by Emma Loggins
We had the honor of sitting down with the star of The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, Shailene Woodley. Here’s what she had to say about the show, her character, and her future:
Can you tell me in your own words what the series is about and what it’s going to explore throughout the season and then a little bit about the character of Amy, who we got introduced to this week?
S. Woodley: The show kind of explores teenagers and decisions they make in high school, you know, like when to have sex decisions. And the awesome thing about our show is it doesn’t really refer to drugs or alcohol, which is very rare in TV these days. So I think it’s definitely important for the public to know what teenagers do and talk about at high school and for parents to know what their teens are doing, because often they’re completely clueless.
My character, Amy Juergens, she is a go-getter, she’s excited for life, she wants to go to Julliard, she has all these amazing goals. And then she finds out she’s pregnant, and her world kind of comes crashing down and her sense of optimism turns to pessimism. And she freaks out, because all she’s ever known has been completely turned upside down. And she has no one to go to to talk to about her pregnancy. So it’s definitely a hard time in her life.
How long is it going to be before the secret kind of gets out and her family finds out? Is that going to happen fairly early in the season or is that going to go for a while with only Amy and her friends knowing about it?
S. Woodley: Amy tells her friends pretty quickly, obviously, and the rest of her family, they progressively find out.
What originally drew you to this role, this character? Why did you want to play Amy?
S. Woodley: Well I have a few similarities to my character, Amy. But I think the biggest thing is it definitely has improved my range of what I can do as far as an actress, because Amy has so many things going on in her head. She has her parents issues, her dad moving out, her pregnancy, her little sister who she bickers with all the time, and so I thought it would be so fun to be able to explore this young woman who’s going through all of these tragic horrors basically. It’s been hard, because most of the episodes I’ve been crying and a lot of depressing things have been happening in Amy’s life, but I’m still trying to give her that sense of optimism, trying to be happy, and trying to accept what’s going on.
How many episodes the show is going to be around for? Also, I don’t know if you can tell us this one, but kind of what period of time the first set of episodes is going to cover.
S. Woodley: We have ten episodes so far, and the period of time, I actually don’t know that one.
Jennifer (Of ABC Family): I can kind of jump in and let you know. We’ll see her, at the end of the ten episodes she’ll still be pretty early on in the pregnancy.
How challenging has this role been for you? And also, I don’t know if you’ve received any criticism for portraying a teenage pregnancy, what your response is to that?
S. Woodley: So far I haven’t looked for it, so I haven’t received any criticism. The role has been challenging in some sense, because this is my first role where she’s basically sad and lost in tragedy but still a teenager, still excited about school dances, and she has a new boyfriend and she’s finding love for the first time. So it’s a bunch of different colors that I kind of have to put into one rainbow, so it’s been fun to figure out.
How would you say this show is different from other teenage dramas that are out there that have been on TV in the years past?
S. Woodley: I think my show is different because, like I said earlier, a lot of the teenage dramas that have been on or are on now all deal with drugs and alcohol and teenagers adding negative things to the world. The nice thing about our show, which I think is definitelyâ€”Brenda Hampton is amazing, it’s part of her complete talentâ€”is our show deals with sex probably 30 or 40 times in the pilot, but it’s all about the confusion about sex and the questions teenagers have and trying to figure out who they are through sex or the consequences of it, like Amy Juergens.
I think it’s definitely really amazing that we focus on the positive things on teenagers, because the public right now they kind of have a negative outlook on teens and myself being a teenager, I want to change that and be able to show that we have just as much power to change this world as anyone does. So I think it’s really cool what Brenda has created.
Did you know who Brenda was and what she had done before you took this role, or at what point did you find out?
S. Woodley: I did. I knew her from Seventh Heaven. I thought Seventh Heaven was an amazing show, and I had no idea what other shows she has done. Her range of vocabulary and talent – she’s definitely the kind of lady that I aspire to be one day.
Molly Ringwold is playing your mother in this. Back in 1988 she did the movie, For Keeps, where she played a pregnant teen. Have you talked to her at all about the dynamic and how it’s an issue, I guess, teenage pregnancy?
S. Woodley: We have talked about it, and it’s funny because I didn’t know she had done that movie until she had told me, and we kind of laughed about it and how ironic it was that she was now playing the mom of a pregnant teen. Then we talked about the issue of how it had happened back in the day and now how the issue is being brought back up again, and we kind of both decided that it’s not more of an issue now because there was, we think, just as many teens back then that were getting pregnant, it’s just more socially accepted now. Not that it’s expected; it’s just not as looked down upon quite as much as it was back then. So, we think that by bringing it up again we’re able to stir up different emotions and different feelings and different controversies and be able to put it in terms that are understandable for everybody.
How different is it playing this part where you see yourself on the posters, you’re the lead in this role compared toâ€”well I guess you were the lead in Felicity but that was really a one shot thing, this is a series that you’re on posters for everywhere. Is that a cool thing, or how does that make you feel?
S. Woodley: I’ve been acting for almost 13 years, and it’s just been my hobby. My friends went to soccer practice; I went to auditions. So I’ve never really thought of it as a job or something that my life could be created after. It’s just been something that I have an immense passion for.
Seeing my poster up everywhere is so unreal, and it’s almost like a false reality. I can’t really decipher that that’s actually me. I’m at the mall with my friends, or whatever, and we all kind of laugh at it because we don’t know how to react. It’s always been something that I look at as my hobby, not for fame or anything other than the fact that I love it. So it’s definitely an unreal experience, and it’s weird getting used to.
So the poster, you’re obviously wearing, I don’t know if you’d call it a body suit or the prosthetic that makes you look pregnant. How does that seem to work with? Is it something that you have to wear around, and is it heavy?
S. Woodley: Actually, right now in the early stages of the pregnancy and in the poster I was using a stuffed belly. So it’s not prosthetics or anything, and it’s lighter than a pillow. So it’s kind of fun just to wear around and walk around set. People come around and poke your belly, or whatever, just because it’s weird to see a tall, skinny, gangly, 16-year-old wearing a pregnancy belly.
How did you decide you wanted to go into acting to start with? You’ve been doing it since you were five, I think you said?
S. Woodley: Yes. It was kind of an accident, actually. I’m not even entirely sure how it happened. My cousin used to be a model and one day brought a talent-call audition thing with her and my mom was like, “Hey, you want to act today?” and I was like, “Sure!” And it just kind of happened. I was never forced to do it, and I never forced them to take me to auditions. It was just kind of one of those things that worked for everybody.
It seems there are the parents and the teachers, but besides that there’s a pretty big young cast kind of close in age to you. So I’m wondering how that’s been working with a group of people who are pretty close in age and how fun that’s been.
S. Woodley: Everyone on the cast is just incredible. There’s not one person that doesn’t fit in. Everybody just meshed together from day one. Everyone’s so down to earth and just so optimistic about the future, and everyone wants to inspire and change the world. So it’s such a great setting to be in. It’s like a second family, and I am the youngest out of everybody. The age range goes from 16 to 25, and everybody is just so welcoming of each other and accepting, no matter what has happened in the past or whatever. It’s really cool to be able to have new friends that you get to spend time with every single day.
Is there anything that surprised you as you were learning about this role, anything that kind of shocked you about teenage life, being a pregnant teenager or things like that?
S. Woodley: I have always been an individual, independent kind of person, and if I were to have a problem I always went to my mom or my friends and told them right away. The thing that’s surprising to me that I’d never looked at as another side of a teenage mind, is my character Amy, when she found out she was pregnant, she didn’t tell anyone for a long time. Then she told her friends, and progressively she’ll tell her family. It’s very different for me to realize because I’ve always been the kind of person that if I have an issue I usually share it with somebody who’s really close to me right away. So I kind of learned about teenagers and how maybe self-aware they are or how introverted they are, because I’ve always been an extrovert. So it was definitely cool to be able to explore that side of life.
The press release for the show says that ABC Family is going to be working with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and I was wondering if you’re going to be a part of that at all or if you’re doing anything to support that effort?
S. Woodley: So far I’ve done a PSA saying how teen pregnancy is preventable and how parents and teenagers can handle it. Other than that we haven’t done anything so far. But I definitely hope to be a part of it, because I want to express my feelings on teen pregnancy and how girls can be helped and how they can realize that they’re not alone in this situation.
Did you do anything to watch the premiere this week? Did you get friends together and did you have a party or anything?
S. Woodley: My family and I went to my agent’s house and we all hung out with my agent and managers and just had a blast. So, that’s what we did.
I’m going to switch away from the show for a few minutes here and ask you some questions about yourself. I was wondering, do you eventually want to go to college?
S. Woodley: I do.
What do you want to study?
S. Woodley: I’ve gone to public school my whole life, and three months ago before the show I was planning to apply to NYU in a couple of months. So it’s crazy how life changes so quickly. I do want to go to college. I want to live in New York at some point in my life. I want to go to NYU, and I want to study psych and interior design. They’re completely opposite, but I’m creative and I love the arts, so that’s why I like interior design; and I think psychology is just so fascinating to be able to study the human mind and the human characteristics and the way that we work. So I think that’s definitely up my alley. I want to have options.
Do you think you’ll eventually get out of acting, or will you use that? I guess those are two things you can kind of pull into an acting career, too.
S. Woodley: Yes. I’m the kind of person who likes to try everything in the world, and I will always act just because it’s really the one thing I can express myself fully in and let go of all prerequisites and just be myself in that character, whatever that character may be. So I’ll always act just because it’s my passion, but I want to do other things on the side, too. So we’ll see where the path takes me, and I’ll follow and do what I want to do at the time.
Sounds good. What do you like to do in your free time, or do you have any free time?
S. Woodley: Lately free time has been hard to find, but I love to sew. I love to make bags or shirts or dresses or whatever. So I do a lot of sewing, and my best friend and I actuallyâ€”she’s an amazing photographer; she wants to be a fashion photographer when she’s olderâ€”so we’ll go to the mountains or whatever and we’ll take pictures and I’ll pose for her so she can get a portfolio together. We’re just very creative. We like to go around and make things out of random scraps of anything.
I’m definitely an environmentalist. I think that nature is very important, and I dedicate a lot of my time studying awareness about recycling and the effects of bamboo and how it can be incredible over wood and a lot of random things. But I think the environment is something people need to start paying attention to. And it has. People have started to pay more attention to it, so that makes me very, very proud.
That actually kind of leads into what I was going to ask you next. With a show like this, especially with you as the lead, you’re kind of developing a voice. You’re going to have the ability to focus attention on different charities or different activities just by talking about things. Are there any specific groups that you’re involved with or that you support currently or that you’re going to?
S. Woodley: Currently I support the Ronald McDonald Organization and the National Elizabeth Glaser AIDS foundation. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and I haven’t really found an organization that I have connected to completely, and I want to do somethingâ€”I want to start an organization that allows families who are unable to go on vacation, I want to provide them with money through an organization to be able to let them go on vacation. I’ve been fortunate enough my entire life to go on one vacation a year, whether it be to Mexico or on a cruise or something, and a lot of my friends never had that opportunity. I think it’s important for kids to be able to have that one time a year where they can get out of the jungle of life and be themselves. So I want to start an organization for that, and I want to be a part of theâ€”I don’t know if I want to join Green Peace or something that has to do with nature, but I haven’t figured out what I want to join yet.
Who should be watching this show and why?
S. Woodley: I haven’t really figured out a minimum age, because it all depends on the maturity level of the young individual, but definitely it should focus on teenagers, and I think parents should watch it, too, because there’s a whole other side to the show that I don’t think people realize right off. That is that parents can learn so much, because Adrian’s mom on the show, she has no idea what her daughter is doing half the time, so I think it’s important for parents to be able to realize that when they leave for a week their teens aren’t necessarily studying for algebra, they’re doing something else. So I think it’s important to open parents’ eyes all around America.
The Secret Life Of The American Teenager