Yesterday I ran my first roundtable with the cast of The Hunger Games. Today brings my second and final interview, this time with Josh Hutcherson (19, Peeta Mellark), Jaqueline Emerson (18, Foxface) and Isabelle Fuhrman (14, Clove). Hutcherson, the latest in a long line of teen hearthrobs, was most recently seen alongside The Rock’s pecs in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. He can also be seen in the critically acclaimed Detention, a film he starred in as well as produced.
Jacqueline Emerson, while a relative newcomer (this is her first film), is an established singer with a pop album on the way. Isabelle Fuhrman on the other hand is no stranger to the big screen, having warmed her way into theatergoers’ hearts as the title character in 2009’s Orphan. She can also be seen in the upcoming Will and Jayden Smith vehicle After Earth, being directed by M. Night Shyamalan. While all young, fresh and new to fame, these performers are well aware of the daunting responsibility that comes with adapting something as popular as The Hunger Games.
Interviewer: You guys are asked the same questions so often. What’s something that you want to talk about sometimes?
Josh Hutcherson: Maybe why I like acting? Maybe something like that. And my answer would be “I don’t know.” [laughs]
I love acting, I think it’s an incredible thing. I’ve always found people so fascinating. And the endless combination of emotions mixed with perceptions mixed with perspectives I think are just incredible. And as an actor you kind of step inside that world and get inside the headspace of different people.
Tim: As actors coming on to an adaptation like this, what are the concerns or difficulties associated with playing characters that so many people are invested in?
Isabelle Fuhrman: There was always that in the back of your mind – wanting to make the fans happy. But I was such a huge fan of the books, so for me it was kind of asking my friends before they even knew I was a part of the movie “What do you think about Clove?”
Jacqueline Emerson: I did something similar when I was creating my character story. I read a bunch of fan-made stories, fan-fictions about the character. And it was cool to be able to see it from their eyes and take what I wanted from each one and say “Okay, so there’re the similarities and these are the differences.”
JH: There’s a certain kind of pressure, for sure, to bring alive a character that somebody has held so close to their heart for so long and they’re so passionate about. But at the same time I think sometimes people forget that, when the movie has been handed to us to make, it’s not just that we’re going to try and make money off it. We really love the story. We’re all fans of the book as well, so we want to see it done right just as much as the fans do.
For me, having Suzanne Collins (author, co-writer for screen) involved in the process not only gave us confidence but also gave the fans a bit of a “Oh, okay. She’s involved. She’s not just handing it off to Hollywood to go mess up.” So yeah, having her around was really important.
Tim: Jennifer (Lawrence, Katniss) said that she (Collins) visited occasionally?
JH: Yeah, she did! She did a few times. She’s great. She’s so nice and what’s great about her is I feel like sometimes you have an author who, when their book is being made into a movie, can really be a stickler or be like “No, this is how it has to be.” But I feel like she was all about evolving and becoming, not a new story, but a new medium to tell the story. And because of that there were some small adaptations and little things that had to be tweaked and she was like “Yeah, let’s do it. I’m excited to explore this other world.”
And also what happened was, in the movie, it opened up the story a little bit. In the book you’re very much tied to Katiniss’ narrative and you only see the world through her eyes. What’s cool about the movie, with Suzanne and Gary, is they were able to create different character perspectives. Like things in the Capital, and to look at more things in the District. So it kind of, in my opinion, allowed for more exploration of the story.
Interviewer: With these books, like Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, there’s so much pressure to portray the novel. But what have been the joys or the fun moments?
JE: It was great on set because we’re all in similar age range. So we all would hang out after rehearsal and we’d be like “Okay, so what are we doing tonight?” We would go out to dinner, we’d go see movies…
IF: [laughing] Potlucks.
JE: Potlucks! We’d go climb trees. [laughs] We would do sing-a-longs and jam sessions. It was a very light atmosphere, obviously depending on the scene. The serious moments were still serious. But we were still able to have fun and really bond over that.
Interviewer: Being such young actors today in the industry, how do you balance your personal lives as yourselves with your life as an actor and your characters?
IF: [Realizing] how much you have to do and just kind of taking it step by step. I used to go to a regular school until this year. I still keep in touch with my friends – it’s very important. I drive over to my friend’s house and hang out with them, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Other than that I think it’s very simple – not when there’s a lot of homework involved! But kind of one by one, getting through it.
JE: Yeah, I still am in high school! I’m a senior, so it’s crazy because I’ll do all of this stuff that nobody else gets to do. And it’s this once in a lifetime experience, I mean this right here. And then I get back and it’s like “Okay, back to school, back to normal.” I just got an e-mail from my teacher that an essay was do yesterday and I’m like “I’m sorry! I have no time! You have to understand!”
JH: For me it’s just about finding things you love outside of it. I’m very into outdoors and sports and hanging out with my friends. Surrounding myself with the right kind of people I think is really important. But I love the business so much. It has like a negative connotation a lot of times with people being scummy or actors being, pardon me, but fuck-ups in a lot of ways. And I think that the people I’ve had a chance to work with, creatively, it’s been amazing. I’ve met some of the greatest people in the world through this business. So it gets a bad wrap, but a lot of times this business is a mirror I think. It just is what you want it to be in a lot of ways. And I want it to be great, so I feel like it is great.
Interviewer: You were talking about your process. People don’t get to hear about the creative side as opposed to the Hollywood side. I was wondering if you want to talk more about any technical aspects or emotional preparation or anything that you did to get ready for these roles.
JH: Yeah, it’s different. For me, on most movies I do a lot of emotional preparation and getting into the mindset of the character. On this project, I really felt like I was Peeta in so many ways that I just kind of injected myself into it. I just want to bring to life scenes, I want them to be real. I want them to have real conversations with people on screen. I hate when I’m doing a scene and you can tell the other actor is trying to make you feel an emotion, and it’s so obnoxious!
Thankfully the actors I got to work with on this, especially Jennifer, are so present and so real in those moments. That’s all I strive for because I think if I know the character and sort of know his background and what his tendencies are to react to certain situations, I just get in a mindset. So when I’m in the moment, if I’m having a real conversation with somebody in the scene, then it just comes across realistically. That’s my goal as an actor: to portray unrealistic situations realistically.
IF: Yeah, for this character particularly it was a lot of research. Because it’s discovering who she is because there’s not a lot about her in the book, sort of like with Jackie’s character. The book’s written from Katniss’ perspective so you only see her image and her ideas of these characters. So I wrote a backstory about what sort of circumstances she had to overcome that could have made her have this messed-up mind. It was a lot of observation of humans and reading a lot of books and a lot of self-discovery at the same time.
And then physical training. Because I really wanted to embody all aspects of her.
JE: I had basically the same thing as Isabelle in the sense that there isn’t a lot given about Foxface. She’s very mysterious, I mean she doesn’t even have a name in the books! It’s just Katniss’ nickname for her. So I got the opportunity to create her whole story, her whole life, her (real) name – which everyone keeps begging me to tell! And I’m not going to say! [laughing]
JH: Is it Emily?
JH: [dejected] Okay.
JE: It’s cool. It’s a cool name. It’s a really cool name.
JH: Emily’s a cool name.
JE: No offense to any Emily’s out there! But I just think it’s very rare to get an opportunity like that. And so I was very, very grateful to have that.
Interviewer: I’m curious about, you said you read fan fiction.
Interviewer: Can you talk about how you decided to do that and do you have any specific favorites?
JE: I don’t know the names of any of them but I think I decided to do it because I was really trying to see some of the scenes through Foxface’s eyes. So I went back and I reread the scenes a lot and I kind of knew exactly how I thought she would have taken them. And I was curious to know what fans thought. So I searched Foxface and there were a couple of ones that were, you know, “No thanks.” But there were a few that were the Games through her eyes and her backstory. With one of them, I liked the idea that this was the reason she’s so smart. I was able to take bits and pieces from each of them and hear what other people thought, which is what I think one of the blessings is of having a book so many people know and love.
Tim: I was curious about the casting process. Did you guys have the opportunity to screen test with each other and gain familiarity? How did you come on board individually?
JH: I had two auditions. My first one, I went in the room and it was Gary Ross our director, some producers and Suzanne Collins – which I was not expecting. To say the least I was a little shocked and nervous. But the audition went great, it felt really good and then about a week later I came back in and did a chemistry with Jennifer. So her and I got to act together and kind of see what that was like. I met her a couple times at some award shows and we talked and chatted and it was always very fun and cool between us. We’re both from Kentucky so when you’re from the same place there’s an instinct like “Oh hey we’re from the same place!”
So that familiarity of the place you’re from I think helped us bond a lot. But yeah it was great, it felt great from the get-go and it was one of those things where I felt like I was so much like the character, I loved the story so much and Jen and I hit it off great. It drove me crazy because after the audition, having to wait two weeks to find out if I got it or not, I was pulling my hair out. Because if I can’t get this… I feel like I am the character, like I hit it off with Jennifer – if I can’t act this role what can I do?
JE: My casting process was actually very unorthodox. I read the books over the summer because they were the all-school read at my school, so everybody in the school read them. I quickly became hooked – read the first one, the second one, then I waited up ’til midnight to get the third one. Loved them, read the series a billion times. And I actually knew Gary Ross’ daughter, Claudia. And her dad was interviewing kids who’d read the books to get a sense of what the fans thought of them. So I went in and two weeks later he asked me if I would come in and audition for Foxface. So I was like “Okay, sure!”
I’ve been doing theater all my life but I’ve always wanted to break into the film industry and this was just such an amazing opportunity. That was when I did all of my research because I said “I have got to kill this audition!” And then I got the part, so that was really cool!
IF: After I had read the books I wrote a letter to Gary telling him how much I wanted to be in the movie. And I ended up getting a call to audition for Katniss, and I’m fourteen – so way too young. And I kind of knew that going in, I was like “Eh, this isn’t going to happen.” But I really do want to be in the movie and so two weeks pass and I got a call saying “We’d love for you to come in and read for Clove.” So I reread the book again and did a little bit of research, not as much as I did when I got the part. I think about a month passed and I got the call when I was at a cafe with my mom. I started crying because I was so happy and my mom’s sitting there laughing at me and pointing. [laughs]
Interviewer: [to Hutcherson] I want to talk about you and Jennifer. She was talking about how she likes straightforward direction. You seem like you fit Peeta’s character so well, how did you, Jennifer and Gary work together to create those relationships?
JH: I think that, for me, when I’m acting I really like to think about what the character’s really saying and what the character’s really feeling. What’s going through his head. Because I know that right now when I’m talking to people I am thinking things and that’s creating how I’m saying what I’m saying. Gary spoke with me in that way which was very subtextual and very much talking about what the characters were feeling and what they had just gone through and what they were about to go through. For me, that’s the direction I love.
Jennifer I think prefers more of a “Turn your head this way, look over here, open your eyes.” And it’s funny how different it is, and I don’t work well at all like that! Just different styles. But Gary was great at adapting to each of our needs as actors and able to kind of feel us out and see what we responded to.
But it was a very collaborative relationship. If I didn’t think something feels right then we’d talk about it and figure it out and either he’d come to my side or I’d come to his or we’d do it both ways and just see which one ended up working out in the long run.