The Fault in Our Stars is about to make Shailene Woodley even bigger
For the center of so much activity — so many doors opening to reveal cameras and trees of lighting equipment, so many entourages slipping swiftly out of one room into another next door — the mezzanine level of Nashville’s Loews Vanderbilt Plaza is curiously quiet. A publicist pads across an expanse of carpeted lobby, beckons an interviewer from the waiting area and deposits him inside a room that’s bare except for two things: an exhausted young guy in a dapper summer suit and an exhausted young woman sitting, almost warily, about 6 feet away.
This must be what it was like to meet the Beatles the week before they went on Ed Sullivan.
At this point, it’s only May, and there’s still a month to go before the movie version of the John Green novel The Fault in Our Stars opens. And yet, just the night before, the prospect of seeing its two leads, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, along with co-star Nat Wolff and novelist Green, drew an estimated 2,500 fans to War Memorial Plaza for a 10-minute peek at the film and an onstage Q&A, the third of four such stops on a whirlwind promotional tour. As the two actors share press duties, they seem more like the siblings they played in Divergent than the star-crossed soulmates of Green’s book.
“It is weird to think that yesterday morning, we were in Cleveland,” Woodley says.
“Two days ago, we were in Miami,” Elgort says.
“A day and a half ago, we were in Miami,” she corrects him.
“That was nuts,” Elgort says. He sighs, and his grin suggests it was quite a trip.
Things are going to get only nuttier. Neither performer can be called a newcomer anymore — Woodley established herself as a major talent with breakout performances in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now before boosting her career up a rung with the movie version of Divergent earlier this year, and Elgort not only co-starred in Divergent but also played the teen-dream prom martyr in Kimberly Peirce’s underrated remake of Carrie. But The Fault in Our Stars entrusts them with roles that are the closest thing to Romeo and Juliet this century has so far, or even to Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.
In Green’s story, a 16-year-old girl, diagnosed with terminal cancer, meets a brash teenage boy. The plot, in outline, is a recipe for maudlin uplift or disease-of-the-week drudgery, but the miracle of Green’s book, a best-seller that has grown into a publishing phenomenon, is how deftly and unsentimentally it sidesteps the usual traps. This is in part because of the arresting first-person voice of Hazel Grace Lancaster, its fiercely clear-eyed protagonist.
As an adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, directed by Josh Boone from a painstakingly faithful script by The Spectacular Now screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is careful and sensitive, even if it tones down Green’s commendable bluntness about the physical and mental ravages of cancer. (No bed-wetting or “asshole tumors” in this version, alas.) What makes it memorable is its cast — especially Elgort, who pulls off the tricky balance of showing off and frailty that is Augustus Waters, and the amazing Woodley, who conveys paragraphs of Hazel’s inner thoughts in just a well-aimed look or a labored breath. As part of the movie’s promotional juggernaut, the trailer says it will change lives. Yet the lives it seems most likely to change are the two people sitting in this Nashville hotel room, where thermostat ninjas keep tiptoeing in to adjust the arctic A/C.
Woodley and Elgort took advantage of some of that freedom last night — she by eating a burger at the bar at Burger Up, he at the upscale steakhouse Kayne Prime. “Soooo good,” he purrs.
“Is that fancy?” she asks.
“I love it that I went and had burgers, and you went to Kayne,” she says, teasing him.
“I had house-made bacon covered in cotton candy,” he says. She looks incredulous. “Like, spun cotton candy.”
She makes a face. “I definitely wouldn’t have liked that,” she says. He grins Augustus’ crooked grin.
“You would’ve liked it,” he says. “I know what you like by now.”