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On the Rise Shailene Woodley

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On the Rise: Shailene Woodley

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nearly all the best scenes in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants feature Shailene Woodley, who was unforgettable as Alexandra, the eldest daughter of George Clooney’s cuckolded, soon-to-be-widower, Matt King. Offhand, one thinks of the scene in which news of her mom’s comatose state sends Alex into the family’s pool, screaming underwater in one of the film’s many snapshots of private torment. There’s also the moment that Alex spills to her dad the secret of her mother’s affair, shifting from tearful to venomous without missing a beat, wiping her cheeks before saying, “He hand his hand on her ass. It was gross.”

Woodley hasn’t done much screen work since her Descendants breakthrough, short of continuing her starring role in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the ABC Family series that will soon wrap its fifth and final season. But, as 2013 rolls on, the 21-year-old has suddenly gone from Oscar snubbee to ubiquitous princess, reportedly landing the lead in two major YA adaptations, clinching the role of Mary Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and still being sure to maintain some indie cred. Of all the young actresses to recently emerge from Disney-type talent factories, from Miley Cyrus to the Spring Breakers hell-raisers, Woodley seems the most on track toward a fruitful and prestigious career, perhaps akin to that of another indie/franchise straddler, Jennifer Lawrence.

The biggest Woodley news of the week is that she’s been chosen to play Hazel Grace Lancaster, the lead character in the buzzy adaptation of John Green’s young-adult bestseller The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel is a teenage cancer sufferer, who falls for a fellow patient in her support group. In regard to Woodley, director Josh Boone compared the actress’s audition to “lightning striking.” Such is what seems to be happening throughout Woodley’s professional life these days, as she’ll also take the lead in Divergent, the first installment of a planned trilogy adapted from Veronica Roth’s novels, which are more favorites in the YA canon. Speaking of Lawrence, the pair of casting announcements essentially sees Woodley tackling two Katniss-Everdeen-type heroines, who are leaping from pored-over pages to hotly-anticipated screen incarnations. Divergent is even, apparently, very Hunger Games-ian, with a young heroine, Beatrice Prior, fighting her way through a dystopian society. (Incidentally, The Hunger Games distributor Lionsgate will also have a hand in releasing Divergent, set to be directed by Limitless helmer Neil Burger.)

In the minus column, Woodley is also proving to be an arm in the recent hydra of woman-hating entertainment news, which has stretched from the vitriol slung at Anne Hathaway post-Oscar win to the new misogynistic theories surrounding Lynne Ramsay’s production-day no-show. After posting candid production photos of Woodley on the set of Amazing Spider-Man 2, editor Katey Rich watched as vicious fanboy comments rolled in, with choice blurbs saying things like “effin gross” and “MJ is supposed to be hot.” (Rich later snapped back with a rebuttal entitled, “If You Think Shailene Woodley Isn’t Pretty Enough For The Amazing Spider-Man 2, You Don’t Deserve The Movie.”)

Woodley may be getting exposed to the harshness women must endure in Hollywood, but it’s not eclipsing her positive exposure, which, in this moment, is dominating industry headlines in a big way. To sum it up, one might turn to the title of her recent Sundance success, which hits theaters in August and won her the festival’s Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting. Co-starring Miles Teller, and also penned by The Fault in Our Stars co-scripters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber ((500) Days of Summer), the film is aptly named The Spectacular Now.