people. That means that by the time you’re 10 years old, you already know that kids die of diseases and people walk through grief and people lose love and have heartbreak and 60 per cent of marriages end in divorce. All the things in another generation that children were sheltered from are now common, so that really brings a different perspective with it.

DB: There’s been some debate on whether or not Shailene and Ansel’s characters sharing their first kiss in Anne Frank’s house is appropriate. Where do you fall on that?

LD: Nothing was considered for the film without John Green’s stamp of approval, so what we had a big debate about was how to make that scene cinematic and how to hold the parallel between Anne Frank describing finding the beauty in things and Shailene’s character and Ansel’s longing to figure that out. I loved it. I thought it was really beautiful.

*The Fault In Our Stars is in cinemas from 19 June 2014.

Follow Jess on Twitter @jess_commons

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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