Shailene Woodley's career shows her versatility


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Shailene Woodley is, as they say in the new Muppets movie (and elsewhere), having a moment.

But she's far from an overnight sensation. Now 22, she made more than 60 commercials before age 11 and today stars in "Divergent" as Beatrice "Tris" Prior. On June 6, she and co-star Ansel Elgort will switch from "Divergent" siblings to a young couple dealing with grave illness in "The Fault in Our Stars."

Some of her highlights so far:

 "Felicity: An American Girl Adventure" (2005) -- In this WB movie, Ms. Woodley played 10-year-old Felicity Merriman, an American Girl doll come to life. She's a spunky Colonial girl (she swaps her frocks for pants to rescue an abused horse at one point) growing up as America is on the brink of the American Revolution.

"The Secret Life of the American Teenager" (2008-13) -- Brenda Hampton, creator of "7th Heaven," was behind this ABC Family show about a good-girl band geek (Ms. Woodley) who gets pregnant when she loses her virginity to the school stud. She became a teen mom with messy romantic relationships on the series that became a breakout hit and guilty pleasure.

"The Descendants" (2011) -- George Clooney is a native Hawaiian, husband and father of daughters ages 17 and 10 whose wife lands in a coma after a boating mishap. When he tells Ms. Woodley's character about her mother's prognosis, the girl has no place to hide, so she ducks under the water of the family's swimming pool and sobs in one of the dramedy's signature gut-wrenching scenes.

"The Spectacular Now" (2013) -- Miles Teller, who turns up as Peter in "Divergent," is a partying charmer and high school senior who unexpectedly falls for a shy good girl played by Ms. Woodley. This tender portrait of young love, hard truths and lessons about living in the present but remembering to lay a foundation for the future was one of the best movies of summer 2013.

"The Fault in Our Stars" (2014) -- During filming in Pittsburgh in late September, novelist John Green said Ms. Woodley had sent him "a very, very long email, 30 pages long or something" about the book, her passion for it, how important it was to find a way to get the movie made and how much she longed to play Hazel Grace Lancaster.

" 'That's very sweet, but I'm not a casting director,' " he told her. Later, in reflecting on that in an interview with the Post-Gazette, he said, "I probably would have been a little bit nicer to her if I'd understood what an incredible genius she is."

He realized that when he saw her audition tape for Hazel, a 16-year-old whose thyroid cancer damaged her lungs. Mr. Green immediately contacted the director and producer and asked, "What do I need to do to make it happen?" He repeated the question when he saw her paired with Mr. Elgort and, come June 6, moviegoers can see "The Fault in Our Stars" and how it allows sick people to have full, rich lives -- and love.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

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