×

‘Divergent’s’ Theo James a Fresh Hollywood Flame

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Most movies made from young-adult best-sellers feature dashing leading men and “Divergent” is no exception. Taylor and Liam step aside. Soulful Brit Theo James could be the next YA obsession.

The star of the 2013 CBS police drama “Golden Boy” is relatively unknown on the big screen. But as the adaptation of Veronica Roth’s sci-fi novel hits theaters on Friday, that’s about to change.

“It’s extremely hard to quantify,” said James in a recent interview. “I’m a pessimist by nature, so I don’t believe something until someone has kind of punched me over the head with it.”

In “Divergent,” an action-thriller set in a dystopian future where everyone is divided into “factions” by their values, James plays the brave Tobias “Four” Eaton. Four dwells in the group named Dauntless and acts as a mentor and eventual love interest to heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley).

When “Divergent” producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher went looking for their hot hero, they did screen tests with about 20 would-be stars. “It was disaster after disaster because Shailene blew them away,” said Wick. “She’s so strong.” But after meeting James, “we were completely excited,” added Fisher. “He was tough, but he still had that `I can get hurt’ thing that James Dean had.”

Once the 29-year-old actor was cast, fans took to social media to debate whether he was the right choice to play Four. Some felt he was too old for the role. Others thought he was too much of a pretty boy to portray the gritty character.

But James says he never caught a glimpse of the skepticism circulating about him. “Diving into Internet speculation is like playing with the devil,” he said. “It’s tempting, of course. But I just had to believe that I could play the role a certain way.”

From the moment he read the first scene of the “Divergent” script, James knew how he’d embody Four. “I wanted to use a bit of Paul Newman in this character because he had that way of being likable, very still in the eyes and dangerous,” he said.

Exercising a bit of method acting when tackling the role, James distanced himself from the rest of the cast when production began. “I wasn’t the friendliest guy because in the beginning, Four is such a closed book,” he said. “I wanted to maintain that a bit.”

Sitting in a Los Angeles hotel room on a sunny afternoon, James was the farthest thing from cold or intimidating. A constant grin on his face, he often burst into a deep chuckle, especially when contemplating his new label: Heartthrob.

“My whole body just tensed up,” he said, adding that he’s “still not quite there” when it comes to feeling comfortable in his own skin. “But I’m not the boyish man I was at 25 when I was trying to prove myself to everyone all of the time. I do feel more confident now. But with acting especially, you climb one ladder and you see there are thousands more. There is a long way to go, yet.”

After high school, the Oxfordshire native attended Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (both Daniel Day-Lewis and Jeremy Irons are alums). Following two years of study, he took a few jobs acting in “terrible, deeply embarrassing short films” before landing a role in Woody Allen’s 2010 comedy “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.”

“It was like six scenes, but it was a good job,” he recalls. That same year, he appeared in the popular British TV drama “Downton Abbey.” “It was fun, but by no means did it change my life,” he said of the role. “I’d already had to hustle by the time it aired in America.”

Despite the hype surrounding “Divergent,” James says he’s sure he’ll continue to battle for roles after the movie comes out. “The things that I want to go for after this are going to be the things that I will have to fight for,” he says, adding that he admires the talent and choices of Oscar-nominated Michael Fassbender.

“This stage is very important because I don’t want to get banned into a category,” he says. Signed on to star in “Divergent” follow-ups “Insurgent,” which begins shooting in May, and “Allegiant,” he’ll play the bold hero for a few more years. But he’ll also appear in the upcoming mystery “London Fields,” opposite Amber Heard, and in the drama “Franny,” starring Dakota Fanning and Richard Gere.

“Sometimes the best parts are the leading men,” he says. “But the little parts can be similarly gratifying.”

More Film

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

  • Taika Waititi Returning to Direct 'Thor

    Taika Waititi to Direct Marvel's 'Thor 4'

    Taika Waititi is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi’s take on the fourth “Thor” movie puts Warner Bros.’ long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely. However, the studio hopes that “Akira” can get resume production with Waititi at the helm once [...]

  • Akira

    'Akira' Production Put on Hold by Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has put its long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely, sources tell Variety. Sources indicate that after a brief delay, the studio has pulled the plug on production indefinitely for the classic anime adaptation, which was set to begin later this fall. “Thor: Ragnarok” helmer Taika Waititi was on board to direct, and the [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

  • Sebastian Maniscalco Green Book

    Sebastian Maniscalco Moves Into Movies With 'Green Book' and 'The Irishman'

    As a comedian whose routines not only lampoon Italian stereotypes but demand larger-than-life performances of those cultural peccadilloes, Sebastian Maniscalco has carefully — if inadvertently — created a niche for himself as an actor. In 2018, in between selling out shows at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, he took his first steps [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content