Q&A Session with “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” actress Shailene Woodley (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
March 30, 2011 by Edwin Macaraeg
Images are courtesy of ©ABC Family. All Rights Reserved.
Back in 2008, the critically acclaimed ABC Family series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” received a lot of attention as it focused on a normal American family and a shy daughter, a musician who went off to band camp and had a one night stand to later find out she was pregnant.
The character Amy Juergens (played by Shailene Woodley) struggled with abortion, adoption and in the first season, she decided to keep the baby. As for the baby’s father, Ricky Underwood (played by Daren Kagasoff), he was the bad boy who lived life dangerously and had some personal issues which led him to seek out sex and never took any responsibility.
But throughout the second season, we had the opportunity to see Amy grow up to be a mother and learning how difficult it was to be a teenager, a student but also a mother, while Ricky started to learn more about himself and also becoming more mature and knowing his responsibilities as a father.
This last season left everyone wondering if these young teenagers, who were brought together due to a one night stand would ever get back with each other. Considering that Ricky is the father of her child.
Recently, a media Q&A with actress Shailene Woodley was held and Shailene talked about her character, playing a pregnant teenager, the series, her castmates and her upcoming film “The Descendants”.
Here is a transcript from that Q&A session.
Moderator Do you think that Ricky could make a committed husband?
S. Woodley I think that Ricky could make a committed boyfriend and a committed lover, but to be a husband is a big deal especially when you’re in high school. So, I don’t know if Ricky’s ready and honestly I don’t if Amy’s ready, just because that is such a huge lifelong commitment.
Moderator Where do you see Amy the most happy in the future?
S. Woodley I see her the most happy with Ricky, with John, in an amazing comfortable job where she makes a good salary and she also still gets to play her French horn.
Moderator Are they married
S. Woodley Yes, they are married, absolutely.
Moderator Now can you talk about how confusing Amy’s living situation is these days and how that informs the way you play the character?
S. Woodley Absolutely. I think that it’s super confusing for any teenager to have a boyfriend, especially a boyfriend in a relationship like Amy and Ricky’s. Then to have to live together or not live together and all the pressures of other kids in high school and the pressure of wanting to feel grown-up , but not really being grown-up yet and wanting to prove to her parents that she can do it on her own, but she can’t really do it on her own yet. So, I think that affects her life in a lot of different ways, because she’s always got that in the back of her mind, trying to prove that she’s older because she does have a two-year-old son, trying to prove that she can do it, when she might not really be in the space to be able to.
Moderator While speaking of wanting to be older, what’s it like for you as an actress to work with a small child at your age?
S. Woodley It’s amazing. I love kids. I live for kids. To have those little boys on set all the time is so much fun. We have dance parties in the trailers. They laugh. They call me Shai-Shai. It’s great to have their young, youthful energy on the set.
Moderator It’s good practice for you too?
S. Woodley Absolutely.
Moderator I wanted to ask you about how Amy and Ashley’s relationship really is.
S. Woodley Amy and Ashley’s relationship, well, they are siblings and they are—I mean in a lot of ways polar opposites, but in a lot of ways, they’re kind of similar too. Ashley definitely is an old soul, I would say. She has a lot of knowledge that she was probably just born with, a lot of commonsense, street-smart knowledge. Amy’s more book-smart. So, I think they kind of rub each other wrong or they rub each other wrong with that department of their life, a lot in the sense that Ashley thinks she always knows and Amy thinks she always knows, but I think deep down, of course, they love each other. Of course, they would do anything for each other. We’ll see that coming up, I’m sure, just because as teenagers get older, they kind of become closer with their siblings.
But, I think there’s also a jealousy factor between Ashley and Amy, because Amy does have the boyfriend. Amy does—even though she has a child, and we’re not glamorizing it -it’s really difficult to be a teenage mom, Amy has a lot of responsibility and Ashley doesn’t really have anything. So, I think Ashley’s always trying to prove that she’s more mature. She can do it on her own. I think that kind of gets in the middle of them as well.
Moderator How did Amy feel about Ashley liking Ricky and wanting to be with him?
S. Woodley I think it would be hard for one of your friends to like the father of your child, I can’t even imagine a sibling liking the father of your child, but I think Amy reacted in a very fair way. She wasn’t crazy, mean about it, but she also didn’t let Ashley walk over her. She told her how she felt and I think that’s a big milestone to get over. For Ashley to accept the fact that it might not be the best decision to like or fall in love with the father of her sister’s baby. So, I think that was really difficult on Amy. Even if she wasn’t as vocal about it, I think that emotionally it took a toll on her.
Moderator What message do you want to send to the fans of the show?
S. Woodley Personally, I would say it is so important to live from your heart and to let your heart kind of rule in your life versus your mind. Because, I think a lot of times when you start letting your mind rule your life, your ego, your pride, your opinions, all of those things kind of get in the way and skew what you really are trying to do and steer your path. But if you live from your heart, I truly believe that everything will always work out the way it’s supposed to. I think your intuition always knows best. Just live from a place of compassion. I think that if everyone would live from a place of compassion and a place of patience and love that this world would be phenomenal.
Moderator What’s your best memory with your cast mates on the show?
S. Woodley Oh, my gosh, we have so many. I guess one of my favorite one’s, when Willow Smith’s, Whip my Hair came out, all of the girls on the show went into one of the trailers, we blasted Willow Smith. We whipped our hair for the two minutes or however long her song is. Then we danced to Spice Girls and it was so much fun. Then the next morning we all woke up and we couldn’t even bend down to brush our teeth because our necks were so sore from whipping our hair so much.
Moderator We’re really excited for the new episodes to start up again. I was just hoping you could tell us a little bit about what to expect from some of the upcoming storylines.
S. Woodley Well, there’s a lot of drama, obviously. There might possibly be a wedding; there might possibly not be a wedding. Someone might move in with someone else. Someone might fall in love with someone else. Someone might move out of someone else. Someone might fall out of love. There’s a lot going on.
Moderator Will there be any more focus on the relationship or the friendship between Amy and Adrian?
S. Woodley Absolutely, I mean Adrian is kind of going through what Amy went through, so I think Amy is going to be there for Adrian to help her along and help her progress through this pregnancy.
Moderator I wanted to know what first attracted you to the role of Amy.
S. Woodley When I first read the script, I thought it was really great and spectacular how there was going to be a show on television that really depicted life of high school. The role of Amy really drew me in just in the sense that she was 15 and pregnant and not in a stable relationship with the guy who got her pregnant. Her parents were going through a divorce and she had the troublesome little sister, so I think that that—I’m not saying every girl in high school is pregnant, obviously, but there are those pregnant teenagers out there and I thought it was really important to give them a show. This is before Teen Mom came out and before all of those. I thought it was really important to give them a show where, we showed that it is hard. It is really difficult to be pregnant at any stage in your life, let alone being 15 and financially not in the best position. For … in America and all around the world, but they’re not alone, that this does happen. That it’s okay and they’ll survive and they’re kids are going to be phenomenal human beings.
I also was just attracted to the trueness of the plot. They dealt with so many issues. They dealt with divorce. They dealt with death. They dealt with the drama of high school with boys and the friends. I don’t know, I thought it was really creative and different.
Moderator Do you think that it’s an accurate portrayal of high school today?
S. Woodley Absolutely. I mean in my high school alone, obviously it’s a television show, but I think the main themes are very on key. In my high school, we had a pregnant girl at prom and a pregnant girl at graduation. We had the girl whose parents were never around and who kind of were a little more promiscuous. We also had the guy who had a really hard upbringing and who wasn’t really clear about if he could be stable and committed to one girl. Then we had everyone from the choir girls or choir boys to band people. I thought it was really important to give kids out there a reason to watch television and also learn as well as be entertained.
Moderator I had a question about your name. It’s such an original, unique name. Where did it come from? Who named you?
S. Woodley My name came from a license plate, actually. My mom was driving when she was 18, she was in traffic on the freeway, and the car in front of her the license plate said, Shai and then it had a bunch of numbers. She doesn’t even know if it was supposed to be pronounced as Shai, but she created that in her mind. Then, she … adding the second half to it … it would be a cute nickname, but I want something longer, so she had Shailynne or Shailene or Shaillyn, and she—I don’t know, I guess she went for Shailene and when she met my dad, my dad loved it and that’s how I got my name.
Moderator Were there ever any doubts that the show would return for its fourth season?
S. Woodley No, I don’t think so at all. I think it was all just a matter of timing and scheduling.
Moderator We’d love to know who’s a better a kisser, Daren or Ken?
S. Woodley Oh, no, I can’t answer that question. They’re both good kissers in their own way.
Moderator What made Amy propose to Ricky
S. Woodley I think there was a lot of pressure that she kind of put upon herself just because Adrian and Ben, their relationship is kind of progressing. I think she wanted to prove to other people that her and Ricky were more committed. I think she really proposed to him more to prove to others, than she did for herself.
Moderator How did you get started in acting? Has it been something you’ve been doing since you were a child?
S. Woodley I was five and it was a complete accident. Both my parents work in education and we thought it was a local theatre class because I wanted to be in a play, and apparently the agents came and sat in and called my mom and was like, “We want to represent Shai,” and my mom was like, “What’s an agent?” We finally just learned as we progressed. I had three rules growing up to stay in acting. I had to stay kid they knew I was, stay good in school, and have fun. As long as I met those three requirements, I could act. So, instead of going to soccer practice, I went to auditions.
Moderator What direction would you like to see Amy go in?
S. Woodley I think that Amy has done a lot of growing over the past two years, especially over the past year. I think that she’s kind of come into her own and become more of a woman, and accepted more responsibility and didn’t complain about it. But, I think she has this need to prove to others that she’s happy and that Ricky and her are happy. I would like to see Amy kind of be so secure with herself and so confident in her own personality and her beauty—I’m not talking about physical, I’m talking about emotional—beauty that she is able to live her life without feeling that she needs the approval from others.
Moderator You were talking before about cliques in high school, I’m wondering what you were like in high school and were you similar to Amy.
S. Woodley I was nothing like Amy. I was kind of like the outgoing. I was in leadership. I was in charge pep rallies with some other friends. I was really involved. I was in choir. I was in Key Club and Builder’s Club and all those clubs that you can imagine. I loved school. I loved the educational aspect of it, as well the social aspect of it.
I don’t know, I was never part of a clique. I feel like I was the person—me and a few friends were kind of the people who liked bounced around between all the groups. We were kind of like the mold. I loved high school. It was an amazing experience … there was progression. As a freshman I was very insecure and not so set in stone about where I wanted to be in life and who I was. Then, by senior year I feel like I totally did that transition into—I don’t want to say a woman because I don’t ever want to be a woman. I want to be a kid forever, but—I made that transition into maturity, I guess.
Moderator Why should people tune into the season premiere of Secret Life?
S. Woodley There’s going to be a lot of surprises. I know that we’ve been advertising the proposal, but there’s obviously the reaction from that. We need to know what he says. I think people will want to know why she proposes to him. As well as, with the other characters there’s just a lot going on there. Ben and Adrian’s relationship, they really kind of step it up notch, I think people will want to see that. Then, there’s the relationship between the parents, so there’s a lot going on.
Moderator In what ways does Secret Life show the consequences of intimacy?
S. Woodley I think that Secret Life shows what can happen if you’re not careful and what can happen if you’re not prepared and not educated. Obviously, there’s the pregnancy. Obviously, there’s broken hearts. There’s the pregnancy and there’s physical things that can happen. It is dangerous to do things without being educated and without being so pressured just because you could invite things into your body that you don’t want to invite, but there’s also the emotional side of intimacy, which is connection and doing something and then not seeing that person.
With Amy obviously, she got pregnant from Ricky, but there’s an emotional connection of, “Oh my gosh, this guy thinks I’m attractive. This guy’s interested in me and now he’s not. What’s wrong with me?” I think a lot of girls do that. I think a lot of girls get into situations and do certain things and then afterwards when it doesn’t fulfill their expectations or it doesn’t turn out the way they expected it to have turned out, then emotionally their broken. Emotionally they start questioning themselves and questioning what’s wrong with them. I think it’s important to know that no matter how a situation happens or ends up, you are an incredible human being, regardless. I think we kind of show that it’s smart to wait to be with somebody who you know you’re going to be comfortable around and you know who is going to treat you respectively.
Moderator How would you compare Secret Life to other shows about teen pregnancy like, Teen Mom?
S. Woodley I don’t think that there’s any way to compare them, just because their two completely different shows. Teen Mom is obviously a reality show. To be completely honest, I don’t own a television so I haven’t really watched …. They’re totally different. Secret Life is scripted. I don’t know enough about Teen Mom to really compare them, but it is a reality show so they’re very different.
Moderator I wondered if Amy still has feelings for Ben and how she’s dealing with his engagement or planned engagement to Adrian.
S. Woodley I assume that Amy still has feelings for Ben just because he was there for her for so long and helped her out in so many ways. However, I know that she loves Ricky and I know that she wants to be with Ricky. I think it’s the same for most relationships. Like even after you break up, you still have feelings for that person because you devoted so much of your life and your energy to that person. Just because, Amy, I think still loves Ben and would do anything for him as a human being, I don’t think she necessarily wants to be with him again. But, I’m sure on the same note, it’s probably hard for her to see him moving on because I think it’s hard for anyone to see an ex moving on.
Moderator How did the teen mom program in New York change Amy?
S. Woodley I think that being involved with so many other girls who were going through the same thing that she was going through really opened up her eyes to the fact that she’s not alone. I think it really grew her up in a lot of ways because she didn’t have the right really to complain anymore because she wasn’t the only one going through and she actually has it pretty good. She has parents who, even though it’s hard on them they support her and they help her out. She has Ricky now, the father of her child who’s there for her, when so many girls don’t have either of those options. I think it opened her eyes to realm of possibilities and let her know that this is how it might be a tribulation right now, but they’ll get through it and her life is ultimately going to be phenomenal.
Moderator When you first read the script for the show, what was it about Amy that appealed to you and about the character?
S. Woodley The character appealed to me because she was different from all of those glamorous— I love Gossip Girl. I think it’s entertaining. I think it’s awesome, but I don’t think a lot of people can relate to it because I don’t think a lot of people are able to live those lifestyles. I think Amy’s character really appealed to me because not only was her life going through all of these difficulties, but she lives in a household where her parents were getting divorced and fighting and where her sister wasn’t the easiest person to get along with.
I thought it was kind of important to show girls across the U.S. as well as across the world that you’re not alone. My parents got divorced and even though it was a very healthy, great divorce, it still is difficult as a young child. I think that it’s important for kids to be able to tune into show where they can relate to the character. I think Amy is very relatable for a lot of people.
Moderator Do you have other projects you’re working on or anything else coming up that you could talk about?
S. Woodley I’m not working on anything right now. I worked on a movie last year and that is going to—actually, we just got … yesterday. It’s going to premiere December 16th.
Moderator What’s that for?
S. Woodley It’s called The Descendants.
Moderator I was wondering what it’s like working with Secret’s Life newest cast member, Beverley Mitchell?
S. Woodley Oh, Beverley Mitchell’s awesome. I don’t get to work with her too often just because we don’t have many scenes together, but she’s really great. She’s super sweet and it’s cool to see her back on set just because she knows all the crew members because she worked with everyone on 7th Heaven. She’s great. She’s really professional and really nice and sweet. It’s great to have her on.
Moderator We’ve been following a lot about your new movie that you were just talking about, The Descendants. Can you tell us a little bit more about your character in the movie?
S. Woodley My character in the movie’s name is Alex and she’s a bit different from Amy. She was kind of the trouble maker. She did drugs and drank a lot in high school and was sent to a boarding school to kind of clean her up and get her act together. Throughout the movie, she kind of progresses into this incredible person. She’s kind of one of those girls—she’s comes off as rough around the edges, but deep down she has a heart of gold. She helps her dad kind of become a dad and she helps grow up her little sister. I don’t know, it’s really great to see that transition of a hard tough teenager to young adult, like soft kind of woman.
Moderator What are Amy’s plans for after high school?
S. Woodley After high school I know that Amy I think would love to go to college just because she loves to learn, she loves to be informed and she loves to know what’s going on in the world. But, she does have a son and she’s dating Ricky so I think it might be possible for her to be a stay-at-home mom for a while, while Ricky goes to college. But, ultimately I think Amy’s dream would be for both of them to be able to go to college and both of them embark in incredible career paths.
Moderator What’s stopping Amy from having sex with Ricky again, other than obviously the fact that they had a baby last time?
S. Woodley I think she’s being smart about it and intelligent this time. I think that she’s taking the appropriate precautions because Ricky has been with a lot of girls. I know that she wants to ask him to make sure that—maybe get tested to make sure that there’s no danger involved in it to her own body or there’s no risks. I think that emotionally standing she wants to be sure that he wants to be with her for her and not just for the physical benefits.
Moderator So, Amy proposed to Ricky, I’m wondering what your perfect marriage proposal would be. How would it play out?
S. Woodley It would definitely have to be outdoors, just because I live for the outdoors. It would have to be outside. I don’t know, I don’t really enjoy big things, so I think some kind of small amazing—like maybe on a beautiful hike near a waterfall or something like that. Something that is very connected to nature would be the perfect proposal for me.
Moderator What do you do when Secret Life is on hiatus?
S. Woodley I try to never be in L.A. I love to travel. It’s one of my biggest passions. Hawaii is kind of like a home to me. I absolutely adore it there. Whenever I have time off I’m either in Hawaii or backpacking somewhere in the world. A few hiatus’s ago I moved to New York for a few months and lived out there. Last August, we had a month off and my friend and I went backpacking through Europe and stayed in hostels and stuff, so I don’t know, anything that has to do with being active.
Moderator How do you think Secret Life is different than other shows about kids in high school for instance, Gossip Girl and 90210?
S. Woodley I think it’s different because like I said earlier, Gossip Girl and 90210, they’re very entertaining. They have a lot going on, but I don’t think they’re very relatable to a lot of girls or boys for that manner of that demographic … that age just in the sense that not everyone can throw a ball on every Friday night and wear fancy designer dresses and go dance.
I think those shows are really awesome and fun to kind of fantasize and watch, but I think Secret Life is more realistic. Just in sense that it deals with issues that everyday high school students have to deal with. Also, the clothes they wear and the school and the … I think are more general, general as far as realistic like what teens are actually going through.
Moderator Are you and George Clooney from The Descendants bff’s now? What was it like working with him?
S. Woodley Well, we’re not bff’s, but he’s a really phenomenal human being. He is so down to earth I cannot even tell you. You would never think that he was the sexiest man alive twice, because he’s just so down to earth and so normal. He’s super professional. He shows up to work on time. He knows his lines. He is an incredible actor. Every single take was just outstanding. He’s super intelligent. He knows everything about everything, whether it has to do with politics or movies or—he just knows everything. He’s like an encyclopedia. He’s hilarious. He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life, if not the funniest.
Moderator What’s your favorite music?
S. Woodley Bands, I don’t know, I have a lot of favorites. I like a lot of older music, I love Simon and Garfunkel. I love The Beatles; they’re always on my iPod. But, I also like newer bands like, Arcade Fire, Blue Foundation, Animal Collective and then E3. I love like Aretha Franklin. I don’t know, my musical range is so broad.
Moderator Will Amy’s parent’s separation be hard on her?
S. Woodley I think it’s going to be hard on any child whose parents are separating, but I think that Amy wants ultimately what’s best for her parents, so she’ll support them in that. But, I think, yeah, I think it’s definitely going to be a little bit tricky for her even if she doesn’t express it.
Moderator Can Amy trust Ricky not to cheat?
S. Woodley I think that’s why she’s waiting to sleep with him. Because, she wants to for sure know that he is committed to her and only her. I think she does trust him right now. I think she trusts him just because—I don’t know, they have a really special connection and I think she just feels like she can trust him. So, yes, I think she does.
Moderator What do you think is the most difficult part of portraying a teenage mother?
S. Woodley I guess the most difficult part would be that I’m not a teenage mother. Sometimes people will come up to me in my normal life and be like, “Oh, my gosh, I love Secret Life. I just had a baby. I’m 19. Do you have advice?” I’m like, “Well, actually I just read the lines. I’m not really pregnant. I don’t know what to tell you.” So, that’s— I mean, that’s kind of a silly one. There isn’t really anything hard about it now because I’ve kind of … myself in it, but in the beginning in Season 1, I did a lot of research as far as the physical aspects of being pregnant and how you hold yourself and how you carry yourself. But, emotionally I just pretended like I was in that situation and how I would react as Shailene.
Moderator Let’s say you were Brenda Hampton and you wrote the script. How would you change it and what direction would you go in?
S. Woodley I really love everything that’s Brenda’s done. I think being so many seasons along there has been so many ups and downs and changes. I think it’s been great. Everyone has kind of come into their own and I really like what she’s done with the relationships. I don’t think I would change anything. I really love seeing what happens each week. We get the scripts a week in advance, so we read them and it’s like we’re watching the show because it’s new to us. It’s a surprise every week.
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