Inside ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ with the Cast and Director

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens on November 22, 2013 and the cast and director have been busy ushering it into theaters with press conferences and red carpet premieres around the globe.

Together in Los Angeles to chat about this second film of The Hunger Games series. The Hunger Games is the 21st-highest-grossing film franchise of all time, it has grossed over US$2.97 billion worldwide. The first movie, The Hunger Games, grossed an incredible $694.3 million dollars in the box office. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth joined their Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence and co-stars Elizabeth

Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland to discuss the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire and how the characters have evolved since The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Press Conference

What do you most enjoy about this series of stories and films?

Jennifer Lawrence:  “I was just very excited when I first started reading these books just that there was such a big series that young adults would be reading and something that’s actually very important. I think that it’s a wonderful message to show just how powerful one voice can be. It’s very easy as a society for us to just kind of follow the feet in front of us and history does kind of repeat itself. And I think it’s an important message for our younger generation to see how important they are in shaping our society and our future.”

Donald Sutherland: “I think it, for me, it was essential for me personally that I somehow find my way

to become a part of this. Because it more clearly represents the dangers of an oligarchy of the privileged than anything I’ve seen for a long, long time.”

Jennifer Lawrence: “Also a badass female protagonist.”

What consistencies are we going to notice between Catching Fire and the Mockingjay movies?

Francis Lawrence: “Between Catching Fire and the Mockingjay movies? Well, I think one of the things that I wanted to make sure of was that there was still an aesthetic unity to all of the movies. And I thought Gary [Ross] did an amazing job with the world building in The Hunger Games and so we worked with the same production designer to make sure that the Capitol was still built from the same architecture, that District 12 still had the same almost 1930s Appalachia feel. And we’re going to do the same with Mockingjay.  The fun thing about Mockingjay though is that we actually get to see a bunch of new districts. We get to see the Capitol in a very new way. We’ll actually be down sort of in the middle of the streets of the Capitol, which will be fantastic. But we worked with the production design team to make sure there’s an aesthetic unity all the way through.”

What attracted you to do the movie and what do you like about your characters?
Lenny Kravitz: “Well first of all, this story, it’s great storytelling. You can have all these great actors and actresses and directors and people, but at the end of the day it’s a really well written story with really good characters. I didn’t know anything about Hunger Games before I got the call from Gary Ross. I didn’t know about it; I was in the Bahamas working on music and in the jungle somewhere I got this phone call about The Hunger Games and I had to download it and read it. And once I read it, I was hooked. I read the whole book in one night.

My character Cinna, he works for the capital obviously. He’s quiet, he does his job, but he has this instant attraction to Katniss. He understands who she is. He believe in her, in her abilities, and he wants to be there for her.  They begin this friendship. And in this film, he’s even more quiet but he’s at the point now where he’s ready to make a statement, to really show who he is and what side he’s on. He does that very strongly when he presents the wedding dress that President Snow wants Katniss to wear. You’ve all seen that the dress turns into the Mockingjay and he has to pay some grave consequences for that. But I like that he speaks through his art.”

Jeffrey Wright: “Well, one of the things aside from the thematics of the story that attracted me to this was that there had already been this extraordinary work done by many of the folks who are assembled here. So I had an opportunity then to kind of piggyback on their efforts. Like Lenny, I was maybe in the jungle in West Africa somewhere so I missed out on a lot of the fanfare on the first one. But when I was called – in my case – by Francis to be a part of this, you know I dug in and I realized that there was something very interesting happening here, particularly as Jennifer said for younger audiences because this is epic movie-making of a scale that we see a lot of now, but at the same time, there are these poignant, relevant ideas that are being presented to young minds, you know young, developing minds that I think are really essential. And they’re not specific but they just are presented in an intelligent way that allows each reader or each audience member to place themselves within the world and make these considerations that are relevant to their lives outside of the theater. And for me that just seemed to make sense, that you entertain but at the same time you provide in some ways a kind of escapism but a kind of relevant escapism that doesn’t discount the complexities of who we are and what our world is undergoing now.”

Elizabeth, can you talk about how good it is to have such strong female lead characters?

Elizabeth Banks: “Well, Jennifer is an amazing actress who gets amazing roles and I wish that she gets them always and forever for the rest of her life. I’ve been doing it a little longer and I know there’s a lot of ‘girlfriends’ out there, roles and a lot of wives and a lot of supporting roles that are less interesting than Katniss, and I hope for her that she gets to play Katniss-level roles forever and ever. They’re rare and I think this movie and Gravity, I’m so excited to be seeing such amazing, strong female role models in movies. For the 50 percent of the moviegoers who are ladies.”    

Sam and Jena, being new to the franchise, what did you love about your characters and is there something you could really identify with?

Jena Malone: “I think I love every single thing about Johanna Mason. When I read the novels in 48 hours, because I had my wisdom teeth out and I just stayed in bed and ate a lot of ice cream and just tore through them, and was just sobbing at the end and was just so emotionally invested. I think for me beyond just the seed of the novels and the amazing cast and incredible director, the fact that this kind of book was so well received within a young audience was the fact that they were hungry for it. And it’s sort of a symbiotic relationship. We can’t create a good idea without someone wanting to receive that good idea. And I feel like it’s a very incredible thing to know that this new generation is hungry for a different type of sense of identity. They’re looking for something else in the stories that are being sold to them. You know, they don’t want it sugarcoated anymore. And what I thought was so amazing about Johanna Mason was that she kind of represented a lot of that in the sense that she doesn’t sugarcoat. She is hardcore and truthful and violent and angry, and all of those things are not just cool aspects of her.  I don’t really think that there’s like a badass thing, I think that it’s actually a survival technique and I think that’s a really interesting thing to talk about for young women to understand that they can take on tools and personality traits that may not be their own but they can use them in forms of survival to be able to sort of elevate themselves in the world, which I think is pretty cool.”

Sam Claflin: “I have to say I was slightly intimidated entering into this world already that had been created very, very, very strongly by my fellow cast mates, and especially approaching a character like Finnick who is described as some kind of god I suppose. I mean, sort of approaching a character like that I had to go through some huge physical transformations. Shaving my chest… It was very, very intimidating but I kind of embraced the challenge I think and worked as hard as I could. It’s all you can do. And  as much as there was a fair bit of negativity when I was cast initially, I think that now people have been turned and my goal is to obviously turn the world and I guess that’s what Finnick’s goal is as well, I guess.  I guess I have that in common with him.

Jeffrey Wright:  “Sorry I didn’t answer that part of your question about what I like about my character.  I like that Beetee is an idea man who is resistant to the status quo.”

What kind of moral lessons do you feel young boys and girls can learn from your characters? Do you think that’s an important thing for young adult fiction?

Jennifer Lawrence: “I think that we have this society that, you know, we unfortunately experience in our lives where people feel entitled to certain things. I think that our youth are completely desensitized and the shock factor and the media continue to feed you what you want, and this is kind of an example of what happens when you keep allowing that to happen, when you keep feeling entitled to things that you’re just simply not. And I think that at the end of the first movie with us and the berries, ‘No, we don’t. We don’t need to play in this game,’ is a wonderful example for young adults that you don’t have to follow the feet in front of you. Even though you can seem like the only one, even just one voice standing up can keep us from going to totalitarian.

Josh Hutcherson: “Yeah, I think that with today with our generation and my younger brother’s kind of younger generation coming up too, they’re surrounded by so much in your face truth from around the world about issues that are happening and what not. And they’re also told all the time about how they’re supposed to be by the media and what kind of people they need to be or how they need to look or dress.  I think this movie just sort of shows that you can go against the flow of things. I think for me that’s the most important thing because that’s what I did when I was a kid in Kentucky is I went against the flow of things and went for what I wanted to do in life and I’m here talking to you guys. It’s pretty cool, I think.”

For Jennifer, Josh, and Liam, we see in the film how Katniss is sort of discovering her voice and her ability to inspire and affect change. You guys are getting a voice now and you have an ability to reach people through your work, through just your celebrity. What do you hope you can accomplish with that platform that you’re kind of developing right now?

Jennifer Lawrence: “It kind of changes sometimes. There’s so many wonderful things that can come from this, when you have a voice, saying the right things. And it’s so easy for us, it’s simple, it’s so easy to raise money for charity. You know, it takes me ten minutes to sign 100 posters that can raise thousands of dollars for charity, and that’s so simple. And also…wait…I had a really good answer and I don’t remember it. God. What were you saying?”

Are there agendas that you would like to pursue to be able to use the good part of fame?

Jennifer Lawrence: “No, because honestly, sometimes it comes up, it surprises me. I remember being on the first movie and when you’re an actor, you don’t ever think – I hope that you don’t, I don’t,  – ever think my job is very important; what I do is very important for the world and for people. You know, I just love doing it. And I remember being on the first movie and there was a girl who was an extra and she was covered in scars. She’d been burned. I remember her coming up to me and saying that she was self-conscious to go to school when she was younger and then when she read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire she felt proud of her scars and her friends called her the Girl on Fire. I remember just crying and calling my mom and I still can’t really tell the story‚Ķ I remember just calling my mom and being like, ‘I kind of get it.’ I remember reading that in the third book when she goes to the hospital. And sometimes it seems so pointless because you’re so filled with hair and makeup and clothes, and sometimes the lives that you can touch and add meaning to, so I don’t really have any plans. Sometimes it comes up and bites me in the ass and it’s great. I like doing it that way.”

Liam Hemsworth: “I think we’re really giving a unique opportunity to have a voice and to spread awareness to a particular issue that might be important. I think regardless of whether people wanted us to talk or not, we’re given a platform to talk on. I think if you, who we are if we use that platform to do small but good, do the little bit that we can do on to spread awareness to something important I think it’s a unique opportunity to have.”

Josh and Liam, can you discuss the personality evolution of Peeta and Gale throughout Catching Fire?  Can you talk about just developing the characters more and if you got any of that from the source material?

Josh Hutcherson: “Yeah, I think there’s a lot in the source material. I mean it’s nice when there’s a whole book and you have to whittle it down to a movie because as an actor you get a lot of more kind of information about your character I think. For me, I think that Peeta, he’s more angry in this movie. In the first movie, he was like the baker that painted and now in this one he’s the baker that paints but he also has a little bit of an edge to him. I feel like he’s angry about having to go back into the Games, he’s angry about how Katniss has been with him and kind of feeling like he’s been lead on. And up until that moment where they are in the train together and they have like a coming together of friends kind of thing, I think he that he feels really sort of disappointed with the whole situation, obviously, as one would in the Hunger Games.

But I think that this movie just expands a lot on the different relationships. I think that you see a lot more of the dynamic of Katniss and Peeta and how they’re affected by the Games and how they’re affected by the whole world they live in. And the same I think goes for the relationship with those two.”

Liam Hemsworth: “Yeah, I think you know it’s when Katniss comes back from the Games, Gale has the same post-traumatic stress that she’s going through. You know, he’s sort of watched her sort of fall in love with someone else when he cares deeply about her. But I think as angry and as frustrated as Gale is watching her go back into these Games, I think he understands that you know at the end of the day Peeta’s trying to protect her as well. I think he’s one of her best chances of survival and I think he does appreciate that in a way, as hard as it is for him to watch all this emotion unfold between them. [To Josh:] Do you want to fight? [Laughing] We love each other.”

This movie has a lot of really intense scenes and one of the most intense is the flogging scene that Liam Hemsworth goes through. But reports from the set talk about how much joking was going on and how much fun there was despite the serious aspects of the story…

Liam Hemsworth: “Everyone was strangely happy. It was like, ‘All right man, are you ready?”

Jennifer Lawrence: “Liam’s scene really hurt. I mean getting whipped with something is okay maybe once or twice, in your own words.”

Liam Hemsworth: “I would agree with that. ‘It’s not that bad,’ but after three days of doing it…”

Jennifer Lawrence: “But that’s, I mean that’s every scene. But that’s how we keep loose.”

Jennifer, you won your Academy Award and you’re reuniting with David O. Russell. Can you talk about that and was there a ‘Bring Your Oscar to Work Day on the film?

Jennifer Lawrence: “Absolutely. I brought it to work, I put it on video village, I was like, ‘Things are going to be very different.’ [Laughing] I saw everybody the next day and everyone was kind of like, ‘Hey,’ and I’m like, ‘Nothing? Okay,’ and then I went back to being a target of somebody. Every time I messed up my lines they’d be like, ‘Oh you better give that Oscar back.’

Yeah, getting together with David is a no-brainer. The script and character was amazing and unlike anything I’d ever done, and so I did it instead of resting.”

Is it important to keep changing since you’re going to be so identified with Katniss? Did you want to play women that are totally the opposite this?

Jennifer Lawrence: “Yes and no. The reason that I’d signed on to The Hunger Games, because I knew that that was, we had already had Harry Potter and we’d already had Twilight, so we were obviously surprised by the success – how could we not be – but we did know what to expect to a certain extent. And if I was going to be identified with a character for the rest of my life, that’s a hard thing to think about but I love this character, and I’m proud of her. And I would be proud to be associated with this movie and this character for the rest of my life. That being said, I think it is important, it has been important and not even really for audiences –  obviously some of it’s for audiences to see that I can do this. Things are so good they get overwhelming. But for me, I like going back. I  started doing indie movies and I enjoy doing it. Sometimes when you find a really great character it’s better than vacation, I think. It is better than vacation sometimes as long as the catering’s good.”

For Jennifer, could you tell us a little bit about what was the toughest stunt to do? Was there a moment where you thought I can’t believe I’m doing this? And also winning the Oscar, really what did it mean to you?

Jennifer Lawrence: “I think the hardest stunt to do, well, the spinning Cornocopia was pretty hard. We had to real spinning thing where we ended up going about 30 miles per hour and Jena and I both had our like morning sickness bracelets on. [Laughing] Motion sickness. But that was hard, doing that.

And winning the Oscar, you know something like that is a wonderful gift that I’m so grateful for. I’m confused by slightly, but I won’t give it back. But it’s a huge honor and I’m still pinching myself. I think that I still haven’t really fully digested it and I think maybe I shouldn’t. It’s a tremendous honor.”

Are you guys changing anything about your character as you learn more about it strictly from a portrayal stance, now that you’re learning more and hearing more from the director’s and producer’s stance?

Josh Hutcherson: “I think it’s cool because we’re getting new and different input now. I mean you have a new director leading us and everything, so that’s a cool change for us. I think that for me the places that Peeta grows naturally just based on the story are so exciting for me, I want to follow that. So as far as bringing a bunch of things of my own to it…I mean there are definitely little parts of Peeta that I bring from myself, but for the most part I think that it was all really in the original book and in the script and the story for me.”

Liam Hemsworth: “I always feel like when I’m shooting something, I’ll often with the character go in different directions because of the director’s influence or something you work out on the set. When you have something like this where you have three different, four different films to do it over, it’s definitely going to head in different directions you maybe didn’t think of or expected. But that’s part of collaboration, people developing a character. Your instincts might go in a different direction because of another actor’s instinct.”

Francis, you had a much more elaborate Hunger Games to put on camera. When you were going through the script or the book was there any one part in particular where you’re going,  “Oh god this is going to be a nightmare, How am I going to bring this to life?” Was there any part that was more complicated?

Francis Lawrence: “No. I mean that’s kind of the fun for me; the sort of figuring out the puzzle of making a movie is really the fun part. I knew very early on that the arena in this was a place that was going to have to be really figured out. It’s a place that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world and so we were going to have to build part of it and shoot different parts in different locations. We ended up building the island in the Cornocopia in Atlanta in unfortunately in 40 degree water. So the actors had to sort of jump in and out of that. And then we did the jungle in Hawaii. But I always take those moments in film making as a really fun challenge.”

The movie is in a large part about a very politically charged young generation and I was just wondering what you guys thought a young, politically charged generation should take from this?

Jeffrey Wright: “You know, I think what’s fascinating about the movie is that what I’ve found in interacting with fans and talking to people about why they’re so passionate about these movies is that it’s kind of this universal spectrum that allows anyone to put themselves and insert themselves into the world and really express their own perspectives and their own politics within it. And really like any good piece, it raises more questions than it answers. But at the same time, the politics for the young people in the movie are very simple. They’re politics around home, family, security, love, and all of these very simple universal themes that we all relate to and we can all understand. So I guess, I don’t know, for young people, yes, young people should be politically engaged but they should be so I think from a very considered, principled and grounded place. Not from a reactive place, not from a place that has to do with a fad or that has to do with a knee-jerk reactive response to something, but something very grounded in principles that are meaningful and effective.”