'Divergent' Interview: Theo James Talks Personal Fears & Complex Characters

According to British actor, Theo James, there’s only one way to celebrate landing a role in the coveted franchise, Divergent and that’s to get “s***faced” (his words). The 29 year-old actor is probably best known for playing opposite Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening and Mr. Kemal Pamuk in the first season of the acclaimed series, Downton Abbey.

In a world divided by factions based on human virtues, Tris (Shailene Woodley) finds she's Divergent and won't fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy Divergents, Tris learns to trust the furtive Four (James) - and together they must find out what makes Divergents dangerous (before it's too late).

Adapted from the book trilogy written by Veronica Roth, James plays the mysterious warrior Four in the futuristic action adventure directed by Neil Burger (Limitless). Burger noted that after a global search for the key role, they screen tested James and knew instantly they had found their man. He said: “With the other guys we’d been auditioning, Shai was the one that was pushing them back. When Theo was opposite her, she knew that he was the Four.

James is certainly a face to watch out for. He recently completed production on two feature films; the crime mystery, London Fields with Johnny Depp and Billy Bob Thornton in England, followed by the indie feature, Franny starring opposite Richard Gere and Dakota Fanning in Philadelphia.

Shailene Woodley and Theo James in Divergent

Here he tells Screen Rant his darkest fears (one of the film’s themes) and how he transformed his body for the role.

Screen Rant: Congratulations on a great film. What was your reaction when you received the call to say you’re going to be a part of this big franchise?

Theo James:  What was my reaction? In truth, I guess I kind of take things as they come. I’m a bit too much of a pragmatist so I kind of take it day by day and I was actually working in Florida and I remember they called me and said that I was doing the part. And I was like: “Yeahhh!” But there was no-one to celebrate with and so I went to the bar on my own and got s***faced.

SR: As any true Londoner would.

Theo James:  That’s right exactly!

SR: So tell us about Four and the kind of character that he is?

Theo James: The crux of why I like the series and why I wanted to play him was his complexity as a character. He has these qualities that you don’t always see in these young male lead characters much anymore. He has a masculinity that he wears very wholly and very lightly in the sense that he can admit fear.  He doesn’t have to be the loudest voice in the room but he’s also someone with presence and someone that you notice and someone who is potentially dangerous - and also he has a kind of broken background. He comes from this abusive father and all of those elements that come into play a rich complex character.

SR: Now all of the characters face fears which is the premise of the movie and Four is scared of heights.

Theo James:  Yes.

SR: Can you relate to that? What’s your fear, apart from big spiders, when you might scream like girl?

Theo James: Yeah! My fear in life, I don’t have any kind of specifics like snakes or spiders or anything but I think if I was covered in buttermilk naked running down the street being chased by Gandalf, I’d say, or I don’t know, I’m just making it up!

Divergent Olympics Trailer

SR: You have a vivid imagination.

Theo James:  (Laughs) I’ve always been freaked out in deep open water if there’s a potential of sharks around.

SR: Let’s talk about the physicality of your character.  Physically, you’re really buff in the film, what kind of training did you do?

Theo James:  We had about a month before to try and get into shape. It was kind of funny because the director, we were doing a fitting on the first day and I consider myself to be in okay shape, and we’re putting on t-shirts and I was like: “Yeah I’m thinking Four he doesn’t want to be muscly. I’m thinking this.” And he’s like: “No, you have to be much more muscular!” (Laughs) Oh s***, so I had to begin the process but to be honest, in reality I wanted him to have a kind of visceral strength but not in a kind of steroid way, but I wanted him to look like he could physically be dangerous and do some damage.

SR: How long did you sit in the make up chair to put on your tattoos?

Theo James: Between three and four hours so quite a long time.

SR: So you had to do this everyday?

Theo James: No I didn’t need to because there is only one scene really [where he shows off his tattoos] and so I had just this one [points to neck] which I’d leave on occasionally and feel cool wearing it.

SR: And lastly, if you had to choose a faction, which one would you choose?

Theo James:  I think Dauntless would be the one fun because they take risks, but I think Erudite because they think analytically and I think I’m that way inclined.

SR: Thank you.

Theo James:  Thank you.


Other cast members include: Shailene Woodley (Tris); Ashley Judd (Natalie); Kate Winslet (Jeanine); Tony Goldwyn (Andrew); Jai Courtney (Eric); Zoe Kravitz (Christina); Maggie Q (Tori); Mekhi Phifer (Max); and Miles Teller (Peter).

Divergent opens in theaters on March 21.

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