We're eagerly anticipating the release of the big-screen adaptation of Divergent, Veronica Roth's novel about a girl, Tris (Shailene Woodley), finding her way in a society that is divided into factions. We recently sat down with director Neil Burger and got a peek at a few of the scenes — many of which we saw a sliver of in the most recent trailer. We saw Tris get nicked by Four (love interest Theo James) in the knife-throwing sequence, Tris's troubling aptitude test, and, best of all, a kissing scene between Tris and Four! We also chatted with Burger and a few other reporters about the scene in question — which you can watch below! — and he opened up about the very real chemistry between Woodley and James, James's "real man" status, and that pesky Hunger Games comparison.
What's the dynamic of the relationship between Four and Tris?
Neil Burger: I think what's cool about the relationship is that they don't fall in love in the beginning. There's real friction and certainly sexual tension in their relationship, but he's incredibly hard on her. [He's] really pushing her, and it just has a different kind of feel to it. He's like a stone wall, just gives nothing. It's really confusing to her, and it's compelling for her, and you see that in that knife throw. He cuts her, but he sort of does it on purpose, because that's actually the only way to get her off the hook in front of Eric, who's a real dangerous character. And then obviously later, they come together.
Why did you cast Theo James as Four?
NB: Because he's a real man. He is. And he is tough as nails, and he is really intimidating. Shailene, actually, is a really strong actress. She's powerful herself, and we needed somebody that was more powerful than her, which wasn't easy to find. We found somebody who intimidated her, basically.
He's an incredible fighter. He really has those chops. There's a number of scenes in the movie where he fights, and he's amazing, as well as having this really wonderful quality. I've said this before, that he has this combination of Paul Newman crossed with Bruce Lee. He's this wonderful man, but then he has an exotic quality to him as well. And they — Shailene and Theo — have a real natural chemistry, which you hope for. They really cared for each other and amused each other and were turn on by each other, actually. That's partly what's going on in the movie as well, minus the "maybe they amused each other." There's this sort of palpable energy for a number of different reasons in the story. They're both from Abnegation, he's this stone wall, he's got these incredible secrets as well, which makes him vulnerable, which makes him put up his guard more.
Is there more or less romance in the movie than there is in the book?
NB: I think it's similar to the book, but I think what you have is an atmosphere of sexual tension throughout the movie. There's the romance that's the kissing and the giving in; then there's the cat and mouse, the dance leading up to it. That's what there is a lot of. The movie is incredibly romantic in that way. It has this quality of romance, because they are eyeing each other and tiptoeing around each other each in their different way. There is this palpable attraction and friction and electricity between them in the while movie.
What do you make of the Hunger Games comparison to Divergent?
NB: It's annoying. [But] this movie probably exists because of the success of that movie, and that movie exists because Twilight was a success, and Harry Potter. These movies have a lineage. The comparison, yeah, it is annoying; it is, however, a young woman in a postapocalyptic society, so the comparisons are inevitable. However, as I said, going inside this world, that's a very prominent part of this story. This is a far more complex story than Hunger Games, and if you know the book, she starts out questioning her place in society and questioning society itself in a real way.