Careers Catch Fire With ’Hunger Games’ Sequel
Based on the first in a series of young adult novels, "The Hunger Games" went with a cast of largely unknown actors: Jennifer Lawrence, though an Oscar nominee for the indie "Winter's Bone," had yet to achieve the acclaim she would receive for her award-winning turn in "Silver Linings Playbook;" similarly Josh Hutcherson was best-known for playing the teenage son of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in another indie hit, "The Kids Are All Right," and Liam Hemsworth suffered from little brother syndrome, being eclipsed by his older brother Chris, whose career skyrocketed with "Thor."
That was, though, before the first film in the series grossed close to $700 million worldwide. Today Lawrence, Hutcherson and Hemsworth can be considered three of the hottest young actors in Hollywood, and they will be even more bankable after the much-anticipated second film in the series, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" comes to theaters this week. The third and fourth films in the series, "Mockingjay," will also feature the three actors in the roles they created: Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a teen hunter competing in a fight to the death against other children rounded up for an annual spectacle. Hutcherson plays her ally Peeta, and Hemsworth is her lover back home, Gale.
"Catching Fire" builds on the romantic triangle between the three, and their sympathies with the rebellion that looks to topple the authoritative regime (led by a ruthless leader, President Coriolanus Snow played by Donald Sutherland). After a joint victory in the 74th Hunger Games - a battle to the death between competitors from the various provinces that make up the country of Panem (North America) in the dystopian future - Katniss and Peeta are forced back into a new competition. Snow hopes to humiliate Katniss in order to quell the rebellion she represents, and to do so brings a new gaming guru, Plutarch Heavensbee, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to create a game in which she would be killed.
In the new game, Katnis and Peeta must compete with previous Hunger Game winners (who include up-and-coming hottie Sam Claflin) in a jungle-like setting where the dangers come (literally) on the hour. At one point the pair and their competitors find themselves on a Cornucopia that spins them around the arena - an effect that some thought might be impossible to pull off, never mind be a part of.
"The spinning Cornucopia was pretty hard," Lawrence said. "We had a real spinning Cornucopia going about 30 miles per hour. Jenna [Malone] and I both had our motion sickness bracelets on. So that was hard, just to try to keep the cookies down during that."
When "Catching Fire" picks up, Katniss and Peeta must maintain the ruse of being lovers that they put on in their first competition. This causes Peeta to take on an additional edge than he had in the previous film.
"I think that Peeta is more angry in this movie," Hutcherson said. "In the first movie he was the baker that painted. Now in this one he’s the baker who paints but I feel like he’s angry about having to go back into the games. Angry about how Katniss has been with him and feeling he’d been led on. I think that he feels really disappointed with the whole situation obviously, as one would in ’The Hunger Games.’ I think this movie just expands a lot on the different relationships. I think that you see a lot more of the dynamic with Katniss and Peeta and how they’re affected by the game and how they’re affected by the whole world they live in, and the same I think goes for the relationship with those two."
Gale is still waiting for Katniss back home in District 12, but even when Katniss is home, she is a very different Katniss. "I think when Katniss comes back from the games, Gale is obviously seeing the post-traumatic stress that she’s dealing with. (He) has obviously watched her fall in love with someone else and he cares deeply about her," Hemsworth said. "As angry and as frustrated as Gale is watching her go back into these games, I think he understands that at the end of the day, Peeta’s trying to protect her as well and I think he’s one of her best chances at survival. I think he does appreciate that in a way, as hard as it is for him to watch all this emotion unfold between them."
A wonderful message
When Katniss is on a publicity tour, she sees the downtrodden of the poorer Panem districts respond to her with hope, which is enough to get them killed by the Capital police. Those themes of political resistance are what drew Lawrence to the series, aside from the futuristic fashion and heroic action.
"I was personally 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 was actually very important," Lawrence said. "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 follow the feet in front of us. History does kind of repeat itself. It’s an important message for our younger generation to see how important they are in shaping our society and our future."
The world of "The Hunger Games" presents a sly satire of the media by Suzanne Collins. The Capital televises a deadly competition between children to keep the masses scared enough to quell any potential rebellion. In addition to presenting violent murder as entertainment, the media of "The Hunger Games" also sells the contrived love stories and alliances on which today’s reality television thrives.
"I think we have a society that we unfortunately experience in our lives where people feel entitled to certain things," Lawrence said. "I think we’ve been completely desensitized to shock factor and the media continues to feed you what you want. This is an example of what happens when you keep allowing that to happen, when you feel entitled to things that you’re simply not. It’s 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, just one voice standing up for something that’s wrong can keep us from going into a totalitarian [state]."
Catalyst to change
Hemsworth agrees that Katniss, though a reluctant leader, acts as the catalyst to change, something that he hopes will resonate with the film’s young audiences. "I think we’re given a unique opportunity to have a voice, to spread awareness to a particular issue that might be important," Hemsworth said. "Regardless of whether people want to listen to us or not, we’re given a platform to talk on. I think who we are, if we use our platform to do a small bit of good, do the little bit that we can do to spread awareness to something important, I think it’s a unique opportunity to have."
Hutcherson feels that the film touches upon the need for going against the grain in a world where conformity is the rule. "(Today’s young people are) 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," the actor said.
"I think this movie just shows that you can go against the pull 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. I went against the pull of things and went for what I wanted to do in life, and I’m here talking to you guys. That’s pretty cool I think."
Girl on fire
Even before the first film came out, Lawrence saw the power of "The Hunger Games." Katniss is nicknamed The Girl on Fire because of a dress she wears that lights ablaze. On the set of the first film, she met a girl who needed just that spark of inspiration.
"When you’re an actor, you don’t ever think, or I hope that you don’t, I don’t ever think that my job is very important, what I do is very important for the world and for people," Lawrence said. "I just love doing it. I remember on the first movie I met a girl who was an extra, and she was covered in scars. She had been burned and I remember her coming up to me and saying that she was self-conscious to go to school when she was younger. 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 and I remember just crying and calling my mom. I still can’t tell that story without tearing up."
Last year, Lawrence won some real life acclaim in an Oscar for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook." "Winning the Oscar, something like that is a wonderful gift that I was so grateful for and confused by slightly, but I’m okay with that," she said. "It’s a huge honor and I’m still pinching myself and I think that I still haven’t really fully digested it. I think maybe I shouldn’t. It’s a tremendous honor."
Certainly, when she went back to film "Catching Fire" after Oscar night, nothing had changed. "It actually made me a target," she said. "Woody [Harrelson], every time I’d mess up my line, he’s like, ’Oh, better give that Oscar back.’"
"Catching Fire" opens Friday.
Watch the trailer to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: