It was four years ago when a then 22-year-old Veronica Roth burst onto the publishing scene with her debut novel, Divergent. The first of a trilogy that included Insurgent and Allegiant, the book created an extremely regulated post-apocalyptic society divided into five factions, each with a single dominant trait, and threw a wild card into the mix in the form of a young woman named Tris who was divergent – having traits of all five factions and yet belonging to none, making her a prime candidate to upset the system.
The Divergent trilogy made its mark with two audiences: young adult/teen readers and Hollywood, both thirsting for more fare along the lines of previous YA blockbusters like The Hunger Games. The first movie, Divergent, came out last year to solid box office and mixed reviews; the strength of the fan base made the sequel a certainty. One year later, Insurgent is about to open with most of the cast returning – Shailene Woodley as Tris, Theo James as Four, Jai Courtney as Eric, Ansel Elgort as Caleb, Kate Winslet as Jeanine and Miles Teller as Peter – joined by newcomers Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer. There’s also a new director, as Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D.) replaces Divergent helmer Neil Burger.
Meanwhile, Roth lives what she describes as a quiet, writerly life in Chicago with her husband and admits that she is much more interested in books than movies. She appreciates the adaptations of her novels and has been involved in them to some extent, but does not have any E.L. James-like aspirations to control every aspect of their translation from the page to the screen. Den Of Geek sat down with Roth in Los Angeles recently to discuss the new film, the splitting of the final book, Allegiant, into two movies, what the films have meant to her career and what she is working on next.
Den of Geek: The books were already a success before the first movie came out, but how did the success of the film impact you or your career?
Veronica Roth: Well I think the best part about it is really that when a book has success like this, a movie propels a book to a new level of success which is wonderful, you know, in addition to all those other great things like seeing the story come alive and all that. But really for me, it sets me up to have a longer career of writing. I’ve wanted to write for a living since I was 11. So to have kind of career stability has been a great life change as a result of all this. But as far as anything else goes, I mean, I kept my life as similar as possible. I live a pretty quiet life out there in Chicago and I like it that way. So not much has changed by design.
Two movies in, do you feel like the books have been treated well on the screen?
I think so, yeah. I think Insurgent is more different from the source material than Divergent was, but it’s in service of the movie really. Of the books in the series, Insurgent has maybe the most complicated plot maneuverings, so I knew that it wouldn’t translate directly to screen. They had to shift some things around, but basically what’s important to me is that the characters remain true and I think that they do. So it’s felt great to me. I mean I loved Insurgent so that was a huge relief. It’s always a relief to see the movie and actually like it.
Did you visit the set on this one?
I did, yeah. I didn’t go as often as the first one because it was in Chicago the first time. This one was shot in Atlanta but I was there pretty frequently. I think I saw all of the major sets.
[Related: Watch the final trailer for Insurgent]
Was there any sort of concern on your part with the change in directors? I remember when I talked to you and Neil at Comic-Con before Divergent came out, and you and he seemed to have a pretty good rapport. Now you’ve a new guy. Did you get to meet and talk with Robert a lot?
Well Neil was a little more — I think because he was establishing the world, he talked to me a lot more because we were trying to figure it out, like how he would show certain things or what questions he needed to answer that I had needed to answer. So it was just a different dynamic with Robert because not all those things needed to be figured out for him. He also had a very clear path that he wanted to take. He’s very collaborative with the cast and that’s wonderful. But he had kind of a vision for how it would go and we were a little more separate, I would say. But I really like him as a person so that was helpful. He knows when he sees exactly what he wants and he just moves forward from there and he’s very decisive that way. I really admired his style when I was on set. He’s really welcoming there but I think he’s a little more of a quiet personality than Neil. So it was just different, you know. I miss Neil but I’m really excited with what Robert’s done and what he’ll continue to do with the next one. So it’s all good.
Do you really try to separate the book and the movie in your mind?
Yeah I really do. I think it’s just because of how much I love working on books and writing and that I’m not that crazy about doing anything else in life. I am just book-focused. So it’s awesome that they’re making movies and I love watching the whole process and I think I really get to enjoy it because I’m keeping them separate in my mind and letting them be their own entities. It’s just fun to watch that way because it’s like a rediscovery of the book instead of just putting all this pressure on it to be exactly the same which, of course, it can’t be. So I found a lot of happiness and freedom in kind of letting it go and just trusting the people that I agreed to work with to do it justice and I think they have.
When you think of the characters now, do Miles Teller and Shailene come into your mind? Does that line blur from how you originally saw them to how the actors embody them?
The good thing is that I was pretty much done with all of the books by the time the movie was being made so I didn’t really write them with these actors in mind or anything like that. So they didn’t creep into the writing process. But now of course, if I ever reread the things that I’ve written I do see the cast, which is awesome but sometimes problematic when they don’t line up exactly physically, you know. It’s like, “Wait a second. This is not right.” But yeah, they’ve definitely taken root in my mind.
Who’s the furthest physically from your conception of the character?
Jai Courtney is not like Eric as described. Eric as described is a little kind of squirrely dude with long hair and lots and lots of piercings. But they wanted Eric on screen to be more physically intimidating which I think works really well and I understand that decision. But they’re definitely the most different.
What are your feelings now about the third book being split into two parts and are you worried about the story being spread too thin over two movies?
I’m kind of just curious to see how they do it. I do think there are two definite arcs in Allegiant that, if handled properly, would make for two complete stories. So I think it can work. But obviously it’s all in how they do it. As long as it doesn’t feel like part one of something, I think it’s a good thing to get more time in the world and have a little more fun with it. But it’s all about how it’s done.
[Related: The Divergent Series: Insurgent review]
Are you working on a new novel now? Are you ready to move away from the world of Divergent and get into something else?
My publisher and I just announced that I’m writing a new series. It’s not like Divergent but it’s a little in the vein of Star Wars — a space opera. I’m having trouble summarizing the plot but it’s about a young man who allies with someone who is supposed to be his enemy in order to escape an oppressive situation and find redemption. That’s super vague (laughs). That could be any story but at this point it’s pretty early.
Does it take place in a different galaxy?
Yep. Totally different place.
What’s your daily writing schedule like?
Well I don’t really have like a daily routine because I found that I just don’t work that way. So I just try and write once a day whenever that happens. On a train, like in the waiting room of a doctor’s appointment. Like that’s how it works for me. But a lot of the time I’ll sit down for like five hours at a time and just zone out.
Insurgent is out in theaters on Friday (March 20).