Theo James on dodging typecasting & nostalgia in ‘ALLEGIANT’

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20036.dngCourtney Howard // Film Critic

I’m known for being as nostalgic as a piece of bread.”

When Theo James first signed onto the cinematic adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, he was little known for more than a guest starring bit on DOWNTON ABBEY. Now, it seems he’s all over the place, starring in films from acclaimed directors Jim Sheridan and John Michael McDonagh. But before those films debut, James is back as “Four,” in the third chapter of the series, ALLEGIANT. This time around his character is much less trusting than Tris is of the adults in the brave, new futuristic world that lies beyond the wall.

Slipping back into Four’s skin came as a bit of a challenge for James.

“You have to refresh yourself to get back into character. Sometimes it’s easy to think it would just happen but you need to remember the muscle memory part of it – of who the person is and how they walk and talk. I feel like the character has matured a bit so I can take the accelerator off. He’s a complex enough character that there’s room enough to go back to him.”

Over the course of these three films, audiences really grasp the evolution of Four.

“What I found this time is the character is a few years older and that helps. Somehow he feels more settled and grounded. He has a huge issue with his mother. The important thing for me was I didn’t want it to be too angst-ridden. That was fun to play.”

Because this is a sequel, that means the action sequences – particularly the one set on the mechanical frogship – had to up the ante. In order to do that, director Robert Schwentke had James look at an obscure Korean movie for visual reference.

“It’s all me [doing the stunts]. That fight was fun because we – I can’t remember what the movie was called – a Korean film. There’s a close quarters night fight in it and he felt that would suit the space because I’m confined to this craft. We worked off that. You get to structure the story and do something specific and restricted by space. That’s where it’s most interesting. They had the thing on a gimbal, so when you see people holding onto the railings, 90 degrees hanging on, we were really doing that. I missed a couple of times and went sliding down and smacked my face on the front of the gimbal.”

As everything is building towards the climax that will be ASCENDANT, James hasn’t found himself in a place of reflection just yet.

“Theses films don’t just happen – you need to work on them to bring a sense of a character and complexity to it. There’s still work to do. For myself, I’m known for being as nostalgic as a piece of bread. That’s not a good analogy and it makes no sense. I don’t know. I guess I like to look forward – not look back. And it’s been that way since primary school.”

James doesn’t think playing the romantic lead in a blockbuster will make him a future victim of typecasting as the role allows him to show dimension. As you already know, he’s not just your average romantic lead in this franchise.

“You definitely have to work hard to show multi-facetedness – that you’re more than just that. I was aware of that even before filming the first one of these. I tried to do that from the beginning. It’s about longevity.”

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT opens on March 18.

Feature Photo: Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.