Theo James is a major teen heartthrob. But as any adult who has seen the 2014 hit film "Divergent" can attest, his acting work easily wins over older viewers too. In the YA-trilogy turned film series, James plays Four, the conflicted male lead and love interest of Shailene Woodley's Tris. In advance of the March 20 release of the series' second installment, "Insurgent," The Huffington Post got on the phone with the actor to talk about his onscreen character, pushing back against the stereotypes of masculinity and most pressingly, which celebrities he crushed on back when he was a teen.
You've mentioned before that one thing that drew you to Four was that he has a different kind of masculinity than we usually see in big blockbusters. How do you think the film pushes back against stereotypical gender norms?
I think first and foremost that Shai's character -- she is obviously "the one" as it said in the trailer -- but she's also not afraid to admit fear, or trepidation, or being uncertain. And that's the same with the male characters. I think what Robert [Schwentke, the film's director] has done really well is manage to service all the characters in a way that pushes against single dimension, and pushes against generalization. You have Ansel [Elgort, who plays Caleb], with a full, rounded storyline with a payoff and the same with Miles [Teller, who plays Peter].
In terms of Four's masculinity, I think in this one he gets to show a little bit of vulnerability. He's not just the tough guy. He's trying to protect the only person he actually loves and cares about and she is this kind of damaged, self-destructive, compulsive person. He's trying to stop her from self-destruction. He's masculine but at the same time he's actually quite quiet. There's a reluctance to him. He's not: "Rock 'n roll, here are my biceps."
How has your life changed since you've become the subject of extreme teen fandom?
I get more free jeans [laughs]. No, I'm kidding. Obviously things are different. I don't want to put myself in certain situations. But I am a firm believer in -- it's obviously different if you're the Cloonster or something -- but I'm still a firm believer in that you can do the same things as you did before. I have the same friends I've had for years and the same family. Unless you love rock 'n roll and Hollywood parties and having your photo taken, I don't think necessarily things need to change too much.
When you were a teenager did you have a big celebrity crush?
Of course, I had many. The early days was "Barb Wire," Pamela Anderson. Then, when I was at university, Jessica Alba. I was fucking obsessed with her. "Into the Blue," that came out when I was studying.
I wonder how they would feel to know that now.
[Laughs] I don't think they would give a fuck.
Is there a dream project you'd like to work on?
I'd love to do something where I played a musician.
You're a musician in real life, right?
Yeah. I think that would be kind of cool. I'd love to play a jazz musician. I think they're making a Chet Baker biography. I think Ethan Hawke is doing that, which is actually a good fit. Something like that would be good.
Did you see your co-star Miles Teller's jazz film "Whiplash"?
I did. I loved it. It was awesome.
Maybe you guys should do a jazz jam out. The Internet would love it.
Yeah, we should. And just, like, spoon each other after.
How do you feel playing Naomi Watts' son when she's only like 16 years older than you?
I keep joking that she was set to be, like, 7 years old when she gave birth. Weirdly, I think its actually kind of cool. I think it adds an interesting dimension because it also suggests abuse. A 16-year-old who was kind of in a strange society and forced into marriage by an abusive husband. That is interesting, that story in itself. She didn't just leave her kid. She was kind of damaged herself, and evidently she's not a completely sane person. So that's going to reflect itself later in the other movies. [Ed. note: Watts' character's exact age isn't actually said in the movie, and it seems like Four is probably younger than James. So the characters may actually have more than 16 years between them.]
The last installment of the "Divergent" series, "Allegiant," is written partially from Four's point of view. Do we see more from his perspective in the upcoming film?
Yes, you will. Dual perspective in a movie sense is difficult, but you'll definitely see more of his character. They also practically separate as characters -- Tris and Four -- for large sections of that book. So yeah, it will be told in a different way. I'm guessing, to be honest, I don't know.
If you were joining Dauntless and could choose a new name -- the way Tobias chooses Four and Beatrice chooses Tris -- what would it be?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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