Shailene Woodley Says Girls Are Pressured to Lose Their Virginity by Other Girls

Indelicato Woodley Fernandez White Bird in a Blizzard H 2014
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Indelicato Woodley Fernandez White Bird in a Blizzard H 2014

She said of "White Bird in a Blizzard," "It's not gonna be, 'Her back arches and she gasps in excitement' — no, no, it's gonna be messy and it's gonna be real"

In White Bird in a Blizzard, Shailene Woodley is, once again, losing her virginity on the big screen.

"I've lost my virginity four times onscreen — I'm a pro at it, apparently!" she laughed to The Hollywood Reporter at the film's rainy premiere, held at New York City's Landmark Sunshine Cinemas on Wednesday night. "One of the things I have been very keen on in doing those scenes is that they feel real because, I don’t know about you, but I do not personally think losing your virginity is a fun experience. It's not glamorous — for some people, I think it is, but it wasn’t for a lot of people on this planet — so for me, it was a matter of, if we're gonna do a scene that deals with that, it's not gonna be, 'Her back arches and she gasps in excitement.' No, no, it's gonna be messy and it's gonna be real."

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Yet unlike, say, The Fault in Our Stars, White Bird's milestone moment is an unsatisfying experience, physically and emotionally, which she said is "how probably most teenage girls feel" after that moment. Woodley, with her short blonde locks pulled back by a headband, continued, "I think a lot of people feel pressured into it — not by a man or a boy in particular, but because of comparing themselves to other girls in their school. So when they actually get the deed done, they don't feel any sort of satisfaction because it wasn't for themselves. It was for others in a way."

The Magnolia Pictures '80s-set drama follows Kat (Woodley), a college-bound teenager who is just discovering and relishing her newfound sexuality when her beautiful and enigmatic mother disappears. Director Gregg Araki adapted the coming-of-age/whodunit film — which also stars Eva Green and Christopher Meloni as Kat's parents, as well as Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane and Angela Bassett — from Laura Kasischke's novel (while adding a third act that the author blessed at its Sundance Film Festival premiere.)

Kat has sex for the first time with neighbor and high school boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). "Virginity — the idea of what it is and what it used to represent — is so different, and I wish that there was some pure thing that is still represented, but I don’t think it's it anymore," reflected Fernandez, praising the film's portrayal of the moment and sexual discovery altogether. "This isn't necessarily the most clean or natural thing that we want it to be or we dream it to be. It doesn't mean that it tarnishes you or makes you dirty, whatever that is. It's about love and connection and growing as a human being."

At first glance, White Birds in a Blizzard is similar to Gone Girl, due to the disappearances of its onscreen wives. "I can't believe we're even getting compared to it in the same breath!" said co-writer and director Araki. "It is also about family, marriage, secrets, but to me, Gone Girl is an interesting movie but it's almost an opposite movie. I felt like Gone Girl was a little bit misogynistic, and this movie is much more of a feminist movie. … The Eva Green character is a victim of this patriarchal system.

"It's really about the plight of that woman, and Shailene's character as a young woman becoming a woman," he continued. "Also, I find their relationship super interesting — mother to daughter, the beautiful woman whose looks are starting to fade just as her daughter is blossoming. There's a whole fascinating tension and dynamic that's going on."

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Mark Indelicato, who plays a close friend of Kat's, noted that the film's underlying conversations are "a common motif of Gregg Araki's filmmaking: Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation, there's a lot of that subtext of coming-of-age, adolescent struggles, and it's all very real. Everybody knows exactly what it's like to feel that angst, and on top of that, have your mother disappear."

Metaphorically, that is. Explained Woodley, "You look at the house and it's got the green lawn and no dust on the table, and it looks beautiful, but then you go inside and it's completely broken and all in shambles. I think that's how a lot of people live in this world." Fernandez added, "Secrets and lies and keeping that stuff in will come out in horrible ways. Keeping something in and not expressing yourself can lead to things that are detrimental to your family and your life."

Araki was first attracted to "the poetic and beautiful language" of the novel, much of which became Woodley's voiceover narration — which recorded in between takes because "it was an indie movie! And Shailene was totally in character." It was shot two years ago, between Woodley's The Spectacular Now and Divergent. The director compared the actress' diverse career to [Mysterious Skin star] Joseph Gordon-Levitt's project picks, in that they're both driven by art.

"She's not really interested in riding the YA train to fame," said Araki of Woodley, and Fernandez also said, "There's something so natural about her acting, because she does understand a depth of humanity that most people don't. … It's just a joy to be around someone who represents what we do so purely."

After the FIJI Water — and Svedka Vodka-sponsored screening — which Araki informally introduced the film without a microphone — guests headed a few blocks south to the new underground venue The 303 for cocktails, garlic fries, pizza and prosciutto. For the intimate bash, Woodley traded her Temperley London sleeveless suit and loafers for a paisley button-down and sneakers, and greeted Ansel Elgort's siblings Warren and Sophie before dancing under a disco ball to '80s hits with Fernandez, Indelicato and Araki (each taking a turn wearing Fernandez' hat) until past one in the morning. White Bird in a Blizzard gets a limited theatrical release on Oct. 24, and is now available on iTunes and on demand.

Twitter: @cashleelee