You may have already gathered, but The Hunger Games is kind of a thing right now. Suzanne Collins’ book, first published in 2008, has since been translated into 26 different languages in 38 countries. It wasn’t long before a film, co-written by Collins and Billy Ray, was inevitable (read Josh’s excellent review).
Which brings us to today. The cast list of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games reads like a veritable role call of young Hollywood – which isn’t to say the players involved aren’t capable. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, 21, as Katniss Everdeen – an actress who rose to stardom garnering an Oscar nomination for her turn in 2010’s Winter’s Bone.
I had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable with some of the cast members of The Hunger Games to discuss what has turned into a cultural zeitgeist for fans of the book. What follows is a conversation with Lawrence, Alexander Ludwig (19, Race to Witch Mountain) and Amandla Stenberg (13, Columbiana) about the film and the excitement that has surrounded it since first announced:
Interviewer: What sort of prep work did you do? Was there anything in preparation that messed with your heads?
Jennifer Lawrence: Not really, no. It was intense but it was fun, because I wasn’t in a gym. When I’m in a gym I die. It was just lots of running and… parkour? Agility? We still don’t know what to call it! [laughs] It’s lots of running and jumping. And archery, combat, climbing, things like that.
But it really wasn’t a lot of dieting because we were exercising so much, even during filming. Everybody always thinks that we were fighting over craft services. [to Alexander Ludwig] You gained 30 pounds! You and Josh (Hutcherson)…
Alexander Ludwig: Exactly! Everyone was so excited to be a part of this huge phenomenon, it was never like “Oh my god, this is so depressing. So dark.” This is just an incredible, incredible book that we’re all fans of. And it’s so nice to be a part of something like this.
Interviewer: What have been some of your more memorable fan encounters?
AL: I’d never experienced criers. People just walk up and start crying. I’m sure Jen has…
JL: No! But he [Ludwig] cracks me up. We do these signings and we’re just like “Boom, next!” And every single one is some new person that he’s got to get to know, I’ve never seen anything like it! I get into the habit of “Hi, how are you, boom, done.”
Alexander’s like “Where are you from? What are you doing?” [laughs] Each person, he thinks, is the one person he’s going to hang out with for the rest of the day.
Interviewer: What’s the best thing that happened on the set?
Amandla Stenberg: There’s this one time where we were on set and we were shooting this scene where we’re up in a tree.
JL: [laughs] I know this one!
AS: And we kept sliding down. So I found a hole in the trunk/net part where I could sit and I wouldn’t slide down. So we were about to shoot this scene and I started sliding down. I kind of panicked…
JL: Because we were like “READY! SET!”
AS: Yeah, so I get up. And everyone can hear “Wait, I can’t find my butt hole!”
[this gets a laugh from everyone in the room]
JL: There was this kind of stunned silence on set. “Did she? She said it. What does that mean?” We couldn’t shoot for a while because every time we’d start we’d crack up. It took like 12 takes to get through it.
AS: We actually were ready to start shooting it and Jennifer, tears start streaming out of her eyes. And I was like “Jen, what’s wrong?” And she was like “I’m just laughing.”
JL: You had to be there because there was sheer panic on her face. Like she wasn’t being funny. It was genuine panic. “Wait! Wait, I can’t find my butt hole!”
Tim: This is such a popular book. How much freedom did you guys have to actually interpret the characters?
JL: I think we all did kind of our understanding of what the characters were. There was never a point where I read the book and was like “This is how Katniss is and this is how I’m going to play her. It was just kind of our interpretations and how we each understood them.
AL: I had quite a bit of creative freedom with my role. I think Cato’s role, or depth, has definitely grown in the film. I got to work with Suzanne and Gary (Ross, director) creating a backstory and something that just had a little bit more depth to this really complex and interesting character.
Tim: Did you guys have questions for Suzanne?
JL: I wanted to know how she came up with the story.
AS: Yeah, I think she said she was flipping between coverage of the war and a reality TV show, and that’s when she came up with the idea.
Interviewer: How closely was Suzanne intertwined with the filming? Did she come every so often, was she there every day? Or was it mostly she gave the artistic and creative rights to the director and just kind of hung back?
JL: She was very involved with the writing of it. And as far as shooting it, it was director. She came on for anything that was special. Special scenes…
AL: I think Gary did an absolutely exceptional job of making sure Suzanne’s wishes were, just everything about the book and what makes it this huge phenomenon, portrayed perfectly in the movie. And obviously it’s important that the movie, just in and of itself, is a movie. If you filmed everything that happened in the book it wouldn’t be a good movie. So obviously you need really talented people behind that to make sure that it’s translated properly. And I think they did an absolutely exceptional job. Just as fans of the book, I think we all are really really pleased with the final product and I think you will be too. Have you guys seen it?
[Everyone in the room answers no, Lionsgate had not yet screened it for Minnesota press at the time this interview was conducted]
Interviewer: None of the characters are particularly nice in the book. I was wondering how you guys felt about trying to portray… like there aren’t a lot of female role models in sci-fi fiction. I was wondering how you felt about portraying that versus the grittiness and cutthroat nature of the characters?
JL: I think it just develops. The grittiness and the cutthroat and the violence and the brutality is kind of the root of the entire movie. It’s the violence that starts this entire uprising. And she’s (Katniss) a wonderful… when you look past the futuristic Joan of Arc or this warrior symbol of revolt and freedom and hope, she’s just a girl who stands up for what she believes in. Even when it’s scary she speaks out when something is wrong.
Interviewer: When you were considering whether to take the roles, clearly you have a lot of interests you’d like to pursue over the course of your life. And you look at Daniel Radcliffe now, years after the Harry Potter movies, and a lot of headlines about people still identifying him as Harry Potter. Are you concerned about that or did you think about that when you were deciding to take these roles?
JL: Yeah, of course.
AS: I didn’t think about it! The only thing that was running across my mind was “I’m Rue! I’m Rue! I’m Rue!” I really didn’t think about anything besides the fact that I got the role because I was so excited and because I was such a huge, dedicated fan before I even knew Rue was going to be me.
AL: One thing that you think about is being typecast, obviously. But I think one thing that’s really kind of special about this phenomenon and this kind of trilogy is it’s not like there’s anything special about [these characters]… Well these characters are kind of complex and interesting, but the special part of them is that anyone can relate to them in some sort of way. I don’t think that’s ever really been done before. With Harry Potter you’ve got that whole fantasy thing. Even thinking about Twilight and all that, there’s always some supernatural power or something. I think Jen, if you’re talking about her being typecast, she’s such a chameleon and phenomenal actress, she doesn’t have anything to worry about when it comes to that at all.
Interviewer: You guys are actors, that’s your craft. Do you like going on these media tours?
AS: I think it’s really fun. I mean, it’s incredible. I didn’t know that this movie had such a huge fanbase before this tour. The fact that people will sleep outside of a building just to meet us is incredible. It’s beyond my wildest imagination that that would even happen.
AL: [Jokingly] I would never sleep outside in the cold to see me!
Tim: Gary Ross had been known primarily for Pleasantville prior to this – which was a visually striking film. What does working with a director like him bring to the film?
JL: Well, he’s one of the greatest storytellers in filmmaking. And he’s such a visionary. He has a specific vision that’s so important with a director because there’re so many directors that are just fickle and make you do it again and again and again because they have no idea what they want. They just make a movie in the cutting room. And he has this eye that he can just… We’re in a forest and every tree looks the same to me. But he can look around and be like “That’s where that scene should happen!” Just kind of create this entire thing with his mind.
And he’s also completely versatile with actors and with crew. He can be technical. I personally like technical direction. Just like “Lift your head. Do it better. Don’t do it like that.” I don’t like those [schlocky accent] “You’re in this kind of… eugh.” [laughs] Emotional directors. I don’t know what that means! Do you want me to talk louder?
But he can also, for people who do like more emotional direction, he can also go there. He can communicate. He can genuinely do everybody’s job better.
AL: That’s so true.
JL: It’s just the truth. But he never makes anybody feel that way. Everybody has freedom. I mean, he’ll ask an AD (Assistant Director) what he thinks about one of these shots. He genuinely cares, and about teaching people too. He’s a visionary and he’s decisive but he’s not stubborn.
AL: [joking] So as you can tell we just absolutely hated him!
AS: I think any other director would have just made this movie into another blockbuster. I think Gary really cared about not just making it, but making it into a really artful, beautifully crafted movie that people who haven’t even read the book would love. I think that was important to him and I think it shows.
AL: I’ve never met a better director who knows more of what he wants than Gary. Right when he got his shot, he got his shot and he’d move on.
JL: I mean, he would set up shots based on his favorite paintings.
JL: He is so smart it’s just… it’s annoying to be around. [laughs]
Interviewer: What sort of time commitment did this movie take from you guys?
JL: The thing that gave me kind of a sigh of relief in signing on to them is, yeah there are a few of them, but it’s like shooting any other movie. I would be shooting a couple movies a year anyway. And this one, they’re not back to back. It’s not a string of movies or a time period where I just can’t film any other movies. I film this movie like any other movie, like we all did, and then we wrap and go do… I’ve already shot one movie, I shoot another one in a month and I’ll be able to do another one after that before I even start training for the next one that happens. And I think that’s why we can all be a little less scared of them.
AS: [feigning tears] And of course I don’t even have to worry about the next movies!
JL: Aw, I’m sorry! I did it again. I just keep going, “Hey, like next year…”
Tim: [covers ears ] I’m still reading the book.
JL: Spoiler alert!
AL: If you didn’t get that, she dies! [everyone laughs]
Tim: [to Stenberg] Well, I’d rather hear it from you than from anybody else!
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the death scenes. What was that like to film?
JL: It’s actually hilarious. [to Stenberg] Have you seen that picture of us?
JL: It’s this little picture of her in her little greys and me holding her head and tossing her head back and both of us are cracking up.
AS: Yeah, it’s strange actually to think about that people were shooting something that was so heavy! We didn’t really even realize it. The atmosphere on set was just so much more light, except maybe when he got to shooting scenes of a person… people crying on set. But we didn’t really think about how serious it was, which is strange.
JL: There were a couple moments. We had shot her (Stenberg) scenes and all of us had fallen in love with her, she’s just incredible. And we were like “We’re going to lose the audience!” [laughs] Because you fall so in love with her in the movie that that scene, we were honestly [worried].
AL: We were filming Rue’s scene and I remember walking back to base camp and I started just walking past this one guy and he just teared up. I was like, “Man, he must be having a shitty day.” Then I keep walking and I see another person crying and another person crying! And I’m like, “Why is everyone crying?” You watch that and it’s just the most touching, incredible scene.
That’s it for today. Come back tomorrow when CHUD sits down with more cast members of The Hunger Games in the form of Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), Jacqueline Emerson (Foxface) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove).