In The Hunger Games, adapted for the big screen from the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, actors Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman and Amandla Stenberg play three of the Tributes competing in the Games. Cato (Ludwig) and Clove (Fuhrman) are ruthless killers who are the two most fearsome Career Tributes, while Rue (Stenberg) is the youngest Tribute from District 11, who also becomes a close ally of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).
At the press day, the three co-stars made it obvious just how tight-knit the cast had gotten while making the film, as they shared stories about training together, the practical jokes they played on each other, what it’s like to interact with fans, and what they learned from this experience. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
For those not familiar with the story, here’s the synopsis:
Each year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete in The Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and on ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which Tributes must fight with one another until one survivor remains. When the young Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) has her name called, her 16-year-old sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to enter the Games in her place. Once there, she is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts and, if she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
ISABELLE FUHRMAN: Yeah!
ALEXANDER LUDWIG: There’s a book? No. Absolutely! We were all huge fans of the book.
Did you have favorite characters?
FUHRMAN: Yes, definitely. My favorites were Katniss and Rue. They’re just so relatable and lovable.
How was it to want to play a character that wants kill them?
FUHRMAN: Well, I always say that you have to love your characters, so it was about re-reading the book and learning to love one of the characters that’s really a bad character, and then, from there, discovering who she was and what made her so terrible and so mentally disturbed. And then, from there, I just did a lot of character work.
Alexander, what appealed to you about this role and what kind of training did you have to do?
LUDWIG: When I got offered the role of Cato, I jumped on the opportunity just ‘cause I’ve never really had a chance to play a bad guy, and that’s something I’ve always really, really wanted to do. I wanted to experience that really dark side of a person, and Cato is a really, really twisted individual. We worked unbelievably hard. Physically, I wanted Cato to have as big of a physical presence as he did a mental one, in the movie. There was lots of fight training that we had to go through. I worked with an ex-Navy SEAL to bulk up. I did tons of hand-to-hand combat.
FUHRMAN: We did a lot of work together, as far as training goes. He used a sword and I used a knife, so when we were doing the training, it was kind of the same except for the different sizes.
Isabelle, how good did you get at knife throwing?
FUHRMAN: I’m actually really good at it, which I didn’t expect at all. It was interesting because there are a lot more physics involved than I expected, originally. I don’t have a good arm, so I had to start with throwing a tennis ball, and then gradually move up to throwing an actual weighted knife at a target board. I felt like I did good. I know how to still do it.
LUDWIG: Isabelle actually did an exceptional job. She worked very, very hard.
Amandla, you have some of the most emotional scenes in the movie. What was that like for you?
AMANDLA STENBERG: That was a solemn day on set. But, Jennifer [Lawrence] is extremely funny, so every time we would finish a take, she’d be like, “That was cheery! I loved that!” And then, everyone would start laughing. She kept it light.
Were there pranks on set?
STENBERG: There were, indeed, pranks.
LUDWIG: Amandla is a prankster. I remember, one day, I was doing a fight scene on set and was just practicing with some of the stunt guys. In North Carolina, during the time we were filming, it was so hot that it was disgusting. It was like you had just walked out of a shower of sweat. It was gross. I’ve never been so disgusted. So, I had my shirt off when we were doing the fight training, and I had no clothes, so I had to run back to my trailer to go get my clothes. When I did, all my clothes were gone. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I just found this little note from Amandla and Jackie Emerson, who plays Fox Face. I was like, “Oh, my god! What have they done?” I had no clothes. I was in my boxers, trying to find all my clothes, and I found some of them in the fridge and some of them in the microwave. It was ridiculous! That was one of the many, many things Amandla did to ruin my life on set.
FUHRMAN: Yeah, and Alex has me text him directions. He wasn’t working for a weekend. It was a three-day weekend that they were just doing scenes with Jen [Lawrence] and Josh [Hutcherson]. He called me and was like, “My phone is about to die and I need directions from Nashville to Scottsdale, Arizona.” So, I typed them out and my thumbs were killing me. I sent them to him and he said, “I also need directions from Scottsdale, Arizona to Little Rock, Arkansas, and then to Boulder, Colorado.” I was like, “You’re not going to make it back in time.” He was like, “We’re going to fly back.” And I was like, “Okay, that seems implausible, but whatever.”
LUDWIG: She spent half an hour, just typing out directions on text. It was really sick and funny.
FUHRMAN: It was not funny for me.
LUDWIG: I got this huge essay of directions, that was like, “Turn left on a dirt road, and go all the way to Little Rock, Arkansas.” It was really funny!
Amandla, did you actually spend time up in real trees, or did they make fake ones for you?
STENBERG: I spent some time in both real trees and the trees on the soundstage. I had a custom made harness, so I wouldn’t fall over, and it was actually really fun. There was one time that Jen [Lawrence] and I were in the tree doing a scene, and it was difficult to stay up because you gradually slide down. I found a little space in the tree where I could sit, so that I wouldn’t fall down. It was a little hole in the tree. I was sitting there and they were about to call, “Action!,” and I started sliding down. I yelled out really loudly, so everyone could hear, “Wait, I can’t find my butt hole!” Jen proceeded to make fun of me for that, for the rest of the week.
How did any work get done on set, with all of the practical jokes going on?
FUHRMAN: Well, we were very professional when it came down to shooting and doing the work. But, off set and when we had time off, we were just joking around, having a great time. It was probably the best summer I’ve ever had.
Have you had any interactions yet with fans who are super-excited about the film?
FUHRMAN: On Twitter, and with my friends. All my friends read the book, and they’re all trying to get information out of me. I’m like, “I can’t tell you!”
LUDWIG: There is one fan who just always knows where we’re all going to be, every single time we’re there. I would go to the airport, and there he would be. It’s gotten to where we know each other, on a first-name basis. I’m like, “Oh, man, what’s up? You found me again! Should I call the police?” But, other than that, all the fans have just been so supportive. We did a Vanity Fair spread for The Hunger Games, and we were on set, and I saw a little head pop up from the tree. There were three teenage girls who snuck past security and made it into the forest. There are funny things like that. But, all in all, it’s just really flattering to have that much support.
FUHRMAN: My mom is probably more scared than I am. She’s always very nervous about me going to walk with my friends by myself now. She’s like, “Be careful. You never know.” And I’m like, “I’m fine. I can throw knives now! I’m the last one you have to worry about.”
Isabelle, why did you decide to come up with your own backstory for your character?
FUHRMAN: That was just something that I did for the audition. When you read the book, it’s written through Katniss’ eyes and you really get to know who Katniss is, and you understand certain characters and parts of them, but I wanted to develop and figure out Clove’s psyche and where she came from. I wrote a one and a half page backstory, and then I talked to Gary and revised it to make her a little more interesting. I made it that Clove had a really terrible relationship with her parents, who pressured her into being in these Games. She wants to show them up and get home and be able to say, “I did it, and I didn’t need any of your help.” That was my main point for her wanting to win so badly. At the same time, I also kept in mind that the fans are going to be watching this and they have to be happy with it. I’m really excited to see how it’s received.
FUHRMAN: He made us all very comfortable on set. He would talk to us about our characters. I had a really great discussion with him about my character, before we started shooting, when we were rehearsing. He was always there, whenever we had questions, or had anything that we wanted to add or ask about. He would talk to us, as if he was our character, so he could get facial expressions out of us, and it was so interesting what expressions we came up with. And, he had a megaphone, and there was a giant speaker in the middle of the cornucopia that would just project outward, so that everyone could hear him.
LUDWIG: At the end of the day, so many people were so passionate about their craft. Right when Gary would say, “Action!,” everyone was just mutually in that mode. Even with all that laughter and friendliness off set, this is what we do for a living and this is our passion, and we just go all out. Everyone knew, going in, that there was a reason we were chosen for this, and we had to do the fans and this amazing book justice.
LUDWIG: That’s a great question. For myself, in playing a villain, that is really a mind-set that you have to work on. That’s not just something that comes easy. When I play good guys, that’s much more natural for me. I’d like to think I’m a bit of a good person. But, it definitely takes a lot of work and lots of research and really creating a backstory for your character, especially if you’re playing a villain, so that you have something to go off of.
FUHRMAN: Yeah, I learned a lot about my craft. I learned a lot about the psychology aspect of playing a bad character. I’ve played a bad character before, but one for completely different reasons. I had to figure out who she was and where she came from and what circumstances she had to overcome that caused her to become so disturbed.
STENBERG: I think I also learned about acting. Also, Jen [Lawrence] became a really great mentor to me. She was someone I could lean on. If I had a different idea about the scene than (director) Gary [Ross] or anyone else, she would explain it to me, and then it would be crystal clear. I really learned about Rue and how, in her big scene, even though she’s extremely scared, she’s also trying to be brave for Katniss because she wants Katniss to go on and win the Games. So, that became something that I really understood, and I really got into that scene, after that.
For more Hunger Games interviews from the recent Los Angeles press junket:
And if you missed it, here’s 2 clips and over 6 minute of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the film