It takes a village to prepare The Hunger Games, and Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Wes Bentley play some of the characters that make The Hunger Games possible. For Banks it was an opportunity to be a part of a franchise she adored, for Kravitz it was a chance to work as an actor, and for Bentley it meant going toe to toe with Donald Sutherland. We recently spoke to all three–check out our interviews below!
What is it that attracted each of you to your respective roles?
Elizabeth Banks: I was a huge, nerdy fan of the books. I read all of them long ago. I read them in hardcover. I was on the waitlist on Amazon for “Mockingjay”. I devoured these books. I loved Suzanne’s writing. I loved the trilogy. Loved the heroine. I loved Effie. She’s comedic and exactly the role that someone like me likes to play, if you’ve seen any of my work. I knew it would be so much fun. And Gary [Ross]! I was so excited when I heard it was Gary because we made a movie together, “Seabiscuit” and he’s an he’s an amazing talent and I knew he would treat the material with as much respect as he, being a fan, would. Then he put together this incredible cast, starting with Jennifer. Just amazing people.
Lenny Kravitz: I was living under a rock and didn’t know [about the books].
EB: It really was not a bestseller until recently.
LK: Gary actually called to ask me to be in the film and I had to say, “I don’t know what it is.” So I had to read the book. I read the book the next day. Downloaded it. Then I called him back very quickly.
Wes Bentley: I was kind of the same way. I mean, I didn’t know about it. I mean, I knew about the books, but I hadn’t read them until I got the role.
Are you happy with the characters that you’re playing or are there other roles you would have also been interested in?
LK: I wanted to play Effie! (laughs) I was not happy with my role at all.
EB: She is pretty great! She’s the bee’s knees.
It was almost hard to recognize you, the look of Effie is so extreme. Does that help you get into character?
EB: Yeah, it’s really fun to watch yourself disappear in a mirror every day and watch Effie appear. It really requires a full transformation. One thing is that I never knew how old she was from reading the books. She could be 30 or she could be 100. I imagine that, in the Capitol, you live so long that they do crazy plastic surgery. Who knows what’s going on? I really wanted her to be ageless and Gary’s one real note was, he said, “I imagine Joel Grey in ‘Cabaret’ for her face.” So that was our jumping off point. That was when we wound up with the white skin and the sort of gnarliness.
All of you have very distinct costumes. How long was the whole process of figuring out the proper look to your characters?
EB: I was on pretty early and Judianna Makovsky, who did the costumes, also did Seabiscuit with me. We’re old friends. She called me and said, “Come to the studio immediately. I want to show you what I’m working on.” All my costumes are handmade. They were literally muslin. She has one of those dress forms of me — which is weird — in her studio. We looked at just tons of references. She had reference boards that filled a whole room. It was great. We looked at a lot of Kabuki and Christian Dior. We looked at all these sort of crazy adornments. Marie Antoinette. All kinds of crazy stuff.
LK: Mine is more laid back. It’s basically just the gold eyes and then he’s dressed very simply. Gary and I decided to play Cinna in a much more classic way. I was sort of thinking more of Tom Ford or Yves Saint Laurent. He’s a designer that dresses more simply, but that’s not as outrageous as the costumes he creates. Those are quite dramatic.
WB: It took about two hours for me to get into my hair and beard. I think the reference for the wardrobe for me was Alexander McQueen. But that was just the one outfit.
Are you guys ready for seeing all the people that will be your characters for Halloween?
EB: I know! There’s gonna be a lot of Effies on Halloween. It’s gonna be fun.
Wes, you have some really pivotal scenes with Donald Sutherland, going toe-to-toe. How is it going into a scene with an actor like that?
WB: It was easy because I’m supposed to be intimidated. I’m doing the scene and looking at him in the eye and I had been trying not to think about it the whole day. Suddenly I realize that I’m looking at Donald Sutherland. He’s just looking at me coldly.
LK: When I saw that scene with you in his garden, I was like, “Check out Wes. He’s f–ing handling it! He’s handling it!”
WB: But, yeah, it was amazing. I’ve been lucky to work with such great actors my whole career. It was great to be there.
Gary talked about a kind of “tonal bandwidth” that all characters needed to stay within. Did you all have conversations with him about that?
EB: A ton, actually. I never wanted Effie to be a clown. I really wanted her to be three-dimensional. She represents the Capitol in every way, not just in the way she dressed, but in her attitude. That line where I say, “I just love that!” That was an improv on the day because Gary and I were trying to figure out a way of saying that she really drank the Kool-Aid. There was also no video. I had no idea what that video was going to be. It was like the third day of shooting and he was like, “Yeah, there’ll be a video. I don’t know. Something will be on there.” So there’s this giant green screen that I’m just in awe of. When we did hair and makeup in the beginning, we also had a moment where we were like, “Oh my god, this is her! This is so her!” We showed Gary and he was like, “No. You have too much color. It’ll be too distracting.” And he was absolutely right. For the reaping, it was not right. As you see, my looks get more and more outrageous as the movie goes on.
Once we were in the Capitol, it was whatever I wanted to do. But the reaping was very specific. I was really nervous because, in the book, she has pink hair and wears a green suit to the reaping. I thought, “The fans are going to die if she’s not in a green suit.” We even had a green suit that I didn’t end up wearing because once we looked at the color palette of the day and the background and everything, fuchsia worked better. And, of course, that was the right decision. It was perfect for that moment. The green was wrong. It was too much nature too early. That was Katniss’ thing at the beginning of the movie. You don’t want Effie stepping on it too soon. Gary’s really f–ing brilliant when it comes to stuff like that.
How did you function with those nails?
EB: I didn’t. I literally didn’t function. I had ladies in waiting that did everything for me. I couldn’t type on my phone. I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I couldn’t get in and out of it. So, at lunch, by the time I got to the lunch line, everyone else was done. I was like, “There’s no one to eat with! I just got here!” It takes 25 minutes to get in and out of it. My lunch hour is a full ten minutes of eating and that’s it. But it was fine.
What did you each personally take away from this experience?
EB: Jennifer Lawrence is a really ridiculously f–ing crazy good actress.
WB: Yeah, she blew me away. To carry a movie on such subtlety is –
EB: She’s amazing.
LK: Obviously she’s great and the film’s great and all that, but what I really came away with is that it’s just so satisfying to do a great project with great people. Every day was fun. I’m not used to movie sets. This is new for me. I didn’t know what to expect when it came to divas and drama and actor stuff. But everybody was cool. There was a great feeling on-set. We’re all hugging and we all really liked each other. I asked people on the set, “Is this normal?” Because what I’ve heard about acting stuff, this is not normal. She’s supposed to be storming off and being a bitch and he’s supposed to be recluse in his trailer and not speaking to anybody. Everybody was so nice. To me, I’m all about experiences. It’s great to do things that are big and wonderful. If it’s not a good vibe then, really, what’s the point? I went home with this great feeling of, “Wow, I just made this blockbuster film with all these great actors and it was just so much fun.” It was wonderful.
Cinna has this really great relationship with Katniss. From your perspective, what do you think it is that draws them to each other?
LK: Well, obviously he has integrity. He’s at the Capitol. He’s working at the Capitol. He’s the guy that, when the revolution busts, he’s going to be right there. This is not his thing, but he’s stuck within the system and he gets to use his talents. At the very beginning, I think he was really taken by the fact that she would be willing to take the place of her sister. When she comes in to meet him, he says, “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” He’s just open to her from the very beginning. I think that he sees her integrity and he really becomes personally invested. I don’t know how long he’s been there, but he’s seen kids come and go. These kids he’s dressing, they’re dying. He really wants to do whatever he can do to help her survive.
As the director of the Hunger Games, did you model your Crane on any of the directors you’ve worked with?
WB: No one in particular. I mostly drew off of where we are now with TV and reality TV. You can’t help to watch it and you choose to watch some. You can’t help but hear it and see it. It just pierces into your brain. That piercing is what I was tapping into. Whatever they were doing to tap into the minds of everybody, it takes a certain kind of person to shut your mind off to the consequences and just get results. That’s what I was going for.
The Hunger Games opens March 23. Check it out.