‘Divergent’ Star Ansel Elgort Reveals How He Scored His Coveted Role As Caleb

As part of 'Candor Week,' the actor shares his journey from obscurity to 'Divergent,' which hits theaters on March 21.

It’s hard to recall a time when Ansel
Elgort
‘s handsome face wasn’t instantly recognizable as belonging to a hot young actor. He is, after all, starring in two of the most-anticipated YA novel adaptations ever to hit the big screen. But there’s one person out there who does remember those strange, desperate days before Ansel Elgort was famous.

Of course, that person is Ansel Elgort, who spoke with MTV as part of the kickoff for his “Divergent” adaptation’s “Candor Week” in celebration of the film’s “honest” faction.

“I was living with my parents, who were very supportive. I was just making tapes all the time in my stairwell,” the actor said, remembering the long, dry days before he landed a career-making role in “Divergent.”

With just one film under his belt — as Carrie White’s ill-fated prom date in the 2013 remake of “Carrie
— Elgort was anxious to work again. And by the time he was submitting his audition tape for “Divergent,” seven months after shooting his character’s ignominius death courtesy of a tumbling bucket of pig’s blood, he was getting both a little desperate and more than a little creative with his submissions.

“I auditioned for Four,” he said, referring to the “Divergent” role played by Theo James. “We did a few takes and it wasn’t really working — it was okay, whatever — and [my friend] was like, ‘You should take a knife and hold it while you’re giving the speech.’ So I took a big kitchen knife, a big one, and I had the kitchen knife and I was holding it, playing with it, giving this speech as Four…”

He paused, and then laughed.

“I wasn’t ready for Four.”

It’s OK, though: Elgort says that he’s thrilled to have landed the role of Caleb — “He’s a really interesting guy,” he mused — and furthermore, that he knew as soon as he saw Theo James in the role that the right man had won the part. Actually, he was so moved by James’ performance that he felt compelled to tell him so at the first possible opportunity, which came at, er, a not-so-opportune moment.

“This might’ve been awkward, but we were both in the bathroom standing at two urinals, and I looked over at him and was like, ‘Dude. You’re crushing it,’” Elgort said. “I was like, ‘I couldn’t get that quiet intensity, man. You’re perfect.’ ”

We’ll give you a moment to fully appreciate that scene as it finishes playing out in your head.

Meanwhile, Elgort can’t say enough complimentary things about his co-stars. Of James, he gushed, “I don’t think you could’ve gotten a better Four. He’s so good looking, and he’s so scary at the same time.”

And of course, he’s gotten to be great friends with Shailene Woodley, who was cast as his sister in “Divergent” before the two landed the romantic leads in “The
Fault in Our Stars.
” But while anyone who’s been following both films has seen plenty of behind-the-scenes evidence of Shailene and Ansel palling around, he admitted he didn’t make the greatest first impression when they first met on the set of the dystopian thriller.

“My first meeting with Shailene, she comes over and gives me a big hug,” Elgort recalled. “And I think I was taken by surprise a little bit, and I didn’t hug her back that much. And to this day, she tells me that she wasn’t sure she was going to like me because I didn’t hug her back.”

Fortunately, he made this mistake so the rest of us don’t have to. Some golden advice from Ansel Elgort to the world:

“If you do meet Shailene, you give her a nice big hug.”