Theo James is the latest in a growing line of handsome actors cast as male leads in young adult adaptations, but he might be the best one yet. He's at least got the best sense of humor.
"I could lie and say I had read them before, but, no, I hadn't," James told HuffPost Entertainment when asked if he was familiar with "Divergent," Veronica Roth's popular YA novel, before signing on to the film. "In truth, the books hadn't really come to British shores in the way they had hit the shelves in America at that point. The awareness was lower. Obviously, though, as soon as I did the first audition and I realized things were progressing, I kind of read the first two that weekend."
The English-born James, 29, has a handful of screen credits to his name, but it's "Divergent" that will make him a star. The upcoming film -- the first in a planned trilogy -- stars James as Four, a star member of Dauntless, the bravest of the five factions that comprise society in post-apocalyptic Chicago. Four's cool demeanor is tested when Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) chooses to join Dauntless over her family's faction, Abnegation. The pair's nascent romance, and a brewing government coup, make up a bulk of the "Divergent" story, providing James with opportunities both amorous and physical. (Said James of his fight training for the "Divergent" role: "I specifically wanted Four to be someone who could potentially be really f--king lethal.")
To celebrate what Summit Entertainment, the studio behind "Divergent," is calling Candor Week (named for the faction that values honesty over all else), HuffPost Entertainment spoke to James about the upcoming film, why Four was so fun for him to play and which faction he'd most want to join.
To me, Four isn't necessarily like the male leads in other recent YA adaptations. He's more mature and confident, but there's also a dark side. Is that what interested you?
I think you're right. He has a cool, almost iconic nature to the way he was written. He has such a rich background, but he's not like a hunky legend. He's just a guy who is damaged by demons and his abusive father. He's also kind of a quiet person, but also dangerous at the same time. That really attracted me to the whole concept and story of the film. He has a kind of masculinity and a stillness that I don't think you see a lot these days, especially in young male characters and how they're written. He kind of had this old-school quality that I loved.
This is your first major starring role. Were you nervous at all about accepting a part in such a big franchise?
There's part of it that you don't really know, to be honest. Part of it you have to take on blind faith and instinct. This is definitely my biggest film, so the realities of say, for example, the press commitments: you don't know about that stuff. You can ask people, but until you've done it, you really have no idea. At the same time, you do think about it. It's not one movie. It's potentially three movies, with all the stuff in between. It's a big part of your life. It inevitably will shape your career. Because you're doing it three times, or however many times you're doing it, you have to love the character. Luckily, he is a cool character. I felt with him that I had an instant connection. Sometimes it takes a bit longer, but with him I knew how I wanted to play him and portray him. It felt like a fit.
"Divergent" has a lot to say about individuality, but what kind of message do you want audiences to take away from the film?
I like to think that it's about choice. I like the idea that the film is about self-determination. Whether you can affect your life by the choices you make. Tris decides against the test and the advice of her family to do something different. The question is: Can you affect your destiny and determine your future by your choices? Or, do we have no control over our destiny and each decision that we think we make is actually predestined? There's also the way they talk about fear. I think that's a cool concept, because it's not about being fearless. It's not about a tough guy being like, "I ain't afraid, motherf--ker." It's about someone who is afraid, but is saying, "I know I can deal with this. How am I going to deal with this? The way I do will help me conquer it and move forward." I think that's a cool thing because everyone is afraid from day to day. Whether it's a minor thing like doing an interview or interviewing someone.
Was acting something you always wanted to do?
I was one of those annoying little shits who had done it at school. I never went to a stage school or an acting school, but I went to university and still carried on acting and putting on crap plays. I did really bad short movies, which are f--king hilarious if anyone ever gets their hands on them. After university, I thought about various things, but I definitely wanted to be an actor and I always loved movies. I didn't really have a clear in to that world, though, when I was younger. I don't come from a family like that. I didn't really know anyone in the industry. It just happened a bit later. We used to do plays at school, and I do remember doing a really embarrassing version of Patrick Marber's "Closer." I remember feeling somehow that this was something that could be fulfilling, but also something you could put yourself into and be satisfying as a career, rather than just a hobby.
Are you looking forward to filming "Insurgent"?
I think they're pretty keen to film as quick as possible. They have this date already set for next year, obviously. [Ed. note: "Insurgent" is out on March 20, 2015.] There are certain restrictions that come with that plan, but I think it's a good idea, in a way, because it's quite nice to have momentum. It's actually good for the actors because it means you get to do work in a relative short period of time. That will happen. As for when it will happen, I don't know. There are obviously different factors in terms of how much prep time the director gets, et cetera, et cetera.
Speaking of directors: Robert Schwentke will replace Neil Burger for "Insurgent." Have you met him?
He's cool. I've met him. He's actually a really nice guy. It's very early days. At the same time, there's always the pragmatic part of me that does try not to think about it too much until the movie comes out. Inevitably, you never f--king know what's going to happen. There is nothing you can guarantee.
One thing I'll guarantee is that you get this question a lot going forward: What faction would you be?
I would be Slytherin [laughs]. No, I'd be Dauntless, because you can get f--ked up and have the most fun. They can drink. They can eat what they want. Also, the babes are hotter.
"Divergent" is out in theaters on March 21.