Why Divergent's Theo James was perfect for the role of Four

Cast member Theo James poses at the premiere of

Cast member Theo James poses at the premiere of "Divergent" in Los Angeles, California March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - Don’t hate Theo James for being one of the sexiest men alive. He thinks it’s worth a laugh.

The British actor’s inclusion in People’s Sexiest Men Alive issue in November was almost entirely based on his heart-stealing role of Mr. Pamuk in the first season of Downton Abbey.

But his otherwise relative-unknown status is at risk with the role of Four, the militaristic romantic male lead in the young-adult-novel-turned-movie Divergent.

The movie’s heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) lives in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where people are strictly divided into “factions” based on their characteristics. Raised as a selfless Abnegation member, Tris chooses to join the risk-taking Dauntless, who serve as society’s soldiers.

There she both physically fights and falls in love with her stoic commander. (All the while, she keeps secret the results of tests that say she is “divergent,” belonging nowhere – a crime by birth).

So what do these two see in each other?

“I think it’s an interesting relationship. It’s not based on lots of swooning,” the 29-year-old James says, apparently taking the question seriously. “He sees that she is not only selfless, but also strong.

“And SHE sees his rippling abs,” he adds to laughs from the press.

Asked to recall his most difficult scene, he’s torn between a punch and a kiss. “It was a pretty dynamic fight scene, visceral and painful. And Shay gets punched in the face many times, and that’s quite hardcore in many ways.”

And then he goes for the gag again. “But the toughest stunt with Shai was that I wanted to practice the kissing scene as much as possible, but she wasn’t really into it. ‘Listen tonight, do you want to go over that scene again?’”

Incredibly, with an intended blockbuster movie based on a five-million-seller novel franchise, the key role of Four – the Edward to Twilight’s Bella, if you will – was among the last to be cast.

“We were seeing all the young stars in town,” says producer Douglas Wick. “There was all this jockeying from the major agencies. ‘This guy’s the next Steve McQueen, this guy’s the next Paul Newman.’ And we brought each of those guys to read with Shailene and she blew them away. She made them seem weak.

“And finally we tested Theo, who in the first moment was so exactly right. And when you’ve tasted failure for several weeks, it’s even more clear.”

Wick’s production partner Lucy Fisher said there was resistance from the studios. “They said, ‘Who’s he?’ And we just said, ‘Go home and ask your wife about Mr. Pamuk.’”

Woodley says not to let James’ easygoing manner fool you. She remembers their fight scene. “That dude boxes in real life, and he’s not afraid to be strong. So if I forgot to duck, or moved left instead of right, I’d have been knocked cold. That was a terrifying fight scene.”

A working actor in the truest sense, James isn’t used to the sudden attention. “Before this, they thought I was cleaning the toilet and happened to be there for the audition,” he says.

“But the press tour was interesting, because suddenly we saw some of the fandom close up.”

As for Four, James says, “I had an immediate affinity for the character. He walks into a room and doesn’t need to be the loudest voice, but you still feel his presence.

“Also there’s this dangerous stillness I felt he had when reading the book. I love masculine characters that don’t have to be shouting in someone’s face.”

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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