The clock is rapidly ticking down to the start of “The Hunger Games,” and fans worldwide will finally see their visions of the book come to life on the big screen. And while the expectation level is undoubtedly high, the last thing the film’s cast and crew members want — especially Josh Hutcherson — is for the fans to be disappointed.
After all, Hutcherson — who stars as Peeta Mellark — proudly said that he’s as big a fan of “The Hunger Games” as anyone.
“I think one thing people forget is, we all love the book as well, and it means a lot to us to make a very true-to-the-book version of the story,” Hutcherson told me in a recent interview. “I think that was on everybody’s minds, from the actors to the guys running the cameras on the set.”
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Still, Hutcherson pointed out, it was a well-known fact going into the project that there would be differences between book and the film no matter how faithful the filmmakers were to the story.
“There are things that have to grow and change from a book into a movie to make it work, cinematically. For instance, in the book, Katniss has an internal monologue going on the entire time and expresses what’s going on inside her mind; but in a movie, you can’t have that much of the narrator. It was not at all the kind of movie we wanted to make,” Hutcherson explained. “So artistically, we had to find a way to convey the emotions, thoughts and ideas through the scenes, situations and dialogue without it being expositionist garbage.”
Instead, Hutcherson said, the film freely explores other characters’ minds and surroundings without always being tied to Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) thoughts.
“I think the movie allows for exploration outside of what the book allows. In the movie, you’re able to get in other characters’ heads and step away from Katniss and have a scene without her,” Hutcherson said. “That way you can see, for instance, what (Katniss’ best friend) Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is going through during the games, instead of it being just through Katniss’ perspective.”
Directed by Gary Ross, the movie is set in Panem — the dystopian future land of what was once known as North America — where the sadistic rulers of the evil city known as the Capitol annually select a teen boy and girl from each of the country’s 12 Districts to participate in fight-to-the-death competition known as The Hunger Games.
The teen “Tributes” (as the competitors are known as) representing the poor mining community of District 12 are Katniss Everdeen, a brave, intuitive hunter who volunteers to participate in the games in her 12-year-old sister’s place; and Peeta, a strong baker’s son who has long harbored feelings for his counterpart.
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One of the biggest things going for “The Hunger Games,” Hutcherson noted, was author Suzanne Collins’ direct involvement with the film. Since Collins co-wrote the screenplay with Ross and scribe Billy Ray, the actor is hopeful fans will be excited with the evolution of the story into a movie.
“What was great for me was Suzanne wanted to be involved. She wanted the screenplay to grow from the original story she had written,” Hutcherson recalled. “That to me meant a lot, to have the writer understand that we’re making a movie, not making a book. To have her blessing in that sense was great.”
Better yet, Hutcherson added, Collins, who penned three “Hunger Games” books, personally endorsed his casting.
“I know when I was first getting cast, she had made a few comments to the press that I was extremely flattered by,” Hutcherson said. “It meant a lot to me to have that, because when the fans hear that the writer of the books is 100 percent behind the cast that’s been hired, then the fans are like, ‘OK, then were are, too.’ There’s kind of the sense that, ‘Oh, she wrote the books so she knows better than anybody else. If she’s OK with it, then we should be, too.'”
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Perhaps the final stamp of approval came with Collins’ visit to the set, recalled Jacqueline Emerson, the teen actress who plays the Hunger Games Tribute Foxface.
“I got to meet her when she came to the set for a few days, and I remember being so star struck,” Emerson fondly recalled for me. “She’s the one who created this entire series and entire story that’s become such a phenomenon. So just the fact that she was on the set, present with everybody — I thought that was a huge deal.”
That’s not to say, however, that cast members ignored fans’ opinions on the matter. Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays the deadly Career Tribute Clove, said she sought them out.
“When it came to the performance, it comes down to doing what you feel is right, but also at the same time, you have to keep in mind that there’s a huge fan base,” Fuhrman told me. “I actually asked my friends what they thought of my character before they knew I was cast in the movie, just to get their opinions. That’s such a great of doing research, because no one imagines playing such a character. You can read the script as much as you want, but when you’re in your own mind imagining something, it won’t look the same way as someone else imagining it.”
While Hutcherson admits that “The Hunger Games” is enormously difficult material to imagine — the story, after all, predicated on survival in a competition where teens are expected to kill other teens to “win” — he said his approach to Peeta was a little easier to digest because of the character’s motivations. In his heart, Peeta knows that he will not become a monster and murder because the sadistic Capitol expects him to — and Hutcherson loves that because he is willing to defy convention in real life.
“That was one thing that was so powerful about Peeta that I connected with — there are a lot of times in life where people tell you to think or do things a certain way, and I’m always one to say, ‘No, I’m going to think things my way,”‘ Hutcherson explained. “He says multiple times, ‘I don’t want to become a piece in their game’ and doesn’t want to change who he is as a person because they tell him that he has to. When I was reading the book, it was blowing my mind how much of Peeta was saying resonated with who I was as a person.”
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