Roth praises James after seeing the screen test that landed him the role:
James is cast after a chemistry test with Woodley. Producer Doug Wick:
We didn’t know much about him, just his one memorable appearance on Downton Abbey. He is doing the same scene with Shai that she’s done with dozens of other actors. But Shai always plays it full out. Theo is smart, observant, and incredibly handsome. He has a wryness, a sense of humor. It adds a layer to all the scenes. He plays off Shai’s power. He has plenty of his own intensity. They are electric together. Even when Theo’s quiet, you wonder what he’s thinking about. He’s got that movie star thing… Just in the nick of time, I think we have our Four.
Producer Doug Wick says Woodley’s strengths make casting the part of Four a challenge:
We are meeting a whole generation of would-be male stars. The agents claim that they are the next Paul Newman, the next Steve McQueen. We have a real problem. Shai is blowing them off the screen.
The producers search for a co-lead who can match Shailene Woodley’s talents:
She has real power and they seem weak next to her. After Tris, this is the most essential piece of casting in the movie. Four has to have mystery. He has to have charisma. He has to be old-fashioned manly or the story’s not going to work. .. One actor had “pretty good chemistry with Shai.” Another guy is “a real Australian hunk with a perfect American accent, but he looks old standing next to her.” And all these actors were about to get big leads in other movies. They just weren’t Four.
Woodley auditions for the character Tris and is cast after her first reading. Producer Doug Wick:
We have to believe that this girl, raised in Abnegation, has the inner strength to become a warrior. There has to be something original about her. She needs a few drops of James Dean. She has to be unconventional, she has to be Divergent. … By the end of the meeting, we know we had found the perfect Tris.
The producers get studio approval to talk to filmmakers:
They will have to be great at delivering well-observed emotions in the midst of action adventure. They will need to be great at world building: having to deliver a futuristic Chicago with a whole different sociology. They will have to deliver five very distinct ways of life. … Neil Burger quickly becomes the first choice. He had been a painter at Yale. He is a good writer, so we knew he would be smart about the challenges of the adaptation. He is great with actors.
Daugherty is selected after his work on Snow White and the Huntsman. Producer Doug Wick:
Evan came in with a sense of a structure for the movie. He referenced films like “Full Metal Jacket” and “Top Gun,” where the hero goes through intensive training to discover what they are made of. Then, their journey culminates in a life and death battle. The screenwriter will have to deliver all the rules of Veronica’s world without slowing down the drama. They have a lot of subplots to juggle and streamline. It’s an embarrassment of riches but still a big challenge.
Roth’s manuscript is sent to producers. Doug Wick:
At that point, however, the book was just “another” manuscript, and it was a long time before it became a publishing phenomenon. But Tris jumped off the pages and we badly wanted to tell her story.