Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort play brother and sister in the dystopian setting the recent blockbuster Divergent, where humanity grapples with categorization as a means of societal control. But shortly after filming the film, which is based on a novel by Veronica Roth, Woodley and Elgort had to shift their onscreen relationship for another book adaptation. In The Fault In Our Stars, the duo play teenage love interests who are both dealing with impending doom of another kind — cancer.
The film, out June 6, is based on a popular young adult novel by John Green; it follows a 16-year-old cancer patient named Hazel Grace Lancaster who encounters a compelling young man named Augustus Waters in a support group. For Woodley, there were a lot of reasons to accept the role of Hazel, whose witty narration in the novel carries over into the film in voiceover form.
“There were so many things!” Woodley tells TIME about what drew her to Hazel. “The fact that Hazel at such a young age realizes that all of this is fleeting and that none of it matters. That it doesn’t matter how big of a mark you leave on the world or how many great things you do, or if you change the world or if you’re Martin Luther King Jr. or Cleopatra or homeboy down the street. Eventually it’s all going to end, and oblivion is inevitable. So you might as well enjoy every moment and live every moment in a present state of mind. The fact that she understood that at such a young age was so powerful to me.”
The casting for The Fault In Our Stars was announced midway through filming Divergent, but both actors felt able to aptly separate the two films. Elgort, who was cast as Augustus in Fault, plays Caleb Prior in Divergent, the brother of Woodley’s character Beatrice Prior. Caleb is logical and driven by his intelligence, whereas Augustus is a fun-loving teenager who manages to find a bright side to a cancer diagnosis.
“When you’re there and you’re Caleb, you have to be Caleb,” Elgort says. “I hadn’t thought about Augustus Waters yet. And then when you change characters, you change the way you look, you change the way you feel. Everything changes. You almost start to think that Shailene is two different people in the projects. You meld with your character a little bit, naturally. You start to pick up those tendencies a little bit.”
“Ansel and I have an affinity for each other just as far as recognizing and admiring the spirits in one another,” Woodley adds. “It was nice to do a movie like Fault, which does have so many vulnerable scenes with somebody I was already comfortable with.”
Elgort felt a significant connection to Augustus and it’s one that apparently resonated with the author himself. “John Green, after he saw the film, gave me a huge compliment,” Elgort says. “He said, ‘Your work as Augustus was so special because I had never thought about him that much. It’s from the point of view of Hazel in the story, so Augustus wasn’t as real of a person to me until I saw the film.’ Because now you’re watching a real person, you’re not just hearing Hazel’s thoughts about him. So it’s fresh whether you’ve read the book or not.”
Those who have read The Fault In Our Stars are prepared to bring Kleenex to the cinema — and Elgort says they should. He confirmed that moviegoers will cry “pretty hard,” but Woodley has a different perspective on the narrative’s tragic tone.
“It’s pretty sad,” she said. “But it’s also really empowering. It’s like the book. I think the movie really mastered the tone of the book.”