Born on Nov. 15, 1991, Shailene Woodley has been in the spotlight for nearly as long as she’s been on this earth. The star grew up in the public eye, scoring bit parts on primetime shows when she was just a kid. However, as much as she enjoyed the craft, fame was never something the young star wanted for herself. "When I was seven, I said, ‘The day I’m on the cover of a magazine I’m going to quit,’ because I never wanted this industry to get in the way of my life," Woodley revealed in a 2018 interview with Net-A-Porter. Luckily, Woodley’s acting career is still going strong — despite her having graced the cover of many a magazine.
A major player in HBO’s massive hit series Big Little Lies, Woodley has proven her ability to take on pretty much any role thrown her way. As seen in her portrayals of a cancer-stricken teen, dystopian hero, and starving shipwreck survivor, to name a few, this gal certainly has some impressive acting chops. Even more impressive, perhaps, is Woodley’s fearless attitude toward channeling her characters, both emotionally and physically. Here’s a look at Shailene Woodley’s stunning transformation.
Shailene Woodley was born and raised a California girl
According to C Magazine, Shailene Woodley was born in Upland, Calif. to a school counselor mother and a school principal-turned-psychologist father. Woodley and her younger brother, Tanner, were raised in Simi Valley — a city located less than 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Despite her parents’ eventual divorce, Woodley revealed to C Magazine that she harbors no ill feelings toward her childhood.
"I had an amazing [childhood]," Woodley told the publication. "I had food on the table every night, I had parents who loved me [and] who worked very hard to give me and my brother the best life possible."
However, as Woodley was quick to point out in a 2016 interview with Net-A-Porter (via Refinery29), while her childhood was "amazing," her family was far from perfect. Revealing that her parents often opened their home to domestic violence survivors and other guests, Woodley told Net-A-Porter, "I came home to things that weren’t great. My family is super-f***ed up in many ways, but they are also my everything."
Shailene Woodley always knew she wanted to act
As Shailene Woodley revealed to C Magazine, she started auditioning for roles in television series and commercials at the tender age of 5 years old. However, while some children are thrust into the spotlight at a young age by their parents, Woodley’s early start in the entertainment industry was entirely her decision. "It was always me, something I wanted to do," Woodley told the publication. "My mom would drive me to auditions."
According to an interview with Elle, Woodley was discovered at a cattle-call casting for a Supercuts commercial, for which her cousin was auditioning. While waiting, a woman approached Woodley’s mother, Lori, and suggested that the youngster sign up for acting classes. While Woodley’s mom was hesitant, Woodley herself was thrilled at the idea.
"My mom said, ‘If I do this for you, you’ve got to commit to it,’" Woodley revealed to Elle. "For her it was like an exercise in being responsible. I’d been in gymnastics for, like, three months, soccer for four months…. I was like, ‘I’ll commit!’ I ended up loving it."
Shailene Woodley was the "most popular" kid in school
After being discovered as a child, Shailene Woodley went on to score parts in shows like My Name is Earl, Cold Case, Crossing Jordan, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The O.C. She even played the title role of Felicity in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, trading in her chestnut brown locks for a golden copper shade.
Considering Woodley started her entertainment career while most kids were learning how to ride bikes, you’d think the star would have had quite an unconventional school experience. However, as Woodley revealed to People, she managed to keep her burgeoning stardom largely under wraps. "In high school, a lot of my friends didn’t know I was an actor because I didn’t talk about it," Woodley told the publication. "They would come to school and be like, ‘Wait, were you on My Name Is Earl last night?"
Despite her rising fame, Woodley still made time to be a normal kid and later teenager. The star told Vanity Fair that she was "most popular" in high school, saying, "I was kind of that A.P. kid with a 4.0 and in choir."
The Secret Life of Shailene Woodley
While she was still in high school, Shailene Woodley landed the starring role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Premiering in 2008, the ABC Family series followed Amy, a 15-year-old girl who discovers she’s pregnant after having sex with a boy at band camp. Woodley had to wear a "stuffed belly" while filming, revealing in a press conference call, "People come around and poke your belly, or whatever, just because it’s weird to see a tall, skinny, gangly, 16-year-old wearing a pregnancy belly."
The show was a hit, both for the network and for Woodley’s career — but, as the star revealed in a 2013 interview with Flaunt, she wasn’t exactly comfortable with the ideals The Secret Life of the American Teenager was delivering to its young fanbase. "The things that we were preaching on that show weren’t really aligned with my own integrity," Woodley revealed. "So that was a bit hard to show up to work every day knowing that we were going to project all of these themes … when in fact they weren’t what I would like to be sending out."
Shailene Woodley’s passion for sustainable living started early
Today, Shailene Woodley is known for her work as both an actress and an environmental activist — and, according to a July 2008 interview, the star has long been passionate about the environment and sustainable living. When asked about her hobbies, the then-16-year-old star responded, "I’m definitely an environmentalist. I think that nature is very important, and I dedicate a lot of my time studying awareness about recycling and the effects of bamboo and how it can be incredible over wood and a lot of random things." She noted, "I think the environment is something people need to start paying attention to."
Throughout the years, Woodley’s passion for the environment has only grown stronger. In December 2018, the Big Little Lies star posted a throwback photo to Instagram featuring a handwritten list of her 2011 New Year’s resolutions. Among the many bullet points, Woodley had written that she hoped to "live sustainably," "create a sustain blog," and, "inspire and spread the word about living sustainably."
Shailene Woodley ascended into movie stardom with The Descendents
In November 2011, Shailene Woodley made her feature film debut in Alexander Payne’s tragicomedy The Descendants. While she’d seen and loved Payne’s critically acclaimed movie Sideways, the star admitted to IndieWire that she didn’t know how big of a deal it was to even get the opportunity to audition for the director. "He’s just a magical human being," Woodley told the publication.
Payne wasn’t the only prolific artist with whom Woodley worked on The Descendants, as actor George Clooney played the role of her father. And while working alongside arguably one of the greatest actors of our generation would be an understandably intimidating experience for most, Woodley had no issue rising to the occasion. Writer and movie critic Mark Rabinowitz wrote that Woodley’s portrayal of a troubled daughter was "the most authentic and moving adolescent female performance in years."
"[Woodley’s] got the "f*** you!" attitude familiar to parents of a teenager and the burgeoning parental and caring instincts of an adult," Rabinowitz continued, praising Woodley’s performance. "Her rapport with Clooney is one of the things that makes this film go."
Shailene Woodley refused to be a mannequin
While it goes without saying that image is a major component within any successful acting career, the pressure to appear a certain way took a toll on Shailene Woodley’s mental health. "When it came to me having to look a certain way or speak a certain way for this image I was meant to create, it turned me off," Woodley revealed in a 2018 interview with Net-A-Porter. "When I wasn’t filming I would work on a farm somewhere because that’s what I could hold onto that felt real."
Woodley told Net-A-Porter that studios began telling her she needed to dress "more cosmopolitan" after her appearance in The Descendants. This didn’t sit well with Woodley, who told the publication, "I didn’t want to be a mannequin for someone to dress up and throw on a red carpet." She continued, "We often see a pattern with young women in this industry: they lose a bit of weight after they become successful, their hair changes or their skin becomes clear. There’s a lot that goes into the behind the scenes that, if that’s not your thing, can itch at your soul."
Shailene Woodley left makeup behind for The Spectacular Now
After proving her acting chops with her performance in The Descendants, Shailene Woodley went on to book a leading role in the 2013 coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now. Based on the 2008 novel of the same name, Woodley’s character, Aimee, was written as a quiet "nerdy" high school girl. However, Woodley had different plans for Aimee. The star revealed to Vanity Fair that she told director James Ponsoldt, "If you want this girl to be written the way she is now, I’m not the choice. Because I don’t see her as a nerd. I see her as a really strong, independent, beautiful young woman who is wise beyond her years." Fortunately, Ponsoldt agreed.
Woodley also opted to wear as little makeup as possible — something virtually unheard of in Hollywood. "For me, it was kind of like, if I have to wear makeup I don’t want to do it," Woodley revealed to Vanity Fair. "I didn’t see Aimee as a girl who valued vanity. … There was no hairspray. No gel. No foundation. It kind of took out the materialistic side of this industry that has infiltrated it."
Divergent propelled Shailene Woodley to a new level of fame
Young adult (or YA) movies adapted from novels have become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon throughout the past decade. With her performance in The Spectacular Now, Shailene Woodley proved her skill within the popular genre, setting herself up for yet another starring role in a YA production: Divergent.
In the 2014 sci-fi flick (which was based on the 2011 novel of the same name), Woodley played the role of Beatrice "Tris" Prior, a teenager living within a dystopian future. The Divergent series was predicted to be a massive hit, much like The Hunger Games, which showcased similarly dystopian themes. Ahead of Divergent‘s release, Woodley revealed to People that Jennifer Lawrence, star of The Hunger Games, contacted her with advice on how to handle the massive spotlight coming her way. According to Woodley, Lawrence said, "[The experience] will be the best thing that ever happened. But don’t be an idiot, do a sex tape [or] do drugs. And go to Whole Foods when your movie opens."
Unfortunately, many critics were underwhelmed by Divergent and its following installments — but the mixed reviews didn’t seem to hurt Woodley’s stardom.
Starring in The Fault in Our Stars was "one of the biggest honors" of Shailene Woodley’s life
Divergent wasn’t the only young adult flick in which Shailene Woodley starred in 2014. The actress also appeared alongside Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars, a film based on the 2012 novel of the same name by author John Green. In the film, Woodley played the part of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager with terminal thyroid cancer who meets and falls in love with Augustus "Gus" Waters, a bone cancer survivor. Spoiler alert: Gus’ cancer eventually returns, and Hazel is left heartbroken after his death. The Fault in Our Stars is a tearjerker for sure, but, according to Woodley, getting to bring Hazel to life was one of the best moments of her career.
"It definitely was one of the biggest honors of my life to be part of this film — and I don’t say that lightly," Woodley told The Hollywood Reporter.
Big Little Lies made Shailene Woodley fall in love with acting again
Following the success of The Fault in Our Stars and the disappointment of the Divergent series, Shailene Woodley took a hiatus from acting. "I had hit a wall with acting," Woodley told Net-A-Porter. "I felt it was time to do something different. I called my agents and said, ‘Please don’t send me any more scripts; I need to explore other avenues.’"
Woodley revealed that her agents respected her wishes until they came across an offer they didn’t think she could refuse: a new HBO series called Big Little Lies. Initially Woodley turned down the project without even knowing who was involved. Still, her agents persisted. "I read it, fell in love with it, and Laura Dern, who I had worked with on The Fault in Our Stars, called me and that was really the push," Woodley revealed to Net-A-Porter.
The actress added that a hard experience while filming a previous, unnamed movie had inspired her to "have some human experiences outside of this industry" so she could eventually fall back in love with her craft. "Big Little Lies did that for me," Woodley shared.
Shailene Woodley starved herself for Adrift
In 2018, Shailene Woodley starred in the romantic-drama film Adrift, which was based on the true story of a couple stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean following a devastating hurricane. Woodley had to make quite the physical transformation for the film, including dying her brown locks a much lighter shade of golden-blonde to match the hair color of survivor Tami Oldham, whom Woodley portrayed.
Considering Oldham was stranded at sea for 41 days with only sardines and Spam to eat, Woodley had to lose weight to accurately represent the physical toll Oldham’s body endured. According to an interview with The Sunday Times, Woodley essentially starved herself to take on the appearance of the shipwreck survivor — skipping dinner every night, supplementing meals with alcohol, and hating every minute.
"I can’t sleep when I’m hungry, so I would have a glass of wine to basically pass the f*** out," Woodley revealed to The Times. "For the last two weeks I had a can of salmon, some steamed broccoli and two egg yolks every day — 350 calories. It was f***ing miserable."
Shailene Woodley got bangs for Big Little Lies Season 2
Following Big Little Lies‘ dramatic Season 1 finale, Shailene Woodley’s character, Jane, returned to 2019’s Season 2 a changed woman — both physically and emotionally. Heads up: There are major Big Little Lies spoilers ahead.
The first season’s finale episode saw Woodley’s Jane finally identify Perry — the man who raped her years prior and fathered her son — just before he was killed. According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Woodley felt that finally knowing who her son’s father is, as well as knowing her rapist could never hurt her again, would free Jane from her emotional shackles and allow her to "reclaim" herself. The first step on Jane’s healing journey? Cutting her bangs.
"I felt like maybe two or three weeks after that incident she would have woken up one morning, looked at herself in the mirror and thought, ‘This isn’t who I am anymore. This monster is gone and I’m not going to let him live in me or control me any longer," Woodley told The Hollywood Reporter, explaining the thought process behind her character’s new ‘do.
Shailene Woodley almost gave up acting in her 20s
Shailene Woodley has been working since she could walk, so it’s unsurprising there were some tough moments along the way. In a lengthy, career-spanning 2020 interview with The New York Times, the actress opened up about how bad things got right at the height of her career. It was so difficult, in fact, Woodley almost turned her back on performing for good. Confessing to losing her sense of self thanks to an "abusive relationship" and "the commercial success" of certain movies, Woodley described her 20s as feeling "like being in a washing machine."
She was concerned about acting becoming more of a job than a passion, revealing, "Fear and anxiety and competition were definitely at the forefront of my mind and my ego…" Hinting at an unnamed illness that affected her both mentally and physically, Woodley admitted she turned down opportunities in case she wasn’t strong enough to follow through. "I was in a place where I had no choice but to just surrender and let go of my career, and it brought out this negative voice in my mind that kept spinning for years and years afterward," the actress acknowledged.
Shailene Woodley has a specific metric for choosing roles
Working in the entertainment industry might have taken its toll on Shailene Woodley at one point, but, now that she’s established, the actress knows exactly who she is and how to choose the roles best suited to her. Speaking to fellow actor Sebastian Stan, her co-star in Endings, Beginnings, for Interview magazine in 2020, Woodley made it clear she has to feel something deep down inside to commit to a project long term. The actress explained, "It’s very much actors, directors, and writers. Two of those three have to be 10 out of 10."
Woodley also acknowledged, "I’m so blessed to even be able to be in a position where I can say that." Stan was quick to reassure her it’s perfectly okay to be proud of your achievements and proceed accordingly, with Woodley acknowledging sometimes it’s simply a matter of feeling it in her gut or not. Even when her loved ones were screaming at the star to take massive jobs with important people attached, she refused to acquiesce because, without those butterflies in her stomach, Woodley knew the projects weren’t for her.
Shailene Woodley got engaged to NFL star Aaron Rodgers
In February 2021, stories began to circulate that Shailene Woodley was secretly engaged to rumored boyfriend Aaron Rodgers. The NFL star shouted out his "fiancée" in his acceptance speech for the 2020 AP Most Valuable Player award. A source only confirmed the two were dating earlier that same month, as Us Weekly reported at the time, following Rodgers’ split from Danica Patrick. An insider subsequently confirmed the exciting news to People, advising, "They are very happy together." The source added, "It’s not surprising he proposed so fast. When you know, you know, right?"
Although the happy couple evidently wanted to keep their relationship under wraps, various details still leaked out. E! News confirmed the two were cohabitating in Green Bay, Wis., where Rodgers is based for work, throughout the fall 2020 season. "They had a very intense connection from the beginning," shared an insider, who noted they knew from the outset it was love. Likewise, the source tantalizingly added, "They can’t wait to get married and they want it to happen soon."