Hollywood's search for a new star, redemption for an old one, tipping tips and drug money

Will Shailene Woodley really prove to be The Next Jennifer Lawrence?

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The Independent Online

Hollywood has a talent problem: its failure to cultivate a single bona fide, bankable mainstream movie star beneath the age of 30 whose name isn't Jennifer Lawrence. Even between 30 and 35 it has only Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum and three interchangeable blond men named Chris, who are yet to prove their box-office draw beyond their respective blockbuster franchises.

Which is why a lot rests on this week's whopping US release, Divergent – and on its 22-year-old star, Shailene Woodley, who is widely described as The Next Jennifer Lawrence. Like J-Law's The Hunger Games, Divergent is based on a series of wildly successful Young Adult novels about teens in a dystopian future killing each other at the behest of dastardly grown-ups.

Lawrence's achievement is to juggle being an Oscar-worthy actress, a box-office sensation and an apparently authentic person who can't help but speak her mind. Woodley has demonstrated her acting chops in The Descendants (2011) and a wonderful indie called The Spectacular Now (2013). Divergent is almost guaranteed to be a smash.

As for speaking her mind, in an interview last week for Teen Vogue, Woodley called the romance at the heart of that other YA hit, Twilight, a "toxic relationship". Of its wussy heroine, Bella, she said: "She falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she's going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people?" I like her already, don't you?

Bring back Mel

From a bright new star to a faded old one. Writing for Hollywood online news site Deadline last week, entertainment journalist Allison Hope Weiner pleaded with the movie business to take Mel Gibson off its blacklist. Following the drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynistic outbursts that all but ended Gibson's career, Weiner hopped on the bandwagon and lambasted the disgraced actor-director in print.

But then something odd happened: she got to know him, and she changed her mind. Weiner says Gibson has served his time in the wilderness, and I have to agree – if only because his most recent directorial effort, Apocalypto, was one of the most viscerally thrilling films of the past decade. She writes: "My friendship with Gibson made me reconsider other celebrities whose public images became tarnished by the media's rush to judge and marginalise the rich and famous."

Recently I sat opposite Shia LaBeouf, a young actor fresh from his own public shaming, at his performance art piece #IAmSorry at a gallery in LA. During our encounter, LaBeouf wore a brown paper bag over his head while I recited mean tweets directed at him by strangers. I soon started to feel guilty. My point being: it's difficult to sustain the lazy outrage of the internet once you're confronted with a real person – even one with a bag on his head.

Gratuity news

A survey reported by the Los Angeles Times last week found that most diners in the United States are now so-called "stingy tippers". British readers accustomed to a discretionary 12.5 per cent at Pizza Express may be shocked to learn that a "stingy" tip, by the standards of this American poll, is anything less than 20 per cent. 'Twas not ever thus: when Steve Buscemi refused to tip the waitress in 1992's Reservoir Dogs, his fellow criminals considered 12 per cent an adequate gratuity.

It takes time for ex-pats in the US to learn who to tip, and how much: parking valets (yes); hairdressers (yes); Pilates instructors (no). It's customary to leave a dollar in the tip jar when ordering a coffee, but you have to wait until the barista looks up from frothing your latte to witness your generosity. (If they don't know you left one, then what's the point?)

Unsurprisingly, British visitors have a reputation for being cheap, and I tend to overcompensate by rounding up. It's worth an extra dollar or two just to hear LA waiters – many of whom are, or course, out-of-work actors – recite the day's specials as if they're a Hamlet soliloquy. And I'll say this much for 20 per cent: the mental arithmetic is a lot simpler than 12.5.

Computer says yum

An IBM supercomputer, known to its friends as Watson, is running its own food truck at South By Southwest, the annual music, film and tech festival in Austin, Texas. The truck's cooks are being directed by Watson's artificially intelligent flavour choices, based on its vast database of recipes. Hence outlandish (but allegedly delicious) computer-generated concoctions such as Vietnamese Apple Kebab, Creole Shrimp-Lamb Dumpling and Austrian Chocolate Burrito. Finally, a service industry professional you don't have to tip at all.

Lucrative highs

Colorado's 59 licensed marijuana dispensaries sold $14m (£8.4m) worth of recreational marijuana in January, the first month of weed legalisation in the state – or anywhere in the world, for that matter. That means a princely $2m in tax revenue for Colorado; $3.5m including medical marijuana sales. When I was in Denver on 1 January to buy drugs – purely for journalistic purposes, you understand – some complained about the high cost of taxed, legal cannabis compared to street weed. Evidently, they overcame their quibbles. Now that they've seen the sums involved, some other states will likely change their minds on legalisation, too.

Tim Walker is 'The Independent on Sunday's' Los Angeles correspondent. Simmy Richman is away

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