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Woodley: Teen intersects fine line between comedy, drama

10 Actors to Watch 2011: Shailene Woodley

Imagine your first meaty movie role. Imagine it involves a long shoot in Hawaii. Then imagine George Clooney is playing your dad.

“Yes, on the surface that sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?” Shailene Woodley says of being cast in the Alexander Payne drama “The Descendants.” “Then being a part of it, that actual doing of it, was even better than I could have imagined.”

Woodley’s nuanced work as the problem child daughter in “The Descendants” won raves when the movie premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September. Playing the combative Alex, Woodley displays both an edge and vulnerability as an adolescent who, in some ways, possesses more wisdom than her father and, in others, is simply yearning to give him a chance to act as her parent.

The material, like Payne’s previous films, varies in tone, which sometimes posed a challenge for the 19-year-old actress.

“While we were filming I was thinking, ‘Are we doing a drama or a comedy?’ ” Woodley says. “We’d do a scene I thought was supposed to be serious and Alexander would say, ‘No, I want you to come at it from this point of view.’ And then you see the way he combined the laughter and the gut-wrenching moments. … He knew what he was doing.”

The Simi Valley native began auditioning when she was 5 years old and landed her big break playing a con artist’s daughter in the 2004 Hallmark TV movie “A Place Called Home.” Woodley is finishing her fourth season of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” which has followed her character from a pregnant 15-year-old to a young mother juggling a baby with the demands of school and relationships.

“I’m almost out of my teens,” Woodley says, “so I feel ready to move on to more mature roles. Making ‘The Descendants’ gave me a great start.”

Lucky break: “Honestly, my big break was being born to my family. I started when I was 5 and my mom drove me to auditions, not because she pushed me but because I wanted to do this.”
Favorite film: “This is really dorky, but I love ‘The Goonies.’ I don’t eat Spaghetti O’s any more, but I still watch ‘The Goonies.'”
Career I’d like to emulate: “A mixture of Marcia Gay Harden and Natalie Portman. I worked with Marcia when I was 13 and just think the world of her. And every single role Natalie Portman chooses, it’s out of passion.”

10 ACTORS TO WATCH 2011:
Benedict Cumberbatch | Jean Dujardin | Luke Evans | Josh Hutcherson | Felicity Jones | Taylor Kitsch | Brit Marling | Elizabeth Olsen | Octavia Spencer | Shailene Woodley

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