Director Gary Ross’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins beloved dystopian Young Adult novel The Hunger Games opens in theaters this weekend, and it’s already breaking box-office records. We had the opportunity to speak with Ross, as well as the cast of the film, at the Los Angeles press day for The Hunger Games (read our interview with Katniss Everdeen herself, Jennifer Lawrence HERE) to talk about the process of creating this incredibly unique and gripping world.
The film takes place in an imagined future where North America has been reduced to twelve isolated “districts” whose populace and resources are controlled by a fascistic “Capital” that forces each district to submit one boy and one girl each year to fight to the death in the Hunger Games.
To learn more about creating this highly-anticipated film, we sat down in a small roundtable discussion with the two male leads in the (soon to be) franchise: Josh Hutcherson (who plays Peeta, the boy from district 12 who is selected to go with Katniss to fight in the games) and Liam Hemsworth (who plays Gale, Katniss’ dearest childhood friend) to talk about the perceptions of their characters, training for the film and playing the roles of their (young) lifetimes.
Screen Rant: There is the idea in much of the marketing that there’s a rivalry between your characters, can you talk about that a bit?
Josh Hutcherson: “I think the rivalry between Peeta and Gale is an unspoken tension, because they never really have it out, so it’s never like ‘hey, she’s mine!’”
Liam Hemswoth: “Yeah, It’s pretty unspoken at the moment.”
Josh Hutcherson: “100% unspoken.”
Josh you go full tilt action in this film, what was the training like?
JH: “Physically it was pretty similar to what I’d done before, but what was different was that I had to put on weight, which I hadn’t done before. I put on fifteen pounds of muscle so that was a lot of eating chicken and a high protein, low carb diet, and also a lot of heavy lifting and very different kind of training with an ex-navy SEAL guy who wanted to kill me every time I got with him – in a good way.”
Liam, how is it for you playing a role where there’s going to be much more for you to do in the sequel?
LH: “At this point I’m happy to be part of something special. As an actor I like to choose scripts that I’m passionate about.”
Is this a situation where you read all the books to get a better sense of where your character was going?
LH: “Yeah, I read all the books before I met with anyone about the movie. I’m a fan of the books.”
There’s a tricky part to the Peeta character in that we don’t know how much of what he’s saying is the truth, and how much he’s playing to the audience in an attempt to win the game and stay alive. As an actor how do you wrap your mind around that?
JH: “It’s interesting because in the book you have Katniss’s internal monologue and dialogue to help you understand that she’s confused about Peeta, so in the movie you have to rely on how the scenes are structured and other performances. For me, if you watch it, I felt like I was right along with Katniss the whole time as a viewer. So I think it came from how it was edited together. You only see Katniss’ interactions with Peeta, so as an audience you have to live through that with her.”
A character that is as unapologeticlly decent as Peeta can sometimes present a challenge for actors in that, if they aren’t careful, they can sometimes read as holier than thou. Did you try to strike a balance to make sure he was grounded and still well intentioned?
JH: “I think that came from his self-deprecating humor. I think those that are ‘holier than thou’ don’t make jokes, they take themselves too seriously, and Peeta doesn’t take himself too seriously. He feels like, ‘This is what I believe in and I’m comfortable with that and I can make a joke here and there.’”
Your character – once he’s in the Hunger Games – seems to go through the stages of grief about being in the contest. Is that something you’ve thought about?
JH: “Definitely. When you get chosen to go into the games, it’s more or less a death ticket, so shock is the first thing he goes through. What you don’t see is the grieving process, which he goes through with his family. Saying goodbye to his mom and dad. But Peeta does a good job of hiding it, and his goal is to just help Katniss survive. He loves her and he’s weirdly okay with the fact that he probably won’t make it out of the games if he can help Katniss survive.”
What’s it like being a romantic lead and an action star? What’s the great appeal of that blend?
LH: “As an actor I’m always on the lookout for good scripts, things that are interesting and different, and this combines romance and action – you get to do it all. I want to do as many different emotions as I can.”
JH: “Doing action, the thing is it’s cool to watch it, and as a guy I like seeing it. With the romance thing it’s something everyone can relate to. Once you have love as a motivator in a story, I think everyone can do anything. Once someone’s in love they can do the craziest thing that no one’s ever thought of. You have that excuse to do whatever you want.”
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Are you guys worried about the phenomenon aspect of this project? The extreme nature of the fan response?
LH: “We love making movies, we got into the business to make movies, and at the end of the day, whether you’re doing a low-budget film or a big-budget film you want it to do well, and you want people to see it. That’s the whole point.”
JH: “But you know it could be over ten years. You have that one big hit, and they want to thrust you into that world, but in the end game if you’re actor and you become successful, you become well known. And that’s just part of the business.”
One of the most interesting things about the series as a film and as a book is that twenty or thirty years ago the lead character would have been a man. Liam you play the girl at home, and Josh you’re the girl in the field in that equation, is that something you thought about, the role reversal?
LH: “More power to them. I think that’s the appeal of the book. You have this young courageous strong woman who’s doing unbelievable things, and I’m all for it.”
JH: “And Jennifer is perfect for this role. She’s such a strong person, and on screen as well. Having a character that powerful – as a woman – is amazing.”
What’s it like working with Gary Ross as a director?
JH: “I love Gary.”
LH: “He’s amazing. I’ve been a fan of his since ‘Pleasantville,’ and I love that movie. He’s a great director to work with because he’s very open, and trying everything possible, and getting it from every different angle. He’s energetic, keeps everyone on their toes, and keeps the set alive, just open to your ideas.”
JH: “And he’s a talented writer on top of that. Coming in with Suzanne (Collins) to get the script where it needed to be. I think much of the heart and soul of the movie is the script, and if it’s shit, the movie’s going to be shit as well. But he’s able to add in different devices. The book is all narration and he found ways to make it work in the film without it being just exposition.”
Does he give you the freedom to improv?
JH: “There was improv but we didn’t need to.”
LH: “He’s an open enough person to try, but if it doesn’t work, we move on.”
Was there music you used to get in the mindset of your character?
JH: “Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love’ (laughs) Music’s a huge part of my life, but I can’t think of anything. I’ve done that before with characters, but I never really did with this. I normally listen to music all day every day. I normally go into interviews and I bring speakers with me to play music softly.”
Do you have specific interview music, like Metallica?
JH: “Metallica, Slayer. Nah, something relaxing that keeps my mind in a calm place.”
It’s probably hard to have perspective on it yet but what do you feel you’ve taken from the experience so far?
LH: “Every job I do I learn more. Working with an actress like Jennifer, a director like Gary, I learn more again. I learn more with every job, and I’m very thankful for where I am.”
JH: “Every experience on this film was so much fun for me. It’s great to work on a movie with such an intense subject and a dramatic storyline and still have fun on set. That’s something I learned. As Liam said, you work with amazing people, like Jennifer, and Woody and Lenny, it’s a great experience.”
What was it like to work with Woody?
JH: “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, but if you listen to what he’s saying, he’s very perceptive and he gets a lot of things. He’s such a good person as well in terms of what he believes in.”
[VERY MILD SPOILER BELOW]
Are you glad they eliminated the scene from the book where he throws up on Katniss’s shoes?
JH: “Yeah, it’s a bit much.”
LH: “I don’t know, I was looking forward to it (laughs).”
Stay tuned for our continued coverage and let us know what you think of the film when The Hunger Games opens in theaters this Friday, March 23rd.
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