At the ripe old age of 20, actress Shailene Woodley has what most actresses wait a lifetime for: a lengthy TV resume, a heap of Oscar buzz and a starring role alongside George Clooney (in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, her big screen debut). So how did Woodley get so far, so fast?

Born in Southern California to a middle school counselor and the school principal, Woodley was just five when she walked into her first audition. Later, after landing the role as Kaitlin Cooper on The O.C. from 2003-2004, Woodley continued to plump up her TV CV, making appearances on shows such as Everybody Loves Raymond, My Name Is Earl and CSI:NY.

But it was in 2008, when she landed a lead role as a high schooler coping with single motherhood on the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, that Woodley found herself in a whole new fame bracket — a stroke of luck, she says, that has taught her to remain humble in the face of newfound glory. "For me it's always been about truth, and for being on a show for as long as I've been on it — and being in a contract for another two years — I've learned a lot about making commitments and really paying attention to the material that you work on," she told Moviefone. "And I'm so grateful for [Secret Life], oh my gosh, it's been such a fun ride."

Two more years? Such a commitment might become a burden, should Woodley nab the Oscar nomination — and the subsequent barrage of movie offers — that many say she deserves. Her exceptionally touching performance as Clooney's resentful and recovering addict daughter in The Descendants has already earned her the distinction as the National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actress, an award that could have gone to such acting heavyweights as The Help's Viola Davis or Coriolanus' Vanessa Redgrave. (Interestingly, the Board also handed out two awards for "Breakthrough Performance" to Like Crazy's Felicity Jones, 28, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara, 26, both of whom are older than Woodley. Had the Board wished merely to commemorate the work of an exceptional youngster, such an award could have gone to Woodley, but her performance is an a category all its own.)

In The Descendants, Woodley plays Alexandra King, who joins forces with her father – Clooney's Hawaiian land baron Matt King – in an attempt to track down the man who has been having an affair with her mother, lately comatose following a boating accident. Working with Clooney may have intimidated some (OK, most) actresses, but Woodley wasn't fazed. “He’s really taught me how to be a better human being throughout this process. He’s just so grounded and generous and grateful… he emanates the word gratitude,” Woodley told Access Hollywood. “He’s awesome and he’s so down to earth that there was no intimidation factor.”

As for the Oscar buzz, the actress, who still lives at home with her mom, described it all as a bit surreal but said she generally prefers to stay out of the limelight. “Honestly I was just rather be wearing no makeup, hiking somewhere in the mountains, than going to tons and tons of parties all the time," she said.

With the way things are going, though, it looks as if she's going to have to make a few sacrifices.