I had the chance to speak with Christian Madsen, who plays Al in the movie Divergent, because of its upcoming release on Blu-ray and DVD on August 5th. See what he had to say about his character, filming, his hobbies, and more:
Lauren: Did you initially audition for the role of Al?
Christian: I did, yes. I was not one of the people that auditioned for Four or Caleb or anything else. I auditioned for Al and pretty immediately connected with him and the things he was going through. Then I got the script and the callback and was able to talk through the character. We did three different scenes five times each and I just knew that I really connected with the character a lot.
L: Al is kind of a troubled person. What enabled you to connect with him?
C: I think it’s more of when I was in school and just growing up and wanting to be accepted with Al. There’s a quiet shyness to him. I think this gentle giant aspect, I’m not going to say I connect with a lot, but I am a tall person, not as loud as you might think, I don’t know if a lot of tall people are loud but I get that feeling. I related to those things and that just screamed off the page when I read the description of the character. It’s tough when you relate to something because then you have to pull a lot of personal stuff from it and sometimes that can be a dark place to go to. But that especially works when you’re shooting emotional scenes. There’s a scene in the deleted scenes that they have where I talk to Tris (Shailene) at the top of the cliff. Those scenes are tough because you’re having to pull from personal stuff and that sometimes can not be so fun.
L: Did you use the book and Veronica’s descriptions to help you prepare?
C: Yeah. I read the book and the script and I think it was pretty evident that Al had something for Tris, whether it was there for her as well or just in his world. I connected with him, the longing to be with this girl. I talked a little with Veronica but she was like, ‘Do your thing with the character, I trust you. I didn’t base the character off a certain person, I just kind of wrote this character, so whatever you can bring to it, it’s now yours.’ So I didn’t obviously want to do anything too crazy, I wanted to stay as close to the book as possible, but just bringing yourself to a character, as I said before, it’s tough. But when you’re working with Neil or Shai (Shailene), they’re just great to work off of, they understand where you’re coming from, so it’s a comfortable environment if you want to open yourself up like that.
L: When you were filming the scene where Al attacks Tris, was it difficult for you to attack her? I’m assuming you all became friends.
C: Yeah, it was very difficult because I had to go to that place where mentally I would think it’s okay to attack a girl. If you look in the book, he is but mentally he doesn’t want to do that. He’s doing the wrong thing and he knows it so that’s why I don’t think Al is a bad person. He’s just making the wrong decisions by being swayed by people who are mentally stronger than him at that moment. When I did that scene, Theo, Shai, everybody was understanding that I didn’t want to do that. In a way, I didn’t want anybody to be around me when I did that scene because I wanted the feeling that nobody really liked me, so there’s a lot of separation you have to put into those scenes. It’s tough. I remember in the middle of shooting that scene wanting to be like ‘F*** this. I don’t want to pull Shai’s hair, I don’t want to push them. Let Miles do that, that’s his character. I don’t want to do this,’ so it was tough. After every scene I was like, “I’m sorry.” It was tough but I had to do it.
L: Is Al the character you relate to the most or is there another one more similar to yourself?
C: The cool answer, I think, would be Four, but for me, even though Al reaches his demise, there’s an ongoing story with a character like that, where I think ‘What could he have been if he hadn’t made those decisions?’ With Al’s stature and physical build, he could have been a Dauntless leader had he had a better mind state, had he been prepared for Dauntless. Those are the things I think are cool with a character like that, but obviously you see a different side to him.
L: Did you have to put a lot of prep into becoming physically fit?
C: Yes. Dauntless is also mentally challenging so we did about two and a half weeks of stunt training when we first got there. That sort of got us prepared for what Dauntless would be. They really trained us as if it was Dauntless. We got up at six in the morning, ran two miles, then would do callisthenic workouts, martial arts technique stuff, then we would do knife throwing, tactical fun work. All of this stuff we did for two and a half weeks so we were definitely getting there in terms of being prepared.
Cool fact: They were actually throwing the knives during filming! Christian said there would be some nerves when people had weaker aims than some of the others. They’d be thinking, “Hey, don’t hit me in the face!’
L: What have you been working on since Divergent?
C: Now I’m working at Starbucks… no, I’m just kidding [But he totally had me fooled for a second]. I shot a movie right after Divergent called Prism in New York. It’s a father-son story. He goes on this adventure to figure out where his dad is, he hasn’t seen his dad in 15 years, and he’s trying to collect the pieces. His dad’s not there mentally. I just got back from New York a week ago where I shot this movie called King Jack, which is another family dynamic movie about these brothers who are trying to coexist without a father. They live in Kingston, New York. My little brother’s getting picked on in school and he likes this girl. It’s about this town and family. I like stuff like that.
L: What else do you enjoy doing besides acting?
C: I just got a car for the first time in a while. I like taking care of that thing. It’s a ’77 Mercedes so I like that thing. I just read a lot, do some painting, not as much as I’d like. As of right now, I’m just trying to finish this book.
L: Have you stayed in touch with the people from Divergent?
C: Yeah, it’s nice they still remember me. But really, we spent a lot of time on set together and then even when we weren’t filming, we were together in the same place. We just didn’t have a choice; we had to hang out with each other. It was good because everyone was so different but so similar at the same time. You would think someone like Miles might not get along with someone like Jai or Zoe wouldn’t get along with someone like Ansel, but you put us all in the same room and it was like one happy family.
Thank you again to Christian for taking the time to talk to me and Lionsgate and Fons PR for setting this up!
Divergent comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on August 5th so make sure to buy it this coming week to see more of Al, Tris, and Four!