Career Failures and Illness Wiped the Smile off Shailene Woodley’s Face, but She Showed Resilience and Wasn’t Afraid to Start Again
No one is immune to health problems, and celebrities are no exception. Some of them don’t think it’s necessary to talk about their illnesses. But others openly talk about their problems because they believe they can help people in a similar situation to feel that they shouldn’t shut themselves away or feel ashamed of their illness. This is the exact belief of Shailene Woodley, an actress who many of us know from the Divergent film series and other popular films and TV shows.
An exciting start and critical acclaim
Shailene started her career as a child. She was eight years old when she got a role in the series Replacing Dad. After that, Woodley began to appear more and more often in series, gradually moving from supporting roles to major ones to great critical reception. At the age of 14, Woodley was nominated for her first prestigious award. At 19, she made her big screen debut, which earned the young actress the Independent Spirit Award and the Trophée Chopard.
Shailene’s acting skills received top marks time after time. When she played Amy Juergens in the family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the critics wrote that she “lifts a well-meaning, rather brave, but ramshackle show a notch.” The character of Alex in The Descendants was rated “one of the toughest, smartest, most credible adolescent performances in recent memory.”
The first part of the Divergent film series was no exception in the young actress’ string of successes. Critics reported that “with her performance as Tris Prior [...] Woodley rescues and then raises up a film that could have been an utter disaster.” At the same time, the actress starred in the adaptation of the novel The Fault in Our Stars, where, once again she enjoyed success, confirmed by leading sales at the box office.
First failure and a career break
After the success of the first film in the Divergent series, the creators were confident that the films had a bright future. However, the second film, although it paid off at the box office, received unflattering reviews from critics and fans, while the third became a box-office bomb. And for this, many blamed the young actress. The same critics who had given her such high praise before wrote that Woodley “feels disengaged here and a little tired.”
By the end of filming, the actress felt completely devastated and physically broken. “I was in a place where I had no choice but to just surrender and let go of my career,” the actress later said of her state of mind. It was then that she turned down the offer for a role in Fifty Shades of Grey and many other interesting projects. Her colleagues were perplexed, saying, “You shouldn’t have let that go!” But for the first time in many years, Shailene decided to just take care of herself and her health and took a year-long career break.
Drama behind the scenes
It wasn’t until a few years later that Woodley dared to be honest about what she’d been through. Shailene said, “I never realized that I had anxiety until my physical body started breaking down and I had all of these very, very scary health complications arise.” At the same time as we watched the successful young actress, she increasingly felt that her strength was running out.
There is a category of people who believe that their own suffering is no reason to take it easy. Shailene is one of those “iron” people. On the set of Divergent, the actress was eager to perform difficult stunts herself. After this, Woodley was left with a pair of “battle scars” and several hernias.
Despite the fact that her mental state deteriorated by the day, and despite the fact that she knew she needed professional help, Woodley simply didn’t have time for it. As she herself later recounted, “I was on an airplane once a week. I was working in different parts of the world. I couldn’t rationalize it. How could I ever have a therapist? How could I ever maintain a weekly check-in?”
Further interviews with the actress paint a picture of a series of childhood traumas. Although the actress lived in a loving family with a psychologist mother and a school principal father, this did not protect her psyche. As a teenager, Woodley went through some abusive relationships. On top of that, she was constantly under pressure from the industry. But the actress is under no obligation to talk publicly about all the details of her health situation, as much as some fans might want her to.
A triumphant return and a new outlook on life
2017 saw the release of a new HBO series, Big Little Lies. After a year’s hiatus, Shailene starred with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Woodley says that when she was sent the script, she refused to even read it. But eventually she let herself be persuaded and was entranced by the material. She needed to “fall in love with acting again” and the series helped her do just that.
The star received three nominations at prestigious film awards for her role as Jane Chapman. Woodley made a triumphant return to the film industry. Her interrupted career is taking off again. We can once again see the actress in movies and TV series, she’s receiving praise from the critics, producers are offering her major roles, magazines are interviewing her, and Woodley seems ready to talk about her experience.
“I feel very grateful to have walked that line of fire, because now I know what I don’t want to ever go back to”, said the star. She also talks about how important it is to know when to stop, start caring about yourself more than your success, and learn to finally say “no” to those who demand your attention without realizing that you are also a human who needs rest and personal space.
Woodley says her illness has taught her not to care too much about what people think of you. “I really don’t feel there’s any need to put on a face or be anything other than who you are because otherwise it’s exhausting”. And this experience is not unique! Though some people might say, “Stop making it up, you’re doing fine,” we all face similar challenges; many of us have to choose between career prospects and our own psychological comfort.
Do you think it’s worth taking a break from time to time to take care of your mental health, or does success only come to those who don’t stop?