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March 11, 2014

Divergent author and cast converge in Loop

Of course, most of us know Divergent as that movie that features the most beloved subjects of our communal 10th week affection, the Reg and Mansueto. Beyond this “That’s my school!” excitement, Divergent has been related to the Hunger Games trilogy much in the same way what Vampire Diaries is compared to True Blood, and Carrie Diaries to Sex and the City. I’ve not yet finished reading the first book nor have I seen the movie, but after spending a morning in a room with the Divergent's author and the film’s cast, their offscreen story, at least, seems to have more substance than you may think.

On March 5, actors Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, and Divergent writer Veronica Roth attended a press conference at the Peninsula Hotel in downtown Chicago for the first film installment of the Divergent trilogy. After shooting and premiering in Chicago, the movie will open on March 21. Screenings have already begun.

Most of the event’s attendees were, to put it frankly, fans. I’ll be the first to admit, I had no idea what some of the other reporters were talking about. Seriously, I would say I was one of a handful of people in the room who had failed to complete the prerequisite of reading the book. Many identified themselves as being members of Divergent fan sites; some had travelled hours from distant suburbs to see these stars. There were a few writers from other student newspapers and a woman who identified herself as being with a Spanish paper, remarking, “As you all know, you have fans all over the world now.”

While the other reporter asked which faction the actors would rather be in or which favorite scenes made it to the final product, I did what any good UChicago student would do—I asked about our library. Woodley, apparently, is just as captivated as we are.

“That library is like Fort Knox,” she said. “It’s so badass. You have some crazy system. It’s really neat. You go in, you type in a little code apparently, and it goes. I always picture those little Harry Potter goblins in little train cars.”

The author, Roth, a Northwestern University graduate, apparently didn’t choose for the University of Chicago to be one of the shoot locations, but nonetheless she seemed pretty excited about it.

“I really wanted to go to set that day, but it was for some reason conflicting with my schedule and I was like, ‘Nooo!’”

She then added, “Chicago’s cool, woohoo!” only to appease me, I am sure. Responding to a question about how her time at Northwestern inspired her writing, Roth seemed to understand our quarter- system woes.

“I think I am someone who is familiar with fairly intense environments and with competitive ones, but, other than that, that’s really the only thing,” she said. “With the caveat that at Barrington High School where I went to school and then Northwestern, no one was trying to punch me or stab me, so it’s not, like, that intense. But feeling that sort of pressurized and contained thing is what translated to the book well.”

The cast (Roth did a bit of acting too, she said) talked about its time hanging out in the city like it was a sort of revamped Ferris Bueller experience. They mentioned visits to the Art Institute, a Bulls game, a Blackhawks match, and the aquarium. Roth lives here and seemed proud that her home city was not only the filming location, but also the on-screen setting. An article in the Chicago Tribune last Thursday reported  that the filming location for the second movie has already been moved to Atlanta.

As a prospective English/creative writing/cinema and media studies/ “I just want to write” major, I am super jealous of Veronica Roth. At 25 years old (me in seven years?), Roth has completed a trilogy of young adult novels, sold the rights to Summit Entertainment, and is now waiting alongside a worldwide fan base for the release of the first Divergent film. Set in a dystopian Chicago of the near future, the story centers on Tris as she fails to find her place in a world where every citizen is sorted into one of five factions. Suited for three of these factions, she is deemed “divergent.” Roth wrote this story when she was 21 during winter break her senior year at Northwestern. Of course, I am not referring to attending UChicago over Northwestern, but to spending breaks bingeing on Wes Anderson movies, falafel, and four-hour naps instead of writing your first novel. If you can ignore that whole Northwestern thing and avoid decrying the project as a pseudo Hunger Games, Roth’s gig seems pretty great.

“I love it here and when I first saw the movie, the first big shot of the Sears Tower, [I thought,] ‘It’s the Sears Tower, yes, OK,’” Roth said. “When they first showed it, I started to get emotional because this is my home. To be on set and see how many jobs were created in this area and just how much pride they are all taking in their work was really wonderful. I am so glad they shot it here. It’s hard to shoot things here, so it might not continue, but it’s really wonderful to see the city as the city.”

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