Christian Madsen & Ben Lloyd-Hughes Talk ‘Divergent’, Auditioning for Their Parts and Running Through Chicago
Guess what? Divergent is pretty damn good. I’ve never read any of the books it’s based on but from the start of the film to the very end, I was completely entertained.
Directed by Neil Burger and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen, the film is about a world where people are divided into factions based on their virtues. After Tris (Woodley) joins the Dauntless faction, she quickly learns that she’s Divergent and that’s where the real story begins.
Ben and Christian play members of Dauntless and after talking to them recently, it sounds like they had a blast in their roles. In a roundtable interview, they chatted about their auditions, fight training and how they found the fear needed for their roles.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.
I haven’t read the books, or the book, but did the movie stay true to your characters?
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, I think so.
Christian Madsen: I think I changed gender. It was weird. No, I’m kidding. No, yeah. I think that was all of our sort of thing in the beginning. We all met and read the script together as a group. We wanted to stay as true to the book as possible.
Especially, for me, believing that the most… one of the most important things, I’m sure, for Al was that to keep the friendship close between Christina, Will, Triss, because these are things I can relate to in a high school is sort of having this knit group when you go through a challenging situation like sort of Dauntless was. So, yeah, I think our main goal was to be as close to the book as possible.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah. And the great thing about Neal, the director, was when we were rehearsing it for kind of 3 weeks before shooting, he was so open to our ideas. He was like, “Is there anything in the book that you loved that isn’t in the script that you would love to… that you think is really important?” So that was mainly the conversation. Like, “I think everything in the script is great, there’s just one bit in the book that I think it would be really important to keep.”
Christian Madsen: Yeah, even though you have a set script, what is sort of great about movies different from a play, a play you sort of have to stick to what the writer has written. I mean, he was really like we would shoot one day and the next day he would go away and really rewrite or change certain things to be more like the book.
Or we would have these rehearsal processes where we wouldn’t necessarily act out the scenes. We would kind of read the scenes and then talk about it and what we all sort of wanted to have from it. And he was just so open and sort of really hands on about the whole approach and it was… yeah. It was great.
As an actor to sort of… that’s kind of what your goal is is to find a director that works with you and takes, you know, sort of what you say or your input seriously and I think he really individualized all of us and did that for us.
Working with such a big cast, how was that for you?
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: It was cool. It was a big ensemble vibe, so that was great.
Christian Madsen: It was good because we all got in that van day one and it was just kinda like you hear Ben’s British accent and Theo’s so it’s like it’s a great mixed bunch. But I think we all were similar but we all kind of were, you know, we all brought our own thing to the group and I think we really all connected really great.
And we had to do 3 weeks of stunt training and that was really a great bonding process. When you’re kind of like on your last breath and doing pushups and look over and somebody helps you up. You know? I mean, it’s like a cool moment, so it was just… that was sort of my first sort of experience where I was like, “Ok, these are some great people.”
You guys said you rehearsed for 3 weeks?
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, I’ve said… he says 2 weeks, I say 3.
Christian Madsen: I think it was 2.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: It felt like 3 to me.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, we were lucky to have it.
Christian Madsen: Some movies though, if you do like a Lone Survivor, you do like 4 weeks. But I think they just wanted to engrain in us mentally and physically that this is what the character is sort of going through. Just always thinking of this fighting style and this mentality of it’s kind of like one small step and you’re faction-less and one small step and you move up. And I think the training process really helped out with that and we were doing stuff I’d never really heard of. It was really interesting and you would sort of find yourself in your apartment that night sort of being like… you know, doing this thing and it was like it sort of got you mentally more into the character.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, it is a luxury to have the time if you can do it to sit down with the director before the first day on set and just have time to talk about what’s going on so it’s not so daunting.
Christian Madsen: Neal came to the warehouse that we were sort of doing the fighting stuff at and I remember being like, “Ok, don’t mess this up,” because we had to do this fight sequence and Neal sort of, like, watched us do it. But he was more like with us. I mean, that was sort of a cool experience to have him see sort of the starting steps to our little fight sequence. So it was great.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: I loved… there’s a few that were great. There’s one in the… I hope it’s still in the film. The canteen where we’re all, you know, at the beginning we’re all welcomed into the world and there’s a huge amount of extras where they lift us up and we’re eating and there’s a there’s a lot of improvisation. It was like crowd-surfing.
One of the other days I thought was just amazing was you realize you’re in a big film when they took over the streets of Chicago on a brilliant, beautiful Saturday morning and me, Miles, and Shea, and a lot of extras just running down and you can see the L train and the story was just run out of the… I don’t know if that’s made the cut but… We’re just running down and we had a few lines and it really made me feel… I’d always wanted to do, for some reason, a film where I ran down a street in a suit.
Christian Madsen: I remember you turning to me and you were like, “This is so cool.”
What were your auditions like?
Christian Madsen: It happened sort of fairly quicker than I hear other people’s were, at least for me. I sort of was at a place where I just kind of was not getting that next level, sort of the next audition or sort of callbacks or whatever. Just all my feedback was like, “Good, but too tall or too…” So it was just kind of like a lot of rejection.
And I had gotten a couple of auditions that week and one was this and the other was like CSI and it was like this other thing. But I remember leaving… and back too I related so much with Al and that experience. And I found other characters that I’ve related to before, but it’s just… it was different because this time I didn’t look up who was directing, I didn’t look up who was in it. You kinda get a breakdown letting you know sort of the studio that’s doing it. I just didn’t look at that page, I just went right to the sides and read the script and came in and did the scene and the audition. It felt good and they sort of asked me, “Where are you from?” and stuff and you leave and you don’t expect anything.
I got a call like 2 weeks later, “Don’t’ cut your hair,” and then I got a call another week later, “You’re gonna go on a Skype session with the director,” and I think it helped me because I didn’t look up who was directing it. So when I went to the Skype thing it wasn’t like I was like, “Woah, Neal is there.” I was just kind of like there’s this guy. And we did about 3 scenes 9 different times and sort of pushing the boundaries with more and more emotion. The scene had to consist of sort of me and… I was saying sorry to Triss but it was, “Push it. Push it more, more.” You know? Let’s take a second, give yourself a second to prepare, let’s go more. So he really wanted to see if there was any range there.
I left feeling like, “Hey, at least I did a good job,” and I’d got that feeling of what I wanted from acting and the craft of it and sort of therapeutic and… I got another call a week later, “Don’t cut your hair,” and then…
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Again?
Christian Madsen: Yeah, it was just, “Don’t cut your hair, man.” And then… yeah, and then I just sort of got a collective call from my agent or manager and I was being evicted at the time from my apartment, so it was very great timing, but yeah it was sort of like, “You got it.” I still didn’t believe it and I still don’t believe it.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, mine was a longer period. I went on tape for it about a year before it got made. I got sent the script quite early on. I loved it, I just got so wrapped up in the world and I said, “I love this script and I’d love to be a part of it.” Went on tape a couple of times for 4 actually, and I didn’t get that but I kinda forgot about that and then it came back and I was put on tape again.
And then I’d forgotten about it until I was in LA just doing some meetings and Divergent came up again. They were casting for Will and I gave it another read and still loved it and I thought Will was still a great character and just a really great part to play. And then I met Neal over Skype and he was… I was lucky enough that he had seen me in a film called Great Expectations, which is a British film that I did. I was at a huge advantage that he knew the work I’d done and he wanted me to be a part of it, so it was just a process of meeting him over Skype, doing some readings, and then meeting some producers over a few days and finally finding the news out, which rocked my world.
Since the movie is based a lot on fear, how did you find that for the roles?
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: It was interesting… that the biggest thing that was the process of the film, which was something I’d never done before, which was a lot of reacting to huge situations, huge stakes. So a lot of the projects I’d done before was dialogue based things where you know the intentions and the ideas of the character from what they say and what they do, whereas this was things happening to us and our reactions to that sometimes without even lines, it was to do with our eyes and our relationships to each other physically.
And so that was a really interesting idea of what you could convey with your eyes and the environment that you’re in, especially when there’s a green screen or you can’t see it physically, what will be seen on the screen. And that was the first time I’d had to deal with those kind of green screen ideas, but it was a good challenge.
Christian Madsen: I think when I sort of play something that I relate to, it’s… I’ve had those fears of… it’s smaller than going into a futuristic sort of faction, but your first day of high school. How are people gonna look at you? How are people gonna judge you?
I didn’t have as much confidence. Maybe I have a little bit more confidence, now, but in high school I wasn’t like that. In middle school I wasn’t like that. I went through a lot of changes. I didn’t always dress like this. I went through a hip hop phase, I went through a goth phase, I listened to rock. So you go through all these phases to find yourself. These are fears that, yeah, I dwelled up for Al and I know that he would go through those same things even if you didn’t see it on screen.
But it’s tough. People think, “Oh, you played Al and you’re kind of like Al.” It’s like, well it’s not easy because you have to be yourself and that’s tough. Bringing out the fears, I kinda just had to be myself and it was… it was a weird process.
But I sort of had to do this emotional scene with Shea where I come back and say I’m sorry and, you know, for me as an actor coming from theatre a little bit, the greatest compliment you can get is sort of having a director respond with you and sort of be in that sort of world with you. And that was what was so great with Neal is that we shot that scene, it wasn’t like he was behind the camera and me and Shea were off doing our thing. I mean, every cut it was like he would spend 10 minutes with Shea, he would come over to me, make sure everything was, you know, give me some type of thing to think about.
And that’s all I sort of want out of this whole experience of being an actor is to kind of go through these difficulties with someone else that’s willing to kind of take that ride with you or whatever. Couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to do it with.
You mentioned green screen. Does it take a while to sort of get used to acting with that?
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, it does take a while…
Christian Madsen: The good thing about it was that there wasn’t as much as you’d think. I think when I read the script, you would be like, “Ok, well they’re not gonna really have that ferris wheel there.” And then there was. They literally climbed a ferris wheel.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes: Yeah, because they based it in… we filmed it in Chicago…
Christian Madsen: Yeah, obviously we don’t have a 3 thousand foot cliff down to a sort of plummet down there, but they created everything else.
And the set direction was incredible on everything and I think that was what made our job sort of easier is we would really run down the streets of Chicago, like you would read in the book, and it was just kind of cool to go through that.
And when we first started shooting, there’s got to be some type of B-roll on the floor somewhere of, like, me or somebody laughing at just how realistic this was. It was just a lot of takes where, yeah, you’re kind of doing the training but then you’re like, “We’re really in this thing.” And I remember the first day of shooting when we shot this fight sequence with Theo’s character 4 showing us the fighting style of Dauntless, which was sort of this muay thai style and I remember we kinda walked in, I was like… it was kinda like dirty and these mats are sort of not clean and then we started the scene, I was kind of like, “Oh, this is how it… this is how it is. They’re really… this is… it’s real.” And so that was just… I mean, that was when I was like, “Ok, this is so cool.”
So, yeah. Not as much green screen as you think.