With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire venturing into the arena of UK cinemas on Thursday 21 November, SFX speaks to the cast and director about the hotly anticipated sequel.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: THE DIRECTOR
Your choice of Brit Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair incited some fan backlash initially. Why did you pick him for the role?
We read so many people. I think what people are getting caught up on is this perception of physical appearance. A lot of people perceived Finnick as being massive, and Sam’s not massive. He’s very handsome, charismatic, athletic and very in shape. To me, that’s an amazing body, really physically fit and handsome so that’s Finnick. But what’s for me is where this character needs to go because he’s in this book and he goes into the next book as a very important character. But the truth is that he’s this charming rogue is a small fraction of what this character has to do. He’s a much more emotional character which is the surprising thing with Finnick. That’s what I locked in on with Sam is that emotion, warmth, kindness and humility the character actually has. There’s a scene or two up front where you see this other side to him that is a front, but the rest you see is Sam.
You’ve been under pressure since you took the job to direct the last three films in the saga. Do you get any sleep?
You set stuff aside and focus on the characters and the heart of the story. The making of it is the fun part. There are always challenges and rough spots but it’s fun to figure it out and really gratifying to see it all come together. There are occasions, especially when shooting, where I may be stressed over a day, or I feel like a story element is missing, and if that’s in my head, then there’s no sleep. But with schedules like these you have to block it out for a few hours and have some semblance of a life for an hour or two otherwise it will kill you.
Did you have to tone a lot of the violence in the Arena down?
No, I don’t think we have to tone it down. I think it has to do with point of view and my point of view in terms of violence is I’m always much more interested in the emotional impact of the violence rather than the act itself or the gratuity, and especially the gore of it. As long as I approach it that way, I think it’s a much more fulfilling experience anyway and then we have to worry about ratings less.
You shot in Hawaii for Catching Fire . Where are you going for Mockingjay ?
We are going to Berlin to shoot some of the next movies, I think in mid-April.
Hit the button for Jennifer Lawrence...
JENNIFER LAWRENCE as KATNISS EVERDEEN
The year after The Hunger Games was huge for you with the Oscar win. Coming back for Catching Fire , do you feel different?
There are very different lives going on from me, personally. Jen is always going to think that’s strange and weird because it’s a weird job but work wise you get used to it. You know what to expect and how to handle it. You know what you’re going to see. But it will always be weird. Being on set when I am working is when I am in my element and I’m happy and know what I am doing.
You recently got ranked as one of the highest paid actresses today. What does that mean for your life?
It means I’m rich, obviously. [Laughs] No. it doesn’t feel like anything. I grew up in such a good family. My parents both worked very hard for their money and manage it very well. My dad helps me go over my credit card bills every month. It doesn’t change anything. Ten thousand dollars for a pair of pants is ridiculous. But it helps with anxiety because I have a lot of overhead and things to pay for so it helps with that stress. I’m sure I get a lot more opportunities and phone calls which is great.
Working with Francis on this film and having a good rapport with him, does it make it easier to go into the final two films?
It’s comforting to have him back. It’s exciting to go back with him and it’s just comforting having him period.
The cast has a reputation for pranking one another. What happened this time around?
We take this [circle] punching game really far. Josh [Hutcherson] and Woody [Harrelson] are both not shy about holding back because I am a girl which I respect, I guess. And it wasn’t a prank but I got voted for something like Most Beautiful by People Magazine and Josh said, “Did you read that?” And I said, "Yeah, stupid, right?" And he’s like, “I can think of a million girls more beautiful.” He said, “You are maybe a five,” and I said, "I was going to say maybe an eight." [Laughs]
Next up, Josh Hutcherson...
JOSH HUTCHERSON as PEETA MELLARK
The Hunger Games fans are so obsessive about the translation from book to screen. Do you pay attention to the reactions from fandom?
For me, I keep in mind the expectation of the fans because they love the books and love the movie and want to see another one. For me it’s important we stay true to the books, stay true to the characters and give them the story they want but I don’t focus on that too much.
Your friendship with Jennifer Lawrence is tight so was it odd having to get more romantic with her in this film? Is she a good kisser?
It was really strange because we’re really good friends so to do that scene you would think it would be weird and awkward but because we’re such good friends, it was so easy. There was something very easy about it and yes, she’s a great kisser.
Peeta’s estranged from Katniss at the start of Catching Fire . How is he allowed to develop in the film?
Francis and I talked about the most important thing was the time between the Hunger Games ended and where this film picks up. We definitely hit all the key moments and Francis and I talked before about making sure the audience follows Peeta’s psychology as he’s being cold or friendly. Of course when there’s a book with a few hundred pages it’s hard to get all of that into the movie, but for me I can’t tell the different between the book and the movie because the story is all there.
How was it adapting to Francis Lawrence’s directing style and what he brought to the franchise?
I loved working with the man. We were nervous about him because we all loved Gary [Ross, who directed the first movie], so to make that change was hard. But Francis came into it with such an amazing attitude and such a strong vision for the movie. He found a way to balance this big world with visual effects, costumes and big sets with the complicated weaving of the story and the small intimate moments with the characters.
[POTENTIAL SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOKS!] Peeta faces a dramatic change in the Mockingjay books as a victim of President Snow’s hijacking. Are you excited about playing a crazier version of the sweet character?
I’m excited about it and it was one of the reasons I was really looking forward to playing him because he got to make a crazy character arc. Getting into the PTSD and the psychology is going to be fun – maybe a little scary – but it will be good.
Now it's time for Sam Claflin...
SAM CLAFLIN as FINNICK ODAIR
Where you most excited to work with Jennifer Lawrence or Josh Hutcherson?
Neither! Sod them. [Laughs] I was most interested in The Hunger Games itself. If I’m 100% honest, I wasn’t that familiar with Jennifer Lawrence outside of The Hunger Games and the same with Josh. I’ve been a fan of Woody’s since I was a kid. There were so many elements The Hunger Games brought to life to me: the fact I would be playing a physical character and being challenged on the fighting side of the story, but also the character of Finnick Odair being so complex. I was very excited about working with Francis Lawrence and his team, it was a dream come true. Then when I did get to work with Jennifer and Josh, I’ve been so blessed.
The men in the film really play a supporting role to Katniss. Do you think it will make some changes in films centring around strong women?
I think what’s great about a lot of films lately, especially the two I worked on recently such as Snow White And The Huntsman where the heroine was in the forefront of it and grew into a powerful woman, and Katniss Everdeen who is equally on that journey without knowing it. In the book she begins realising the power she has and the inspiration she is to all the districts. It’s nice to see people are making note of that fact and that is very intentional.
What scene were you most nervous nailing so you got the fans on your side?
It’s FInnick’s first ever scene which is the sugar cube scene with me arriving topless. I didn’t care if I was out of shape for any of it but that was the scene I had to look good. It’s a scene where he’s wearing next to nothing so a part of me was very worried about what the costume was going to be but at the same time I was very open about just wearing a knot [laughs]. But since there’s a teen audience, we toned down the nudity. It’s one of those scenes I did in my audition as well so I felt I was too close to it and I was challenging myself to make it feel fresh and not over-rehearsed. The scene was closest to me and closest to the audience.
And last but not least, it's Jena Malone...
JENA MALONE as JOHANNA MASON
You’ve been acting since you were a kid, but do you think being a part of The Hunger Games franchise is going to change your life?
Things do change. It’s a giant fandom with beautiful, passionate fans supporting the project. I had my first taste of it at Comic-Con. For me, it’s the most beautiful family to enter into: a giant, massive group of 15-year old girls that have this massive bleeding heart and they love the story so much. It’s so beautiful to be a part of such love and pure passion instead of 17-year old disinterested boys.
What pulled you in first when you read the books?
I really loved the character. Suzanne Collins really created such intense, beautiful, interesting men and women. And being able to talk about wartime to teenagers is kind of incredible. Getting them excited about it and asking really thoughtful questions about humanity and themselves and their strengths is beautiful. And I respect Johanna’s ability to walk into a room as this smaller girl and really control the room with a stare. It’s kind of a spectacle.
Did you use the book to build your back story?
Yes, the fun part was starting with such an impressive trilogy of novels and pulling references and these little pieces to build a nest and live in it. Suzanne Collins created such an amazing world. You don’t get a chance to work on many really great novels as an actor.
Director Francis Lawrence says post-traumatic stress is a huge theme in this film. How did it help you build Johanna?
Basically because everyone is suffering from different forms of post-traumatic stress disorder, all the cast sat down with a specialist to be able to ask questions about what it’s like to live with killing and being put into an environment that is quite threatening and crazy. For me that was where I started building Johanna. Everything else just came from there.
Do you empathise with Johanna’s fierce personality?
I did in my own weird way. I was a rowdy little rabble rouser. I emancipated myself at 14. I was ready for the world. I was like listen, "I’m an adult, treat me as such." I wanted to pay bills. I was a weird, responsible little girl.
What’s a personal highlight in Catching Fire ?
One of my favourite scenes was with Stanley Tucci [as host Caesar Flickerman]. Stanley and I worked together a long time ago. We didn’t get to see each other a lot on set so I basically came up and we were supposed to do an interview together and I think I terrified him. [Laughs]
Everyone loves Jennifer Lawrence so did you have to dig deep to act like you hated her onscreen?
I have this scene with Jen and she’s in this giant, huge crazy dress and at least 16 times, she just fell completely over. She kept cracking me up. My character is supposed to want to kill her and it was hard to want to kill Jen because she’s just the sweetest person. As soon as she put one foot up it was like clockwork, and she was down. [Laughs]
Interviews by Tara Bennett
Read more about Catching Fire in the current issue of SFX, on sale now .