Shailene Woodley talks improvising an entire movie in steamy romance Endings, Beginnings
When two points of a steamy love triangle are played by Sebastian Stan and Jamie Dornan, why should the woman have to choose? That's the enviable position Shailene Woodley finds herself in with her new film Endings, Beginnings, directed by Drake Doremus.
"It feels very real and very authentic," Woodley tells EW of the film, which flips the script on the classic love triangle. "The idea of finding one person to fulfill and suit all of your needs is very archaic. It’s a paradigm that is quickly shifting in our changing, progressive world. I don’t even see it as a love triangle. I see it as one person who finds another person who stimulates her spiritually, philosophically, sexually. And then she finds another person who stimulates her intellectually and provides security and comfort and safety and predictability."
Starring Woodley as Daphne, a thirtysomething woman who suddenly upends her life, quits her job, and breaks up with her long term boyfriend, Endings, Beginnings kicks off as she decides to swear off booze and boys while she finds herself. But it's not long before she meets two polar opposite yet equally magnetic men, the stable and bookish Jack (Dornan) and passionate, sexy-but-troubled Frank (Stan). She just can't seem to stay away from either of them. The only problem? It turns out that Jack and Frank are actually best friends.
"But it’s more than a struggle between two different lovers and 'what do I do?'" Woodley says of Daphne's journey. "It’s a struggle of her own internal self-worth and self-examination asking, 'What type of a person do I want to be with?' This movie goes to show that she’s confused, she doesn’t have clarity on what type of traits are more important for her to be in alignment with. She finds two people who represent two different sides of her own personality."
That's why Woodley never found herself rooting for Daphne to pick one man over the other, and she says that viewers won't either. "When we were making this movie, my partner at the time was very much the Jamie type," she says with a laugh. "He was very much a Jack, very secure. I was comfortable. We were in love and yet I have had lovers in my past who are more of the Frank type who, although there isn’t that stability or safety net, they provide a fire, and you’re constantly in the back of your mind questioning what your life could be like if it was still in your life. So I wasn’t really rooting for either of them – I was rooting for her to figure her s--- out."
To some, Daphne may seem like a carefree, passionate artist who feels everything deeply. To others, she's reckless, flighty, and makes decisions without thinking about consequences. Endings, Beginnings follows her as she figures out who she is and what she wants for her life, no matter how complicated things get.
"Having the ability to actually tell a story where a woman has multiple layers was incredible," Woodley says. "And I don’t even think she’s messy, she’s a normal chick trying to figure her life out! We’re all trying to do the best we can with whatever tools we have. We make decisions sometimes that are controversial. Having that opportunity is so rare and because we had it with this film, as actors and as a director, we were able to experiment and explore every single color that there is to explore as humans."
But Woodley, Dornan, and Stan didn't have a traditional script to rely on to tell this story. Like his past work, Doremus once again created a movie that was mostly improvised by the actors, but that was something new to Woodley. "This movie was a deep dive into our own, internal worlds; it was an exploration of who we were as human beings outside of our characters more than it was an exploration of who our characters were," she says. "To improvise such intimate scenes, whether it was physical intimacy or psychological and emotional intimacy, we had to be fully present with one another. But we were three actors who met only a few days before filming together."
She adds with a laugh, "Thank goodness we were all sensitive and open enough to trust each other to the degree that we did. It felt like a month and a half long film shoot of therapy because we were just dumping everything we had held onto in our personal lives into these characters and, therefore, onto one another. It’s a miracle we all still love each other as much as we do. It felt more like a psychological experiment than actual filmmaking."
Woodley had been a fan of Doremus' work ever since she saw his breakout film Like Crazy almost a decade ago. "He’s one of the only people I find who tells stories about relationships in an authentic and genuine way," she says. "Relationships are messy; they’re high and they’re low, they’re hot and they’re cold, they’re romantic and fiery and dull." So over the years, she "incessantly bugged" her agents about getting the chance to work with him. It wasn't until she was living overseas in France that she finally got the opportunity when the lead actress of Endings, Beginnings had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. But the daunting obstacle of picking up her life and moving across the world in only three days, coupled with the idea of having to improvise an entire film with only a week and a half's notice, absolutely terrified her.
"I was incredibly nervous," she says. "In my head, I had assumed that in order to be a part of an improvised film, you would need a lot more time to understand the story and character because it’s not on the page. You’re really creating it yourself on the day. So I called Drake and I said, 'I would love to work with you but how would this work?' And he said, 'It’s going to be fine. Just trust me. Take the leap of faith. We’re in it together.' And so I said yes, I flew to L.A., and a week and a half later we were filming."
Her fears started to dissipate as soon as she sat down with Doremus for the first time. "Within two minutes of having a conversation with him, we both realized that we spoke the same love language," Woodley says. "We both approach life in very similar ways, in terms of how curious we are as people. We both live questions instead of seeking answers. I didn’t have expectations of what it would be like to work with him other than a deep-rooted, strong intuition telling me that there was something about him that was magnetic and that I would align with in a profound way, and that ended up manifesting."
When it came time to bringing Daphne to life onscreen, Doremus wanted Woodley to just be herself rather than improvising as a completely new character. "Drake is so keen on raw vulnerability," she says. But since there are "key fundamental differences" between the actors and their characters, it became more of a process of clarifying those differences. "We spoke about, what are the things that I thought would be the most difficult in embracing this character?" she says. "I’m quite a serious and responsible person, it’s very difficult for me to let go of control, to be a little bit chaotic. Daphne has a better way about her when it comes to feeling very free and not thinking ahead about consequences."
So Doremus and Woodley worked on letting go of control. "It was kind of a backwards approach, and it was incredible," she says with a laugh. "It’s hard to go back to a normal type of filmmaking after you work with Drake. You have such license to live fully in the character without any pretense, and that’s just something that’s is often not granted on other movie sets."
And by the end of production, Woodley found that she had become a new woman, much like Daphne. "I learned a lot about changes I wanted to make in my personal life because it revealed certain things I had settled for," she says. And she wants the film to do the same for everyone else. "I hope that people question their relationships, first and foremost with themselves, after watching," she adds. "And I hope they also question outer relationships they have with lovers, family members, friends, working relationships. Oftentimes we settle in our lives, and it's just not necessary."
Endings, Beginnings hits digital on April 17.