Warning: This interview contains spoilers for Endings Beginnings, available on digital April 17, and on VOD May 1.
Shailene Woodley had never met Sebastian Stan before the two embarked on a seven-hour road trip to Big Sur with director Drake Doremus to film scenes for their new movie, Endings Beginnings. It was a fitting launch for a movie that celebrates the spontaneous and unexpected rapports we build with strangers, and how they change us.
Woodley plays Daphne, a young woman who’s just quit her job and ended her four-year relationship after a traumatic experience. In an effort to heal and find some sort of balance, she moves into her married sister’s pool house and swears off men and booze. So, of course, that’s exactly when she meets two potential love interests, on the very same night. Frank (Stan) is a charming grifter with smoldering eyes and no real prospects; Jack (Jamie Dornan) is a handsome writer with a kind smile and a real grown-up house. And the kicker? The two happen to be best friends. As Daphne explores and navigates her connection with each one over the course of a year, she slowly unravels truths about herself, and what she wants from life.
Similarly, Woodley was looking for a new challenge when Doremus’ 80-page outline came her way. As with all the director’s films — like Like Crazy and Douchebag — Endings Beginnings is almost entirely improvised, based on a story and concept and characters, but with the actors filling in the blanks. Woodley, a self-described “analytical person,” was eager to see herself let go.
“I met with a lot of different actresses, but I really got the sense that Shailene was at a point in her career and in her life to do this,” Doremus told Refinery29 over the phone about the decision to cast the Big Little Lies star. “So much of the casting is about finding the right person at the right time, so they can embody and feel what the character is going through.”
The movie demands a lot from Woodley, and she more than delivers. Her performance is honest and raw — you get the sense that she’s picking at scabs, daring them to bleed — but also effortless and free. It’s a different kind of role than we’ve seen her tackle in the past, giving free reign to her most passionate, innate instincts. Oh, and the roadtrip worked — her chemistry with Stan is off the charts.
Refinery29: I first saw this movie right before it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival — a very different time. But rewatching it from home in our current situation, it felt even more poignant in its depiction of human interactions.
Shailene Woodley: “I'm so happy actually that we're releasing it on VOD — it's a good movie for people to watch right now, just to kind of reflect on love and relationships and themselves and how we are using this time. Are we genuinely using this time to get to know ourselves better, recognize our destructive pattern, or are we using this time to continue being distracted by all the conditioning we've endured throughout our lives?”
Is there something specific you look for in projects you take on?
“Honestly, when I read stories or when I read scripts, I never notice the character. I always notice the story as a whole, and then the second or third time I read it, that's when I begin noticing my character and her story arc. What I really loved about this movie was the opportunity to do something I'd never done in terms of improvisation because the entire movie was improvised. We had an 80-page outline, but it didn't really have much dialogue. Every single day was an experiment in self-psychology because we were sort of playing ourselves in a way, within the rules defined by the particular character. We were saying and speaking words that we would normally say and speak. That was what was most nerve-wracking and exciting to me — the opportunity to play with a different medium when it came to filmmaking.”
So much of this movie revolves around relationships and chemistry. Are your own relationships with Jamie Dornan and Sebastian Stan reflected in Daphne’s relationships with Jack and Frank?
“You can create or manifest chemistry with someone as an actor because you have to, but you can always tell when you watch if chemistry's there naturally or not. Me and Sebastian and Jamie, we're all very fortunate to have natural chemistry. We started with the Big Sur scenes, so me, Drake, and Sebastian jumped in a rental car and drove from Los Angeles to Big Sur instead of flying. Those seven hours really helped us bond — via music, conversation, getting to know one another. When you do an improvised film, you have to have immediate trust with someone. I didn't get the experience to really bond with [Jamie] before we began filming, but he's such an open, kind, and passionate person that it was really easy to immediately just feel like I was in communion with someone I could trust.”
This is a very sexy movie! What’s your approach to nudity and filming sex scenes in general?
“All sex scenes are extremely different in every movie, depending on the actors that I'm working with, their comfort levels, the directors, the shots that they need. For this movie, like all of the scenes, the sex was pretty improvised. I mean, we definitely walked through it beforehand, Sebastian and I or Jamie and I would say, Hey, this is my boundary, this is where I'm uncomfortable. And then we semi-blocked out what it could look like, and would look like. Other than that, we just, the cameras rolled. We didn't film the sex scenes right off the bat, they were very much towards the middle and end of the movie, so we already had such a great level of established trust. We were able to be very vulnerable and raw in those scenes without compromising our personal boundaries.”
The movie could easily have just focused on Daphne’s relationships with the men in her life, but she also has very deep, meaningful moments with women friends, and in particular, her sister.
“I feel like we never really get to see sisters on film in a non-dramatic way, or in a non-cheesy, over-the-top way. Speaking for myself, whenever I'm having issues with lovers, I go back to my women. I go to my best friend who's female, I go to my mom, I go to my grandma, I go to my best friend's mom. I think that there's something really beautiful about seeing that women have circles and no matter what we do outside of those circles in terms of relationships or with lovers, we generally always report back to our friends and ask if we're making the right decisions. Even if we don't take that advice, I think it's a necessary step, at least for me in my personal life, in understanding why I'm the way I am and why I make decisions the way I made decisions.”
Part of Daphne’s journey towards healing means dealing with a traumatic sexual assault. Did your experience playing Jane in Big Little Lies help you access those emotions?
“I disconnect from my characters the minute I'm done with something, so Big Little Lies didn't really have that much of an influence on this. I will say though that I think it's important for people to have all sides of the spectrum as far as what healing can look like. What Jane experienced in Big Little Lies was different from what Daphne experienced in this movie.
“If I were in a situation like Daphne, I would probably have handled it the same way. Oftentimes we see people dealing with trauma in a way that's incredibly long or incredibly collective. That is very helpful for most people. But I do think that some other people handle things in the more introverted way, so I really appreciated that we were able to show what that could look like for someone, via Daphne's experience.”
You said you entered this movie seeking a challenge. What about it ended up being most challenging?
“It was hard for me to completely let go in the sense of not knowing all the answers. I'm someone who is extremely analytical. I used to be impulsive, but I'm not incredibly impulsive anymore. Daphne I found was a very impulsive person, so it was difficult for me to be free in my impulsivity without having judgment on doing something wrong. My mind was noticing [things] that Daphne's mind wouldn't. I really had to lean on Drake to ask, Am I being undone enough? I'm a pretty serious, more done-up person than Daphne is. Learning how to kind of be a little bit more out of control was probably the biggest challenge.”