With the latest in the DIVERGENT series, ALLEGIANT, we’re introduced not just to the continuing adventures of our heroes from the previous two films but also to a host of new characters and a new location, outside of Chicago, called the Bureau (said to have been built where O’Hare Airport once stood. Led by a man named David (Jeff Daniels), those at the Bureau have been monitoring the activity in Chicago quite closely for generations, and now Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and their team have escaped Chicago and have been brought into the fold at the Bureau, where Tris’s special ranking as Divergent get her the royal treatment.
Among those new character in the Bureau are David’s right-hand man Matthew (“Hemlock Grove’s” Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan, brother of Alexander) and one of the toughest fighters in the facility Nita (German actress Nadia Hilker, who some of you may have seen in last year’s fantastic horror love story SPRING). The new blood certainly makes ALLEGIANT a more interesting view than the previous films, and both of these new characters will return in the second half of this story, ASCENDANT, out in June 2017.
I had a chance to sit down with Skarsgard and Hilker in Chicago (coincidence? I think not) last week to discuss being a part of an already established franchise and some of the bigger-picture ideas at play in the DIVERGENT series. They were actually great fun to chat with, and I hope you enjoy my talk with them…
Capone: I assume you flew into O’Hare today?
Bill Skarsgard: Uh huh.
Capone: Was it weird flying into this place you’re supposed to have just made a movie in and looking for landmarks and Jeff Daniels?
Nadia Hilker: Sure! [laughs]
Capone: Did it occur to you as you were landing, “Oh, we’re here. This is where we’re supposed to live.”
NH: I mean it was both. I’ve never been to Chicago, so it was like, “Oh, this is Chicago. And it’s the same place where the film happens.” So it was both.
BS: And it’s the busiest airport in the world, so that’s the only thing I was thinking coming down. I was talking to my girlfriend because she was with me: “This is the busiest airport.” She’s like, “Really?” I’m like, “Yeah.” And I had to like Google it because I’m not entirely sure.
NH: I think Atlanta and Chicago, right?
Capone: One of them has the most people coming through, and one of them has the most flights.
NH: Isn’t that the same thing?
BS: No it’s how many take offs and landings you have a year.
Capone: Some of those flights are freight, mail, and things like that.
BS: On Wikipedia, it said “the busiest in the world,” so I’m going with that.
Capone: So you’re coming into this film, in an already-established world with these people who have been working together for a few years now. What were the things that you did and they did to indoctrinate you into the world and into the work situation?
NH: Besides watching DIVERGENT and INSURGENT, and the producers were really nice in taking care of us, not much. It was kind of like jumping in the cold water, which I like. It was definitely nerve wracking and exciting and scary too.
BS: It was weird to be on a set where you show up and not only do you know the cast, because you’ve seen previous films and recognize their faces, but you’ve never met them before and they’ve never met you, so you go, “Hi. I’m the new guy.” They know each other very well. They know their characters, there are a lot of inside jokes, and they’re like, “Oh, hey Bill. Hey, Bill. This is who we are.” Then they’ll turn around like, “Remember when we did that scene in DIVERGENT?” Goofing around like friends do. And then you’re like “Alright, I’m here to do my job,” and you focus on that, and slowly things become cool, and you become friends with them. It’s essentially like coming back to school, and we’re the new kid in school.
NH: But it takes time.
BS: It takes a little bit of time, and you make new friends.
NH: And we were the new kids together, so that definitely helped a lot knowing that we were not alone.
BS: Yeah, we hung out a lot with the new cast members, some of whom get killed in the movie. But you have dinners and get to know each other. It was fun.
Capone: Was there somebody in particular from the original cast who was particularly nice and made sure you felt comfortable?
NH: Oh, Shay [Shailene Woodley].
Capone: She’s a big hugger, isn’t she?
BS: That’s the first thing she said. “I’m a hugger.”
Capone: I’ve met her a few times, and every time, she’s in with the hug.
NH: I was like, wow. And even her boyfriend, they were walking up to me and both hugged me, and I’m like, “I’m German, guys. This is weird to me. I’m not used to this.” She was really nice.
Capone: That doesn’t surprise her. Other than her, anybody?
NH: No! Every one else, you know…
Capone: …ignored you?
NH: [laughs] No, they were all nice. But there was definitely an energy; they worked. It was work. It was not like a school trip.
BS: Sometimes it was.
BS: You didn’t think it was like people goofing around on set?
NH: No. I wish I’d been with you.
BS: Maybe I had a different experience. There was a lot of goofing around. A lot of goofing around. But everybody was very nice. Totally professional and nice.
NH: Everybody also, like the producers and director, every department, and it was a big, big set. So many people.
Capone: I’m assuming this is the biggest thing either of you have ever worked on. Is that intimidating, or does that make you up your game in some ways?
NH: So intimidating. In SPRING, if I miss a line or I miss my mark, that was okay, because we’re like 30 people working on that movie, but in a movie this size where you have so many people, hundreds of extras, I was so tense and so scared of not hitting my mark, because the shot is so expensive and cost so much money with all the effects and that many extras. I felt that pressure in the beginning, but also as Bill said, you realize that’s your job. That’s what you do either if it’s SPRING or a TV show; it’s what you do. But getting that tone, to dive into that and realize, that takes a couple days, then you relax and you’re cool and chill again.
Capone: It’s hard to tell at some points what’s real and what’s not and whether you’re working in a green screen environment. I assume you were at point, but on those toxic landscape shots, what were you really looking at there?
NH: It was really red.
Capone: Where was that?
NH: That was color. That was natural color. They just colored the whole ground in red.
Capone: Where did they shoot that?
NH: That was golf land in Georgia. It’s like a two-hour drive. It’s called Rome. Ro7me, Georgia.
Capone: I can’t believe it.
NH: Me neither. I can not. That set in The Fringe, with the tents, it was so mind blowing—all the little details, all the extras, the costumes. They built this whole city of tents. I remember walking through it and just being in awe and not being able to believe what my eyes were seeing. I was blown away.
Capone: For the Bureau sets, which clearly used green screens, did that take some getting used to?
BS: A lot of the physical things, like the elevator was real. They even had it spinning and moving, so the elevator was real. You were in a studio, so you had to pretend like you were looking at this amazing view of O’Hare Airport [laughs]. So yeah, it’s like anything. When we shoot and we act, sure, if someone’s like, “You weren’t there. You worked with a green screen.” But we also work, you don’t see it, but this entire crew, every time we’re shooting. Even if we’re sitting here shooting, behind you there’s a guy.
Part of on-screen acting is to eliminate everything that’s very distracting that’s happening around you, because it is. You have 30-40 people standing around you doing things, watching monitors, whatever it is. That’s happing right around you, even if it’s a scene where you have no CGI. In the same way, you have to completely block that out and focus on the scene and the connection, and you do. It’s remarkable how much you completely shut everything else out. It’s the same thing where like pretending you’re having a scene and looking out and instead of seeing a beautiful view, there’s a parking lot, or this warehouse with like a guy eating something from craft services. You just pretend. You don’t see that. You see what your mind is telling you to see. It’s just part of the job.
Capone: Was there something that wasn’t there when you shot that you’re like, “Wow. That’s even more amazing.”
BS: Oh, entire tower, the entire Bureau of Genetic Welfare, where we worked, there was none of that, except for the sets, of course. So the first time I saw that, except for pictures and concept art, but to see it in the film like, “Oh, that’s what it looked like.”
Capone: Let’s talk about some of the underlying ideas in this story. When you were catching up and discovering the first two stories, what were some of the bigger-picture ideas you thought were interesting and were important to tell?
NH: Well, the whole idea of pure and damaged people, black and white people, Muslims and Christians, that I think is a very important message, that it just doesn’t matter and that we unfortunately haven’t really learned from the last thousand years of living. On top of that, I just love especially Tris’ character. I think it’s important to fight for what you believe in. Be strong and be brave and don’t be scared to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. I think that’s a very important message for young kids. So I really like the message of the whole franchise a lot. And I really just hope people actually pick that up and not just see the action and the special effects that they actually think about it.
BS: I agree. When I remember seeing the first movie, I actually read the script for the first movie, and I was like okay, so it’s like my idea of American high school. That’s what this world is based on. You know when you walk into the cafeteria and it’s like, “There’s the nerds. There’s the jocks, there’s the weirdos and punks.” That’s how you divide groups. In Sweden, it’s not nearly as much of that. People hang out. There are not groups that you divide into. The first movie that’s the story. “We have people that are brave, and we have people that are smart.” Everyone of these, they represent different factions, which I think is not necessarily a good thing. Who are you in high school? I’m the jock so therefore I’m supposed to be this way.
In Stockholm where I grew up, people just hung out. There wasn't that dividing aspect of it. That was my first thought when getting to know the story. “Maybe the American society is more used to dividing people. They want to categorize people. You’re a part of that, you’re a part of that.” Also when it comes to ethnicities you label a lot, which I don’t think is good. “What makes us different ties us together.” That’s what’s on the poster. That’s a good message, especially in this times. I’m really a strong supporter of multi-cultural societies and mixed culture. Really, it just adds to a much more colorful life. The more you do that, the more you accept, the more curious you are about different people as opposed to being afraid of them, the better the world would be. It’s very deep for this movie.
Capone: All great science fiction has those layers and comments on society. I hadn’t really considered this was a uniquely American story.
BS: Well, in a way. I don’t know how it was in your high school.
NH: We definitely had the nerds and the cool kids, but you don’t have cheerleaders and the pretty girls.
BS: There’s all these groups. I went to a very particular high school as well, but we don’t value sports as much as you guys do here, so academics and smart kids are very encouraged in high school, and there’s also a status if you get better grades, whereas here it’s about how fast can you run and how far can you throw a ball.
Capone: You’ve both started dabbling more in English-language and British productions. Was that the goal or do you want to keep a foot in your respective countries’ film industries as well?
NH: As long as the script is good, I would work in Bollywood, I would work in Africa. Yeah., all over the world.
BS: I’m the same way. I would love to do whatever. If the story’s great and there’s a little part for me in a Russian film, all that is amazing. Unfortunately, there’s much more diversity in characters outside of your country. You don’t get to do a movie like this in Sweden obviously, because we don’t make those type of big movies. Also, there’s just so much more. You can’t even compare the two industries.
Sweden is so small, we make so few movies. If you want to be an on-screen actor, you’re not going to be able to, because we make 30 movies a year. Nobody wants to see the same actors in those 30 movies. You can’t make 2 or 3 movies a year. That’s like 10 percent of all the films that are being made in the country. That’s why I think a lot of actors seek out, or at least that’s why I did. There are just so many more opportunities for me internationally than there is in my country. But then again, if there’s a great story, I would love to make a Swedish movie. The character and the story are the most important things.
Capone: You’re both back in the final part, right?
Capone: Good news. Well, great to meet you. Best of luck.