In England, class-consciousness seems to be almost inborn, but I’ve noticed this film has a very American perspective on class. Did you notice any differences between your upbringing, and the way the themes were presented in the film?
The class system is endemic in England. When I first started coming over to America, there was a sense of elation because where people come from is not as important. I’m not really sure you could call Divergent a class system. When first approaching the book, I thought, “would it work in a real society?” And ultimately no, because we’re all very different people motivated by different things. The way I saw the faction system is more like different political and religious ways of thinking, and thus different kinds of cultural circles.
When you’re going through scenes that involve the ways of conducting oneself to hide being Divergent, like Four explaining to Tris that the Dauntless wouldn’t break the glass in her fear landscape, did your experience as a philosophy graduate [from the University of Nottingham] play into that?
I analyzed those scenes in a way that was more complex than I needed to [laughs]. My take on it was a question of determinism—it’s about choice. The question is, do they affect Tris’ future, or is it already predetermined? Or, by choosing not to become Abnegation, is she suddenly determining her path differently? And in terms of the fear landscapes—how conscious are you? You assume that everyone else in the fear landscapes are not conscious of themselves because they are just reacting on instinct, that if they’re in a test and a dog runs at them, they fall away. But, the Divergents can be conscious within consciousness.
It’s presented as this dystopian future, but it was interesting to see that it wasn’t as bleak as I imagined it to be. It was a functional society with an abundance of technology. If you could take anything from that vision of the future and bring it into the present, what would it be?
Neil Burger, the director, said, “you want to set up a world that actually functions although you see the flaws in it.” It has to function because then, when the destruction happens, there are real stakes. I liked the wind farms on the side of the buildings that generate energy. They don’t have mobile phones or an equivalent, which is probably a good thing, because I look at mine way too much.
Are you considering getting into music again, or do you not have the time these days?
I’d love to, to be honest, but I guess it would have to be in the right context, if I had the ability to do it 100%. I still hang out with my mates from college and we send each other songs, write and do occasional gigs in London.
After such a big movie, the next few steps in your career will be important. Is this something you are thinking about or do you have a whatever’s- going-to-happen-is-going-to-happen kind of attitude?
You don’t know how this is going to turn out, so there’s nothing to prepare for, necessarily. All that you hope for is success and whatever comes with that you’ll take in your stride. But, at the same time, I’m not 22, I’m 29, so the choices that I make after this have to be very deliberate because there will be ramifications from the movie being in the genre that it is. I’ll have to make choices that help me avoid typecasting.
In keeping with this being a new stage of your career, how is it coming into this big blockbuster, compared to the TV work you have done in the past?
To be honest, it doesn’t feel like a change. I started in 2010 and I’ve jumped between both films and TV. Some of the good cable is replacing that hole in the market that is the $20- to $30-million dollar movie, which they don’t really make anymore. TV is still a great place. I was watching Breaking Bad the other day and Bryan Cranston’s arc in that is great. And True Detective is f—ing awesome.
Photo (above right): Theo James with co-star Shailene Woodley at the Toronto premiere of Divergent