The hugely popular and wildly successful Hunger Games franchise comes to an end with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2, in which Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) realizes that she not only just has to survive, but also save mankind’s future. With Panem in a full scale war, Katniss and a group of her closest friends, including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), go off on a mission of liberation that must culminate with an attempt at assassination of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), in order for them to be truly free.
During a conference at the film’s press day, co-stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth were joined by director Francis Lawrence to talk about last moments working on the franchise, whether they accomplished what they set out to do, the complicated and challenging sewer sequence, the impact of Katniss Everdeen, the message they hope young people take from the film, and the changes made as a result of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Jennifer Lawrence also talked about the letter she recently wrote about being a woman in this industry, the career ride she’s been on the last few years, and why she’s so obsessed with working. Be aware that there are some plot spoilers discussed.
Question: Jennifer, what stands out for you, in regard to your last moments as Katniss?
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: I feel like I had two final endings with Katniss. There was the one when we wrapped the film in Berlin, when everyone was there and I said goodbye to everyone in the movie. And then, I had a last scene, about a year later, with my nephews, which was so special. They played my children in the scene that I shot. It was amazing closure to this character who I’ve loved for so many years, and I had my blood family there. I got to say goodbye to both, at different times.
When you finally wrapped, what did it feel like to know you were finished with this character? Did you feel like you’d accomplished what you set out to do?
JENNIFER: I think the feeling of accomplishment will happen more when the film finally comes out. We’re not really done working on it, in some ways. We still have to represent it. I don’t know. I didn’t really feel like I said goodbye to her. It’s funny, that’s what we do on every movie. We develop these characters and, a few months later, we never see them again. I guess I’m used to that, so I didn’t really feel it so much, character wise, at the end of Hunger Games. I think it will be pretty bizarre when the movie is finally out and we’ve finished this press tour and everything is officially done. I think that’s going to be a pretty weird feeling, just on a personal level. These movies have been my life for so many years.
Josh, what was it like to play the duality in Peeta, this time around?
JOSH HUTCHERSON: It was cool. This was the final episode that I was looking forward to when I read the books. Peeta was hijacked and tortured, and it was cool to play a character that has such a special place for the fans. He’s this golden boy who turns to the dark side, and I got to explore that while also having the back and forth of being quasi bi-polar from all of the trauma he’s experienced.
How many days did it take to shoot the sewer sequence in the water, and were the costumes waterproof?
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: It was absolutely the most miserable three weeks.
JENNIFER: I’m so happy you said that! I feel like I’m still there.
FRANCIS: It was truly miserable. It was a fun sequence to make, in a sense, and to put together and see how it came together. But, you had to duck in the tunnels. We all had to wear hard hats and the water was heated.
JENNIFER: Poor Liam couldn’t stand up straight for three weeks.
FRANCIS: Everybody was miserable.
JOSH: The costumes were not at all waterproof, and they had pockets that would fill with water.
JENNIFER: We’re all just complaining, but we’re very lucky. When we had the fight sequence in the sewer, all of our gear and our costumes were completely water-logged, so it was an extra 20 pounds. I don’t know math, but it felt like an extra 2,000 pounds. It was hard. It was rough. But, Francis is so organized.
FRANCIS: It’s interesting ‘cause something they don’t really teach you in film school. When you get to a certain point and you’re seven months into an 11-month shoot and you hit a sequence like this, where the mood and morale of the cast and crew is at rock bottom, what it’s like, psychologically, to push through that to get what you need. It was on time and on schedule, but it was truly miserable. But, I’m truly happy with the result.
JOSH: At the end of that sequence, we were like, “Oh, my god, we have more shots to do.” That fight was just never-ending.
Francis, this story is so crazy and chaotic, at times. How did you handle making the audience feel terrified, but also make sure they understood what was happening, throughout that sewer sequence?
FRANCIS: I always try to apply a specific emotional value to a sequence, and this was an opportunity to be really terrifying. That part of it was really fun. The actual physical process of making it sucked, but that was fun. So, the design of the suspenseful first act of that sequence is where I thought the real scares were. But in terms of making sure that we understood what was going on, I worked really closely with the stunt team in designing the first and figuring out how to cover the fight and where we could hold for long periods of time, so that we could maintain a sense of geography and know where all of the characters were, at any given time, and understood what was happening, what they were doing, who was in peril, and what they were feeling. We let things play out, which made it more complicated and much more difficult. That’s why it took so long. We didn’t have the room to hide things in messy and sloppy camera work, but I think it was a really useful sequence.
Jennifer, these movies have had such an impact on the box office and their success has helped other female-led movies get made. Do you feel the impact of this character?
JENNIFER: I feel the impact of being a part of such a huge movie that does so much for so many people. It would be impossible not to. And I think that this character is so overwhelmingly supportive of women. I don’t feel a personal impact. I think if you ever become aware of that, it takes away from it, a little bit. It’s the movie and the characters, and they have their own life. It’s like your avatar self.
There have been rumors that Marvel wants you to be their Captain Marvel. Would you ever want to do that and play in that sandbox with Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper, and all of those people?
JENNIFER: I would love to play in a sandbox with them.
Liam, how do you feel about Gale’s evolution, by the end of this film?
LIAM HEMSWORTH: I read the books, so I always knew that was going to happen, at the end.
FRANCIS: He did question it, though. He was like, “I don’t get it. What’s so bad about him?”
LIAM: He’s a good guy, apart from all the killing and stuff. He gets pretty angry towards the end. He’s been through a lot. For a long time, he really didn’t have any power to do anything. For this last part, he’s front and center and he’s able to really make an impact. It gets to his head a little bit and he loses some of his own morals and values. That’s why Gale and Katniss part ways. They have a strong disagreement about what’s right in war. That’s something that, in the end, Katniss really can’t let go of.
This series was originally written for a young adult audience, and many of that audience looks up to you, as the actors who play these characters. What do you hope that young people will take away from this film?
JOSH: For me, the message that always resonated and that I think is pretty strong is about standing up for what you believe in, and how one person has the ability to affect something. One person can stand up and get behind a cause or what they believe in, and then fight for it. I think those are pretty strong messages that I hope the fans take away, and I think they have. I think that’s why they’ve connected with it, in a way. It gave them a sense of empowerment. And the consequence of war. Katniss is a character who wants nothing more than to not have war, but unfortunately, in the finale of the film, she realizes that’s where it’s headed and that’s what has to be done, in order to have a revolution.
If they were to remake these films, what other role would you want to play, after seeing how it all turned out?
JOSH: I’ve always loved Haymitch, but Woody [Harrelson] is perfect. Snow would be cool, too. There wouldn’t be a topping Haymitch.
LIAM: He is that guy, apart from the fact that he’s not a drunk alcoholic.
JENNIFER: That’s not a compliment!
LIAM: I just mean his loving sense of humor.
Jennifer, by the end of this story, Katniss leaves the fighting behind and returns home to live a peaceful life. Do you prefer to leave Hollywood and return to a quieter life, when you can?
JENNIFER: We all have had to find a balance in feeling ordinary in our lives that are bizarre, and finding a home in a place where we weren’t born. I don’t really feel like escaping from anything. When I finish a movie, I still like to stay in New York or L.A. I enjoy working. There are certain things that I like to escape from, in this business, but for the most part, I don’t really feel like going off into the country. If I was someplace quiet, I would lose my mind. I’m sure one day, I’ll want to retire and slow down. But as of now, I love working. I love being busy. I love reading or writing, or doing anything to keep myself busy.
Francis, when Haymitch reads the goodbye letter from Plutarch, was that because Philip Seymour Hoffman hadn’t shot that scene before his death?
FRANCIS: Yes, Phil was supposed to be in that scene with Katniss. That was one of the big changes. That was one of his big scenes that he had not completed when he died. That was our change because of that.
Did the success of this franchise affect or change what you wanted to achieve with it?
FRANCIS: I think I was able to see my objectives through. I came in and met with (producer) Nina [Jacobson], and I was hired about a week later. I had a very clear way that I wanted to tell the story, and luckily, Nina really agreed, the studio really agreed, and everybody kept their word. When I was hired, I went and pitched my approach to all of the actors that were already a part of it, and everybody was on board, which was an amazing thing. There were no fights, and that never changed, throughout. Everybody was all in the same car.
LIAM: Francis is an amazing director. He’s fantastic. There’s no one better to work with than Francis. He’s awesome.
JENNIFER: I agree. Here, here.
How do you guys think you’ve changed and grown, personally and professionally, over the course of making these films?
JENNIFER: It’s hard to say. It’s probably too soon to be able to look back and reflect. I hope I’ve grown up. It’s much easier to be mature on sets without Josh [Hutcherson] and Liam [Hemsworth]. I’m sure I’m unrecognizable to the people I’m working with. We’ve all helped each other get a handle on everything. Going off and not doing movies with them was like losing training wheels. I was like, “Okay, I’m riding in the street. I can do it.”
JOSH: For me, that’s always a hard question. Anytime anybody asks, “What have you learned?,” I don’t know if I just don’t learn anything, ever. I feel like I’m constantly learning things, in life and with experience, working with various actors and directors. It’s not like, “Today, I learned this.” I don’t reflect upon it. I just grow, as a person. For me, it was like a college experience, in many ways.
JENNIFER: Except for the education.
JOSH: Exactly! I didn’t learn anything, at all. No. I know I’ve learned many things, and I’ve grown as an actor and as a person. But to say something specific, I don’t know.
LIAM: I’ve gotten used to my world constantly changing, going from one extreme to another, over the past six years. It gets easier. At first, as a young person doing something like this, and going from one extreme situation to another, is really overwhelming. Over the years, you learn to let it go and not be as attached to having a routine, or feeling safe, at all. You’ve gotta just go with it.
JENNIFER: Our jobs are so full-on. If you’re working, it’s 13 to 16 hour days, every single day, and you’re in a strange city where you don’t know anybody and you don’t know your surroundings. And then, you wrap and you’ve got time off, which is great, but you just go to nothing. It’s hard. It’s hard to find a balance because you go from being over-worked and you’re like, “Oh, my god, I need time off! I’m so exhausted! My body!” And then, you get time off and your mind is going crazy. I hate waking up without a goal, and going to sleep after achieving nothing.
JOSH: I don’t mind that so much, I have to say.
JENNIFER: Now, I just obsessively work. On weekends, I meet with directors and pitch myself, or I write stuff that nobody will ever see.
Jennifer, what was it that inspired you to write that letter about not making as much as your male co-stars?
JENNIFER: I would like to straighten out that, yes, I did not make as much as my male co-stars, but it wasn’t so much complaining about not getting paid more because I’m a woman. It was more about how my mentality got in my own way of fighting just as hard as the men to get a better deal. Is that because I’m a woman? The only point of view I have is a woman’s point of view. There definitely wasn’t any foul play involved, on Sony’s part. They’re not going to give somebody more money, if they don’t ask for it. There was no foul play from the men or anybody making that movie. A lot of things have to be rearranged and exceptions have to be made when you’re going to have that many movie stars in one movie. I hoped to just write more about how my own fears of how I was going to be portrayed or how I would look or how people would judge me got in my way when obviously the men don’t think that way. Even after writing it, I don’t remember what website it was, but it was called, “Jennifer Lawrence’s bratty display,” and I was like, “Thank you for completely making my point.” If a woman speaks up and is assertive and has a voice, she’s going to be called a brat. I just don’t see a man being called a brat.
How would you describe the ride you’ve been on with your career, for the last few years?
JENNIFER: It’s a hard thing to sum up. Really honestly, it’s a job. I really love acting. I really do. I really just think of myself as a working woman, and I just go from set to set and work. You have to promote a movie and work, and people are going to have opinions, but it’s weirdly very easy to block out the world. There’s just a few years of getting used to it. Your entire world changes. Now, it’s very easy for me because I’m isolated. I have a new normal now. I feel very stable and normal and happy, but it took a few years to get used to being looked at differently. It’s a very alienating feeling because you don’t feel different, but everybody reacts to you differently. But you can’t think about the pressure, or it will just keep you up. So, there was a few years of getting used to it, and then I got used to it and was like, “Okay, let’s get back to work.” People react and can do whatever they want, and that’s fine. That’s on them. I just have a job. That’s how I think of it.
Actors can often struggle to find success, after completing a big film franchise.
JENNIFER: You think I’m doomed. I’m fucked, aren’t I?
Why do you think you’ve been able to continue to find success?
JOSH: She’s a damn good actress!
JENNIFER: I’ve been really fortunate. I shot the first Hunger Games movie, and then I auditioned for David O. Russell for Silver Linings about two weeks after we wrapped. So, he had no idea what was about to happen. I remember there have been a few times where I would have really loved time off, but I was very aware of how overwhelming these movies and this character was, and that was a big fear of mine, signing onto the movies. I want people to lose themselves when they’re watching a movie, and not see the same character. This character, however, is remarkable. I think she’s the greatest female character, ever, so I wasn’t too mad at that. I just tried to keep working, so that people could see other characters and other things that I could do, instead of taking vacation time. Now, I’m aging like a President.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2 opens in theaters on November 20th.