Now Playing

Breaking Boundaries

British heartthrob Theo James battles for identity in his most Divergent role yet.
 

“I’m a bit of a nomad,” says 29-year-old Theo James, a native of Oxford, England, and the dashing male lead in the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster Divergent, the first of three highly anticipated adaptations of Veronica Roth’s best-selling trilogy from the studio behind The Hunger Games and Twilight. “I’m here for a bit, and then I go back to London… a traveling vagabond,” jokes the affable actor and part-time L.A. resident, who’s gone where the fruitful work has taken him, and whose name will have similar ubiquity come March 21. To “not really have a place” might be a common pronouncement for the youngest of five children of Greek, English and Scottish heritage, and it’s a sentiment shared by his Divergent character, Four, who struggles to fit into a futuristic dystopia where the population is divided into five strict factions based on personality traits (including selflessness, bravery and wisdom). Caught in the fray is teenage heroine Beatrice Prior, played by Shailene Woodley (“a very giving, emotional actress” with whom James says he had “great natural chemistry”), who is discovered to belong to more than one faction—“divergent”—and is considered a threat to an evil nemesis played by Kate Winslet. Then, “she meets this guy, my character, who also doesn’t fit in, and they fall in love… and it’s really a battle for survival within the context of identity,” summarizes James. What drew him to the burly part, for which he hit the gym every day for a month? “He’s cool; he has this Paul Newman quality to him, this stillness, this old-school manliness.” He’s also “a lone wolf in a way, and steps back from the noise sometimes,” which James claims to relate to, despite the clamor he’ll soon be summoning. Sequels Insurgent and Allegiant are already in the works, in addition to London Fields (an “interesting and wacky and weird” murder mystery) and Franny (“an old-school indie” drama with Richard Gere “about family and loss”). But the music enthusiast and self-proclaimed cinephile—who studied philosophy at The University of Nottingham and bettered his craft at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School before breaking into the business in 2010—believes he’s just begun to make his mark. While supporting parts in London-based films led to larger projects, like Underworld: Awakening, and memorable TV roles as a young NYPD commissioner in CBS’ Golden Boy and the Turkish diplomat who died mid-lust with Lady Mary in Downton Abbey, being genetically blessed presented its own challenges. “I have kind of a specific look, and there’s a portion of [the industry] that is severely aesthetically oriented,” carefully puts James, who countered being typecast by “making sure that I convinced people and convinced myself, and pushed my own creative boundaries so that I wasn’t pigeonholed into a certain box. … You really have to fight quite hard against that.” In other words: Diverge.