With over 26 million copies of the Suzanne Collins novel in print in the U.S. alone, The Hunger Games has undeniably become a global phenomenon. And when the big screen adaptation hits theaters on March 23rd, everyone will become familiar with the nation of Panem and its heroes and villains, and it will send the film’s cast into a whole other level of stardom.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth – who play Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) co-Tribute Peeta Mellark and Gale, her longtime friend in District 12, respectively – talked about their training for the film, the appeal of playing a romantic leading man in a film that also has a lot of action, what it was like to work with director Gary Ross, what they each took away from the experience of making the movie, and how they’re both looking forward to the possible (and quite likely) sequel, Catching Fire. 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.
Question: Josh, what kind of training did you have to do for this film, that was different from what you’ve had to do for the Journey films?
JOSH HUTCHERSON: Physically, for the stunt work, it was pretty similar to what I had done before. What was different was that I had to put on weight for the role. I’d never really done that for a movie. I put on about 15 pounds of muscle, so that was a lot of eating chicken, and a very high protein, low carb diet. I also did a lot of heavy lifting and training with an ex-Navy SEAL guy that wanted to kill me, every time I got with him, in a good way. That really helped out a lot. It was cool to go through that sort of physical transformation.
Are both of you looking forward to the possible sequel, Catching Fire?
HUTCHERSON: Oh, yeah!
LIAM HEMSWORTH: Absolutely, yeah! If we get to shoot the other ones, that would be awesome.
Liam, how is it to play a role where you’re going to have much more to do, if there’s a sequel?
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, at this point, I’m very happy to be a part of something so special. As an actor, I choose scripts that I’m passionate about and that I think are interesting.
Did you read all of the books, so that you could have a better sense of the character?
HEMSWORTH: I did, yeah. I read all the books before I met with anyone about the movie, and I became a fan of the books.
Josh, what was it like to play a character where you’re not entirely sure how much he’s telling the truth and how much he’s playing to an audience?
HUTCHERSON: It’s interesting because, in the book, you have Katniss’ internal dialogue to help you understand that she’s confused about Peeta, but in the movie, you don’t have that element. You really have to rely on how the scenes are structured, the dialogue and the other performances. When watching the movie, I felt like I was right along with Katniss, the whole time, as a viewer. In my opinion, it came from how it was edited together. It didn’t show a whole lot of Peeta. It only showed the interactions between Katniss and Peeta together, so that’s all you had to go on. So, the moment where you see him with the Tributes, running in the forest, where Peeta is part of the Careers, you’re like, “What the hell is going on? This is not what I thought was going to happen.” For me, it was really done, a lot, with the structure of the film.
Was it challenging to strike a balance between making Peeta grounded, but still well motivated?
HUTCHERSON: Yeah, I think that came with his self-deprecating humor. Those that become holier than thou typically don’t try to be funny, and they take themselves too seriously, a lot of the time. Peeta doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s like, “This is what I believe in. That’s just who I am, as a person. I’m comfortable with that, and I can make a joke, here and there.” That’s where it can become too much, in my opinion.
What is the appeal of the blend of getting to be the romantic leading man while also getting to do action?
HEMSWORTH: As an actor, I’m always looking for scripts that I relate to, in some way, and things that are interesting and different. If it’s combining romance and action, I’m not missing out on anything. I get to do it all. I wanna do as many different emotions as I can. It’s a pleasure to be able to do both, in the same film.
HUTCHERSON: With action, it’s fun and it’s cool to watch. As a guy, that’s the kind of movie I want to go see ‘cause I play a lot of sports and I’m athletic, and it’s cool. With the romance, that’s something that everybody can relate to. When you get to play a character that’s in love, it’s cool. Once you have love as a motivator in a story, your character is free to do anything. Once you say the character is in love, he can do the craziest thing that nobody would do who’s not in love. Once you’re in love, you have that excuse to go and do whatever you want. When you have love in a story, it gives you the freedom to really take the characters to very interesting places.
Are you worried about the massive fan following for these stories and characters?
HEMSWORTH: We love making movies. We got into this business to make movies. At the end of the day, regardless of whether you’re doing a huge budget film or a small budget film, you still want the film to do well, and have people see it. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? You want to put some kind of message into your films, and you want people to see it.
HUTCHERSON: Whether it happens over 10 years, like with a lot of people, or with one hit movie that thrusts you into that world, when you become successful as an actor, you become well known. In the end game, that’s just part of the business.
How was it to work with Gary Ross, as a director?
HUTCHERSON: I love Gary.
HEMSWORTH: He’s amazing. I’ve been a fan of his since Pleasantville. I loved that movie. He’s a great director to work with because he’s very open and very manic on set. He tries everything possible and makes sure he gets it from every different angle. He’s just a good, energetic guy who keeps everyone on their toes, and keeps the set alive. He’s just open to your ideas.
HUTCHERSON: He’s such a talented writer, on top of that. He came on and worked with (author) Suzanne [Collins], to get the script to where it needed to be. So much of the heart and soul of the movie is the script. If it’s shit, the movie is probably going to be shit, as well. He’s such a talented writer that he’s able to add in different devices, like how they have the commentator [to explain things], rather than just having expositional dialogue. I think that added a lot to the film, as well.
Did he give you the freedom to improvise, or did you stick to the script?
HUTCHERSON: It was so well written. There was room to improv, but we didn’t need to.
HEMSWORTH: We did a little bit of improv. The writing was so good that we didn’t have to do a lot. He’s an open enough person that you can try different things. If it didn’t work, we tried it a different way.
How was it to work with Woody Harrelson?
HUTCHERSON: Woody is amazing! He’s so great. He’s one of those guys where, sometimes when he’s talking to you, you’re not sure if he’s on earth or not. But then, you actually listen to what he’s saying and you’re like, “Oh, Jesus, he’s actually extremely smart and intelligent and very perceptive, and really gets a lot of things.” He’s an amazing guy. He’s such a good person, too. What he believes in and what he stands for is very impressive.
Twenty years ago, Katniss would have probably been a male character, and the two male characters would have been girls. How do you feel about that shift?
HEMSWORTH: I think it’s great. I think that’s a big part of the appeal of this book, as well. You have a courageous, strong, young woman, who is doing unbelievable things. I’m all for it. I think it’s great.
HUTCHERSON: And, Jennifer [Lawrence] is perfect for this role. She’s such an amazing actress, and she’s such a strong person. Having a character that is that powerful, as a woman, is just amazing.
What did each of you personally take away from the experience of making this movie?
HEMSWORTH: Every job I do, I learn more. To be able to work with an actress like Jennifer [Lawrence] and a director like Gary [Ross], I’ve learned more again. Every job, I’m learning more. I’m very thankful to be where I am, and to be working and busy.
HUTCHERSON: Every experience on this film was so much fun. For me, it’s great to see a movie that has such an intense subject and an intense dramatic storyline that can still be done in a fun way. We had such a good time on set. Working with amazing people, you continue to learn and develop yourself, as an actor and as a person. As much as I learned about myself as an actor, I learned even more as a person, just working with great people, like Jennifer [Lawrence] and Woody [Harrelson] and Lenny [Kravitz], and everybody. They were just really good human beings. It was just a great experience.
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