Picture it: a futuristic Chicago that resembles something out of a Mad Max movie. Society is broken into five groups of people, or “factions” as they are deemed. These factions are Dauntless (brave), Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (smart), Amity (loving), and Candor (honest). All people must identify with one of these groups or be considered “Divergent” and therefore unclassifiable and uncontrollable. And in this world, divergent equals dangerous. But why is that? This new action movie brings to life the best-selling novel written by Veronica Roth in an exciting and thought-provoking way, while establishing a new franchise series for action-film lovers.
Veteran movie actor Mekhi Phifer and model-turned-actress Maggie Q attended an advanced screening in Detroit recently and sat down to talk about their new film. “This is different than anything I had done so far in my career. And as an actor you are always striving to create new characters and do something different. You want to be a part of something special.” said Mekhi Phifer, who plays Max, top dog of the Dauntless leadership.”Neither myself or Maggie knew about the books when the script came across our desks, but when you see the script and you know there’s a really strong director and the studio is behind it, that’s really one of the most attractive things to an actor.”
Divergent is a departure from other roles Phifer is known for in movies such as 8 Mile, Clockers, Soul Food, This Christmas, and Paid in Full. He has also been featured on the small screen in the hit TV shows “ER” and can currently be seen on Showtime’s “House of Lies”.
Maggie Q, who plays Tori, a mysterious ally to Tris, the lead character in the film. “I love ensemble casts, I do, says Q. “And we have a massive cast in this film. And I met with Neil Burger, the director, and I liked his work before, but it all came together for me when Shailene, the star of the film, and I read together. And it was like if we have chemistry, then this is going to be really interesting. You get that sort of mentor-student relationship, that older sister vibe. And I thought we can do something special with this for sure.”
Maggie Q also performed her own stunts in the film and is no novice in the world of action films. As a young woman she was an athlete born and raised in Hawaii, moving to Hong Kong as a teen to pursue a modeling career. She was hand-selected by Jackie Chan and trained on how to do her own stunts. That led to roles in action films like Rush Hour 2, Mission Impossible II, and Live Free or Die Hard. Most recently Maggie starred in the CW’s Emmy nominated hit show “Nikita”. In addition to acting, Maggie Q lends her voice as an animal and human rights activist in support of programs such as PETA and Best Friends. Her role in Divergent as a storng-willed veteran Dauntless member will leave movie goers wanting to know more about what makes her tick.
In addition to Phifer and Q, Divergent also stars Shailene Woodley as Tris, the movies shy but resilient heroine and Theo James as Four, Tris protector and Dauntless head trainer. Their on-screen chemistry and layered storyline will keep the audience rooting for them. Woodley is best known for roles in The Secret Life of The American Teenager and her award-winning performance in the Oscar -nominated film The Descendents, while James is a British actor that was featured in Underworld: Awakening and the first season of “Downtown Abbey”. The rest of the ensemble cast is made up of Zoe Kravitz (yes, Lenny’s daughter), Ashley Judd, (Kiss The Girls), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), and Oscar-winner Kate Winslet (Titanic). One of this film’s strengths is the strong group of young actors that make up the Dauntless new class in the film. Mekhi Phifer speaks of his youthful co-stars during our sit down. “Obviously there’s grown folks in this movie, but (during filming) it was a very young, exuberance-driven workplace.” he said. “Everyone was happy to be there, no egos, people just came to work and laughed and supported each other. That’s why you can see it (our chemistry) on the screen.”
The faction society theme where everyone has their place is a subject matter that entertains in this film but also makes you think, could happen in real life? Maggie Q says ‘God I hope not! What a scary notion!” She goes on to elaborate her thought adding, “That’s part of what the movie is about, meaning if we start to get married to this idea that only one side of us needs to be expressed to benefit society, without recognizing every single one of us to be everything,…because we really are all Divergent, right? In this world to say that is a threat is scary. How strange and terrifying would that be?” Yes, Maggie, very scary in real life, but in the movie world it makes for one twisty-turny, keeps -you- wondering- who is -really- who -they -say -they- are, popcorn action flick!
During our chat, I found out that both actors were more familiar with the city of Detroit than I thought. Of course Mekhi filmed the movie 8 Mile here in 2002, but he also shared he is good friends with Judge Greg Mathis. And Maggie’s sister lived in the area for 10 years so she was a frequent visitor. I asked Mehki and Maggie what was their favorite thing about The D. “I like the people. The people are real here.” said Phifer. “When I filmed 8 Mile, it was the people here that helped make that movie. We had 300-400 extras. And they helped me run the rap battle scenes. You couldn’t teach that.” Maggie added “There is such a genuine sense here. It’s really lovely. I mean it is a city, but you kind of get the reaction from people that is warm, as if it’s a small town.”
Divergent hits theaters everywhere March 21st.