Jennifer Lawrence joins a carefully chosen cast for the film adaptation of The Hunger Games. The futuristic Lord of the Flies-esque novel has such a rabid following that each character already has a fan-base. The Kids Are All Right star, Josh Hutcherson, and Thor star Chris's not-so-little brother Liam Hemsworth each vy for Lawrence's attention, while Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland play some of the allies and villains the young teens face. Along with director Gary Ross, the cast recently discussed the trials and tribulations of adapting such a popular novel with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier.
Emmanuel Itier: Before you got into that movie, did you read the book? What type of apprehension did you have? Your fears, your expectations…?
Jennifer Lawrence: I had read the book, and I was a huge fan of them. I read all three of them in, like, four days. And then I found out they were making them into a movie and I met Gary Ross, who I was already a huge fan of, and we just really hit it off. And I loved everything that he was saying. I thought he was absolutely genius, and he was just gonna make these movies into something so amazing, that nobody else could make them. And all the team at Lionsgate – everybody was real a fan of the book.
EI: Was there some apprehension because of the violence, and was it a little bit of a tip-toe situation to make it intense psychologically more than gruesome visually?
JL: Nobody wanted to tip-toe around the violence. The violence and the brutality is the heart of the movie. If you water it down, then you water down the entire theme of the movie. I mean, the violence has to spark a revolution. Something horrible has to happen enough that it starts an entire uprise, and if you water that down, then you not only water down this movie, you kind of water down the theme of all of them. So none of us went into this thinking, “Let’s try to tip-toe around the violence.” It was just: how do we get the violence [laughs] with PG-13? And I think it actually ended up working in our favor because violence, in reality, is very quick. Fights last a matter of seconds. You get shot with an arrow, and you get shot and you fall and you die and it’s over very quickly. So we were forced to do that because of PG-13 and not have gregarious blood curling out of people’s necks type of thing, which I think was helpful.
EI: A lot of people compare this to the phenomenal Twilight. Do you feel that? Do you see similarities? And does that come with a little bit of fear for you because, obviously, overnight everybody’s gonna want a piece of you?
JL: Yeah, you’d be crazy not to feel scared of something like that. And they have been compared to Twilight and it makes complete sense because they’re young adult novels, they’re best-sellers, they’re being made into a film franchise – it’s completely understandable. The stories are very different.
EI: In what way do you think this one is different? And what are, for you, the messages, the metaphors, the themes that you really enjoy playing with or talking about?
JL: I like what it says. I like that it’s a cruel reflection into humanity and what happens when we lose our sense of humanity. And we live in a world that’s obsessed with reality television and use other people’s tragedy for our entertainment, and the more tragic, the more entertaining.
EI: Do you see a lot of similarities between you and your character? Did you put a little bit of her in it? Or now that you’ve played her, do you see something that came to the surface that was maybe dormant in you?
JL: Not really. I’m very ‘don’t bring your work home with you.’ It’s all acting. I’m not actually becoming anyone, and she’s not actually becoming me. It’s all acting for me.
EI: Were there particular challenges or a particular scene that was maybe more challenging for you? And also, how do you see her progressing into the second and third movies and books?
JL: The scenes, I think, that were most difficult were honestly just the running in the woods, because it was so hot. So during the cornucopia scene and I have to sprint across a field, and it was over 100 degrees with 100% humidity, and I had to run through this field over and over again and it was so hot. And as far as her progression in the next film, she becomes stronger and wiser, and she finds herself in more danger. And she ultimately becomes a warrior and kind of a Joan of Arc.
Josh Hutcherson & Liam Hemsworth
Emmanuel Itier: Did you read the book before getting in? And what were your apprehensions, your fears, your expectations in playing these parts?
Josh Hutcherson: I read the book, so when I found out they were making the movies, I went out and read the whole series, and I was hooked on it right away. I thought that the world that Suzanne creates is so interesting, and what the characters have to go through and everything…I was just captivated throughout the entire time. So to get the opportunity to be a part of it was a no-brainer for me.
Liam Hemsworth: I’d read all three books before we started shooting, and became a fan like everyone else. They’re amazing books, and very unique, and definitely written like a movie. When I read the books, I thought, “Yes, this could definitely be a great movie.”
EI: The books are very violent, very visceral. Was there a little bit of concern, and do you think it was kind of a tip-toe balance to make it as intense but not as visual maybe?
JH: I think so. I think everybody has a different vision when they read the book of what the story is gonna look like, and yeah, it can be a bit brutal sometimes, with the violence. And it was about staying true to the story and brutality without alienating the audiences because of the goriness of it. And it was just about Gary Ross, and part of his genius came from finding that balance with all things in the movie, as far as taking the book and adapting it properly for the screen.
EI: The movie and the book, obviously, are compared a lot to the Twilight experience. Do you feel that? Do you feel it can be another Twilight, and does that come with a little bit of fear? Because you’re gonna have tons of loads of women unleashed on you…
LH: Yeah, I think it’s similar in the sense that they both have large fan-bases and they’re huge franchises and book series. The story itself is completely different. The Hunger Games is not a love story, essentially. It has many other themes behind it. It’s not presented in a sexy way, by any means. It’s pretty much a completely different world to what Twilight is. And I’m not taking anything away from Twilight – they’re just very different stories.
JH: We’ll take half the success at least. Knock on wood for that for sure.
EI: But do you feel the pressure a little bit, because of that expectation? And do you have already some crazy fans sending some insane messages maybe?
JH: I’ve had a few crazy fan experiences, but every time it’s been coming from a place of them being excited about the movie, which is awesome. But I think, honestly, the pressure, to me, subsided once I got on set and started working. And then it just became another movie and I just did what I always do on movies, which is give everything I can and leave it all on the screen, and that’s what I think we all did once we got on set, so it kind of washed that away.
EI: What other themes, metaphors, messages do you think the movie is talking about that you enjoyed?
LH: There’s a lot of things. It’s about this amazing girl who provides hope and courage to so many different people and allows them to see that if they come together, they can stand up to this evil force. It’s set in a world in the future where things have gone extremely wrong, and this corrupt government is now forcing innocent people to watch their children go into this battle, this entertainment. So it’s this extreme idea of reality TV gone very very bad.
JH: Yeah, I think there are a lot of messages. I think one of the things is finding where loyalties lie, as a person, and Katniss trying to figure that out with Peeta and the games and how is she going to play the games, and how is she going to fight and do everything she can to get back to her family? I think that’s a big driving force between Gale and Katniss’s characters – they’re both fighting all the time to survive for their families as well, so I think family is a pretty big proponent in this movie as well.
Lenny Kravitz & Elizabeth Banks
Emmanuel Itier: Tell me about getting into this world – Hunger Games. Did you read the book before? Was there some apprehension, some fear, some concern, or a lot of excitement?
Elizabeth Banks: For me, excitement. I was a huge fan of the books before Gary even got hired. And I loved Effie. I just really connected to her as a character and wanted to be a part of something that I felt was gonna be a really cool project. And I know Lenny read the book…
Lenny Kravitz: Yeah, I read the book after Gary called me, though. I had no idea what Hunger Games was. Gary Ross called me and offered me this role. I had to quickly get the book; I read it, and I was completely taken by the story – by the way it was written, by the characters, and…here we are. I’m glad to be a part of this.
EI: The books are very violent, very visceral. When you read it, did you think that there was maybe some tip-toeing to do because of that intensity, or on the contrary the approach was more psychological anyway so it wasn’t that much of a problem?
EB: For me, I feel like there is so much senseless violence in films anyway. I mean, you see more people die in a G.I. Joe movie than you’re gonna see in The Hunger Games.
LK: And it’s funny how people don’t comment on that.
EB: And no one cares, right, exactly. So I think at least the stakes are right here. Nobody dies for the fun of it in this film. Gary really understood how to strike, I think, the right balance of keeping it visceral, like you say, so we really understand what’s going on and why the stakes are what they are – that this is life or death for these characters – but there’s nothing gratuitous happening.
EI: Are you going to be back for the second and third movie? Do you see your character evolving? And also, what did you put of yourselves in these characters?
LK: I guess if they call and when they call, we’ll be there, no?
EB: [Laughs] I’ll be there. Yeah, and you’re so elegant. You’re Cinna. Elegance personified. And you love fashion.
LK: Thank you.
EB: And you look the part. And you’re so gentle, and Cinna is so gentle.
LK: Aw, she’s very sweet.
EB: And Effie is just a kook. So that’s what I’ve got.
EI: Are you kooky in real life?
EB: I can be kooky.
EI: What do you think is the main theme, metaphor, or message that you enjoy about this movie?
EB: I love that ultimately it’s telling young people that they matter. That one person’s actions can make a huge difference in the world. She sets off a chain of events that is about to change her entire destiny, and that that lottery, that name being pulled does not have to be someone’s destiny. You can change that.
LK: Yeah, she took the place of her sister. She became this savior, took the place, went to the battlefield and persevered. And in turn, as you see in the film, when all the kids are doing that, she’s inspiring these people to stand up. I mean, it’s a beautiful story. I think it was done really well. And Jennifer Lawrence’s character of Katniss is a great heroine.
Emmanuel Itier: When you were approached to play this very interesting figure, was there some hesitation, or a lot of excitement? And how did you approach him?
Donald Sutherland: I was given the script. And if Gary Ross had asked me would I walk on the film and just go away, I would have said yes because it was a picture of such possibility. I mean, it reminds me…I don’t know if you remember Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers, or Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, but it was a film that, to me, brought those images back into my head. I thought, “God, this film could change things. This film could really influence young people. It could mobilize them.” And when I approached the character and worked on it…I give the character a little piece of my DNA, and then it goes throughout my being and starts to develop itself. It is me, but it’s somebody else. And it’s that character that communicates with Gary, and the two of them worked it out, and I was thrilled. I was thrilled seeing it, and I was thrilled doing it. Because working with him, he’s that kind of a director. He’s just a visionary, and he is so together with his image, and when he approaches you as an actor, working from behind the camera, he comes out… When I see him here, I feel an immense comfort. And I’m so much older than everybody else, but all I want to do is hug him. I just love him. She’s great, isn’t she – Jennifer? God, how overwhelming to see the brilliance of that child. She’s playing a character who’s Joan of Arc – Joan of Arc who succeeds. Shaw described Joan of Arc, described Jesus Christ…described those people as geniuses – people to take the moment at the moment, and that’s what this character, Katniss Everdeen, is. And Jennifer played her, and you watched that genius evolve, that was always in this person – this Katniss Everdeen – and then watched it blossom and flower. When she picked up those berries, she did it more brilliantly than it’s possible to imagine, because when she did it, you didn’t for a second…you just watched her and you knew she didn’t know why she was doing it, but she knew she had to do it for some reason or other. And then when she said, “Okay…” Ah, I just loved it. And it so perfectly echoed the book. People see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and they read the book, and they say, “Hang on a second.” It’s not the same. But this is the same.
EI: Your character – we want more of it, and it’s brilliant because, at the end, they kind of give us a glimpse that, okay it’s gonna follow up somewhere. Are you excited about that – about doing number two and three, for your character to evolve and maybe have a bigger part in it?
DS: I don’t know about a bigger part in it, but I do know that he cannot allow this kind of revolutionary impetus to take hold. He cannot. It has to be stopped. And I don’t know how you stop it without killing her, but he has to stop it. Maybe he can make a deal with her. You never know.
Emmanuel Itier: Tell me, how did you get into it? Did you read the book? What type of challenge was it for you? What are the fears that came with it? Because the book was so intense, violent – did you feel a little bit of apprehension about that?
Gary Ross: I didn’t feel apprehension about it. I mean, obviously it’s something you’re gonna think about when you have a premise like this – how do I handle that? How do I make sense of this? But I thought it was all earned and justified. I didn’t think this premise was not in service of something larger. I think it was…on the one hand, it’s a warning about what we may turn into if we’re not careful, and I think the idea that Suzanne (Collins) took this and made it a reality television show and said, “This is what the society could devolve to,” I thought was really pretty brilliant. But also Jen’s storyline within that, how she sort of struggles to keep her own humanity in the face of this thing – I thought it was really really intriguing. I was very interested.
EI: Was part of the main challenge also to find the real character too?
GR: Oh yeah, absolutely. When I found Jennifer, it was a big relief. It was exciting. She floored me with her audition. I could glimpse the movie at that moment. I could see what this thing needed to be, and I had such a clear sense of it at that point. I was very happy.
EI: The book is really three books. So when you started to adapt it, did you keep in your mind the idea of the second and third one to exist, or did you approach it as its own film?
GR: I approached it as its own film. I mean, I will say that the inclusion of Donald and building of Donald’s part and ending on Donald definitely had an eye toward the second film. And I was aware that this is something that needed to continue. But no, I take them one at a time.
EI: Everybody is talking about this movie being the new Twilight. Is it annoying to you, or do you think it’s fair and at the same time it can stand on its own?
GR: It wasn’t annoying until the junket [laughs], until I got asked the question a numerous amount of times. But no, it’s understandable. I think all they’re really saying then is maybe this will be a big movie. Does it mean anything else than that? I don’t think so, right? Because the movies couldn’t be more different. I don’t think there’s any similarity between this and Twilight. This is about one girl’s journey through harrowing circumstances, and how she discovers herself and changes and incites a revolution, so I don’t see how that’s similar to Twilight. I think, when they compare the two, they’re just saying it’s the next big franchise or something like that, and that’s a compliment, I suppose.
EI: We saw, in the credits, a lot of famous people, like Second Unit Director. How did Steven Soderbergh end up being one of these guys?
GR: Oh, he’s a good friend of mine. I’ve done very similar favors for Steven, and I couldn’t shoot that day. It was a Second Unit situation – in other words, there are no principle actors – and it was on the schedule for Second Unit, but it was a very crucial sequence and I also couldn’t entrust it to just anyone. So I said to Steven, “Will you shoot one day for me?”
EI: Which sequence was that?
GR: That was the riot sequence. And he said, “Sure.” So he came in, and it was actually two days. He prepped for one day and he shot for one day, and he did a fantastic job, so I appreciate it.
EI: If you look at that journey of making it to the junket and being annoyed with some of our questions… [Laughs]
GR: No, not at all. I’m not annoyed at all.
EI: What do you think has been the biggest challenge for you? The biggest mountain to overcome?
GR: I think, honestly, handling the tone. This is very tonally sensitive material, and it needs to be taken seriously. I think it has a lot on its mind; I think it earns it; I think Katniss’s journey and Jen’s performance have a lot of weight and heft in them, and there’s a lot of meat on those bones, and I think that handling this tonally correctly so that the movie didn’t become fanciful or unreal or ridiculous, that was the most difficult challenge. I mean, I know I’m supposed to say, “Oh my God, it was so hard to shoot and this and that, and I had these pressures that it’s this big spectacle on this canvas…” Yeah, but those are technically achievable. The hardest thing a director ever has is tone. And that’s the thing that is so intangible and that we have to constantly keep monitoring. Probably in this movie, I had to think about tone more in advance than on any other movie, so in some respects, it all fell in so nicely for me because I wasn’t surprised in any respect. I had thought a lot of these issues out. But that was really the largest challenge.
Lionsgate's 'The Hunger Games' is released in theaters on March 23, 2012.