Shailene Woodley Is Scared of Love — But Not Much Else
"I don’t trust anyone. Dating’s hard. I mean, I love sex. I love the power of emotional connection via physicality. Who doesn’t? ... But love is scary."
For our June cover, InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown sat down with the five stars of Big Little Lies to hear what they had to say about their hit series, their lives, and their relationships with each other. Each interview, like the show itself, touches on love, friendship, struggle, and ambition — which these women have in spades.
LAURA BROWN: Would you characterize yourself as an ambitious person?
SHAILENE WOODLEY: The word “ambition” has so many negative connotations for me because I feel like it can be cruel in a lot of ways. I think of people using other people. Oftentimes ambition can easily be “Get out of my way because I have a goal, and anything standing in front of me is going to be completely eradicated.” But every word has a polarity, and we can all define things differently. People always talk about ambition in terms of dreams and goals and success, but ambition can also be humble.
LB: Yeah, you can be ambitious to love someone, to effect a change. So how driven were you when you were young?
SW: I’ve always been driven. But I’ve been driven by ... Listen, I have to be careful about the words I choose because it’s easy for people to call me a hippie. [laughs]
LB: You’re fine. You said you had a burger the other night. That’s, you know, not eating lentils.
SW: For sure. [laughs] I truly feel like I’ve been driven by something greater than myself. The great unknown is figuring out which direction to go in and which path will have the least resistance for not only my journey but for doing something to leave things a little nicer than they were before.
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LB: I don’t see you all the time, but when I do you’re like, “I’m living in Paris. Oh, now I’m living in the great American West.” What makes you pick up and move to these different places?
SW: My father grew up poor. Like, no-electricity poor. His entire life was about protecting and serving his family because that wasn’t what he had when he was a child. My parents worked their asses off to give my brother and me a life where we could go camping on weekends. We could afford to go to Mexico once a year. Everything was, like, more is more. But I came into the world, like, less is more. I saw everything around me moving at such a quick pace, especially being a young person in this industry, auditioning and dealing with rejection...
LB: When did you start auditioning?
SW: I was 5. So that’s 23 years. This year will be 24.
LB: That either stiffens your spine or makes you wobbly.
SW: It made me incredibly responsible, incredibly serious. And observant and flexible. I was worldly from a young age because I was exposed to so many adults and so many stories. In my early 20s I got rid of everything I owned and lived out of a carry-on. I loved it. As I got older I really craved a home, but now I find myself hungry for constant change again.
LB: Well, you are in an industry that encourages transience.
SW: It does make sense. And you have to be metabolically suited to that, to go into friendships superintensely for two, three, six months, and then bust out of that pod.
LB: What did that teach you about relationships?
SW: That a meaningful, profound connection doesn’t need to sustain itself forever. It also taught me that people come into our lives for reasons, seasons, or lifetimes. Just because you may not be in contact with someone doesn’t mean that impact has any less importance. One of the negatives of technology is that we’re constantly in the know. I love to be in a foreign location because it’s uncomfortable, and I get high off connecting with people I otherwise would never have the opportunity to connect with. Constant technological connection and communication feels like an anchor that’s not adding joy or spontaneity or creativity to my life.
LB: I understand the desire to just stop. But given that you’re pretty well known, can you just plonk into all these places?
SW: A thousand percent. The way fame affects your life is determined by your lifestyle. Moving around a lot makes me feel more secure, and it makes me a better artist because I get to talk to and learn from people. If I’m going to tell stories outside my wheelhouse, I need to at least have personally observed these experiences to understand them. Not all actors are like that because they are classically trained. I’m not.
LB: What are you the least confident about?
SW: Shit ... That’s a question for my therapist. [laughs] The honest answer to that is so many things are changing for me at the moment. I recently started therapy, and it has dramatically altered my life. A few months ago I was the least confident in my self-worth. I don’t beat myself up over it anymore, but I still feel like I don’t fully trust myself to say no to certain things, to trust my discernment. But I will be, very soon.
LB: What are you the most confident about?
SW: I’m really confident I can get shit done. Making the impossible possible. Since I was 18, people told me it would be impossible to live wherever I wanted. Impossible to live a certain lifestyle. Impossible to be in another feature film. Impossible to be political. Fuck that. Fuck the impossible. My dad always used to say, “If we hadn’t invented the wheel, how much of our brains would we be accessing?” I can’t help but ruminate on that.
LB: Well, it’s similar, the wheel and the phone. They make our lives easier but speed things up at the same time.
SW: It’s also melting our confidence and ambition. That world demands validation from an external silent predator, which is social media. At what point do you participate and feel good about it, and at what point do you feel like this isn’t helpful?
LB: How do you navigate your personal life [in this age of social media]? Do you get asked out a lot? Do you get set up?
SW: No, I don’t trust anyone. Dating’s hard. I mean, I love sex. I love the power of emotional connection via physicality. Who doesn’t? But now I’m only interested in those unexpected impactful connections. It’s easy to talk about the positive things about love, but love is scary. Recently I was speaking with a friend, and we were like, “When was the last time you met someone and had the ability to say, ‘I’m so attracted to you. I think your mind stimulates my mind in ways I can’t explain. Creatively, I’m feeling a 10. Physically, I can’t wait to know what you feel like. And you scare the shit out of me’?”
LB: “And nice to meet you.” [both laugh] OK, let’s give the people what they want: Big Little Lies. How did it feel to be in Season 2?
SW: Excited. Honored. Nervous. And curious. There are so many unknowns because the scripts are constantly evolving. When I’m watching Big Little Lies, I feel as if I’m as much an audience member as anyone else. When I do films, I see myself in almost every shot, but with this project, I take up five minutes, so I get to see story lines unfold. I’m properly eating popcorn on the edge of my seat when I watch Big Little Lies.
LB: You’re all friends off set as well. What does it mean to spend time with a group of women like that?
SW: It feels comfortable. As natural as breathing air. We can share space in silence. We can share space in noise. We can share space in reflection or gossip or anger or sadness or triumph. But every space is grounded in business. I’ve experienced that on lots of movie sets with an individual, but I’ve never experienced that with a group.
LB: What have you learned about all these ladies? We’ll start with Zoë.
SW: I’ve learned what it’s like to grow up with someone. We know each other in a way that is very rare because we’ve seen each other in vulnerable moments. And exciting and empowered moments. It wouldn’t be honest to say we haven’t had challenges, but we’ve stuck by each other’s sides. She’s like my sister. I would go to the ends of the earth for Zoë Kravitz. That woman has been a trailblazer, and she is truly interested in evolving into a better version of herself. That is something I respect beyond words. She’s also a genius. The world should be excited to see what Zoë creates, because she is a jack-of-all-trades.
LB: And Reese?
SW: I want to cry when I think about Reese, because that woman holds the weight of so many worlds on her shoulders yet manages to show up day in and day out with more ambition than anyone I’ve ever met. More drive, more care, more passion. Even if she disagrees with you, she will take the time to understand. Sometimes I get a mothering comfort from Reese, and other times I get a cool-big-sister vibe. I admire how she’s able to use humor to create the change she wishes to see. That is her superpower. She’s also a ninja.
LB: She gets it done. And Laura?
SW: Laura’s like a warm, squishy Hershey’s Kiss. I don’t see her or speak with her as much as I wish, but we’ve had a deep bond since we shot The Fault in Our Stars . She helped me through personal battles, and I’ve helped her through hers. We have a connection that deserves more than the label “friends.” She’s family to me. When I’m around her, even if I say nothing, she understands what’s happening in my life. And I can vibe her out and know exactly what she’s experiencing.
LB: And Nicole?
SW: Nicole is my ultimate muse. What stimulates her more than anything are the inbetween moments most of us neglect. Most of us would just do this interview and forget to acknowledge there’s a candle burning next to us. That would be the first thing Nicole would say: “Oh, it’s beautiful.” Then she’d come back. And Nicole’s capacity for reading someone’s soul is greater than anybody’s I know in this industry. She’s hyper-aware of what’s happening. She’s mastered discernment. In all areas of her life.
LB: How wonderful and weird and strange that this show and these relationships all came together.
SW: Life is so strange. [sighs] But I always say nothing is weird anymore.
Photographed by: Pamela Hanson. Styling: Julia Von Boehm. Hair: John D. for Forward Artists. Makeup: Kara Yoshimoto Bua for Starworks Artists. Manicure: Stephanie Stone for Forward Artists.
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 17.