Before she swings off with Spider-Man next summer, the 21-year-old is staying grounded in a heartwarming indie

By Sara Vilkomerson
Updated May 24, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT


These days, coming-of-age films about teenagers tend to involve sci-fi dystopias or superpowered adventures — a trend Shailene Woodley knows only too well. The in-demand actress recently finished work as Mary Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and is currently filming the adaptation of YA best-seller Divergent, starring as heroine Beatrice Prior. But her movie this summer, The Spectacular Now (rated R), is a throwback to a different era. ”It’s like a movie made in the ’70s or ’80s,” says Woodley, adding that she spent more than two years lobbying for the part of Aimee, a bright high school student who tries to ignore the frenzied goings-on in her school’s social thunderdome. Once she was aboard, Woodley and Spectacular director James Ponsoldt talked a lot about how best to tell the story of Sutter (Miles Teller), a popular but troubled senior who falls for Aimee. ”We couldn’t think of a [”contemporary”] movie that has the feel of a John Hughes film,” she says. By all accounts they succeeded in making one — this poignant indie (based on the Tim Tharp novel) has obvious strands of Hughesian DNA in its quiet yet angst-ridden portrayal of first love.

Filming it contained some new acting experiences as well. ”It was my first time having to do a sex scene in a movie,” says Woodley, who just wrapped five seasons talking a lot about sex on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. She calls the finished product — a raw and almost uncomfortably intimate sequence — her favorite of the film. ”We wanted it to feel real and private. So many times [a movie version] of losing your virginity is glamorous. That’s just not the case in real life,” she says with a laugh. She credits Ponsoldt — ”I’d do anything and everything for him” — and her costar for putting her at ease. ”Miles was such a gentleman,” she says. ”Everybody should have Miles Teller in their film.” Of course, she has him twice — he plays one of her rivals in Divergent. ”I went to give him a big hug the other day, and he kinda pushed me away because we were about to do a scene together which was kinda intense. I was like, ‘Dude, what’s up?’ As soon as it was over we were back to normal.”

Another first for Woodley on The Spectacular Now? Wearing no makeup on screen. The 100-degree temperatures in Athens, Ga., last summer would have melted it off — and the actress says going natural helped make the movie seem true to life anyway. ”There was not a drop of foundation or cover-up,” she says. ”Oh! Except for the prom scenes.” Authentic indeed.

The Spectacular Now

  • Movie
  • R
  • 95 minutes
  • James Ponsoldt