For both Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games, they’re in a rare position for leading men: they’re actually playing the love interest roles. And so it was interesting to get the two actors in a room together to talk their roles as support. Neither really shared scenes in this movie, but both will eventually be fighting over Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen. But in person, the two were quite happy to chat about their roles. Check it out…
Can you talk about the rivalry between your characters?
JOSH HUTCHERSON: I think the rivalry between Peeta and Gale is an unspoken tension, because they never really have it out, so it’s never like “hey, she’s mine.”
You’re in the lottery, but do you have a scene together in this film?
JH: We’re in the reaping, but I don’t know if we’re in the same, shot once. Eye contact, once?
LIAM HEMSWORTH: It’s pretty unspoken at the moment.
JH: 100% unspoken.
You both exhibit unspoken pining love beautifully.
JH: I’ve pined a few times in my day.
Liam, you’ve got the easier part here, where Josh you go full tilt action. How different was your training?
JH: Physically it was pretty similar to what I’d done before, but what was different was that I had to put on weight, which I hadn’t done before. I put on fifteen pounds of muscle so that was a lot of eating chicken and a high protein, low carb diet, and also a lot of heavy lifting and very different kind of training with an ex-navy seal guy who wanted to kill me every time I got with him – in a good way.
Are both of you looking forward to the sequel?
LH: Oh yeah.
How is it for you playing a role where’s there’s going to be much more to do if or when there is a sequel?
LH: At this point I’m happy to be part of something special. As an actor I liked to choose scripts that I’m passionate about.
Is this a situation where you read all the books to get a better sense of where your character was going?
LH: Yeah, I read all the books before I met with anyone about the movie. Yeah, I’m a fan of the books.
There’s a tricky part to the Peeta character in that we don’t know how much he’s telling the truth, and how much he’s playing to the audience. How is that giving a performance that is a performance, how do you wrap your mind around that?
JH: It’s interesting because in the book you have Katniss’s internal monologue and dialogue to help you understand that she’s confused about Peeta, so in the movie you have to rely on how the scenes are structured and other performances. For me, if you watch it, I felt like I was right along with Katniss the whole time as a viewer. So I think it came from how it was edited together. You only see Katniss’s interactions with Peeta, so as an audience you have to live off of that. Like when he runs off with the other faction, you wonder if Peeta is not who you think he is. So it’s got a lot to do with the structure of the film.
For your character, someone as decent as Peeta is easy for an actor to screw up, making them holier than thou. Did you try to strike a balance to make sure he was grounded and still well motivated?
JH: I think that came from his self-deprecating humor. I think those that are holier than thou don’t make jokes, they take themselves too seriously, and Peeta doesn’t take himself too seriously. This is what I believe in and I’m comfortable with that and I can make a joke here and there.
Your character – once he’s in the Hunger Games – seems to go through the stages of grief about being in the contest. Is that something you’ve thought about?
JH: Definitely when you get chosen to go into the games, it’s more or less a death ticket, so it’s disbelief shock is the first thing he goes through. What you don’t see is the grieving process, which he goes through with his family. Saying goodbye to his mom and dad. But Peeta does a good job of hiding it, and his goal is to just help Katniss survive. He loves her and he’s weirdly okay with the fact that he probably won’t make it out of the games and help Katniss survive.
What’s it like being a romantic lead and an action star? What’s the great appeal of that blend?
LH: As an actor I’m always on the lookout for good scripts, things that are interesting and different, and this combines romance and action you get to do it all. I want to do as many different emotions as I can.
JH: Doing action, the thing is it’s cool to watch it, and as a guy I like seeing it. With the romance thing it’s something everyone can relate to. Once you have love as a motivator in a story, I think everyone can do anything. Once someone’s in love they can do the craziest thing that no one’s ever thought of. You have that excuse to do whatever you want.
Are you guys worried about the phenomenon aspect of the story, is that overwhelming? If I was in your position I’d be up a tree.
LH: We love making movies, we got into the business to make movie, and at the end of the day, whether you’re doing a low budget film or a big budget film you want it to do well, and you want people to see it. That’s the whole point. You want to put some kind of message in it.
JH: But you know it could be over ten years. You have that one big hit, and they want to thrust you into that world, but in the end game if you’re actor and you become successful, you become well known. And that’s just part of the business.
One of the most interesting things about the series as a film and as a book, twenty or thirty years ago the lead character would have been a man. Liam you play the girl at home, and Josh you’re the girl in the field in that equation, is that something you thought about, the role reversal?
LH: More power to them, I think that’s the appeal of the book. You have this young courageous strong woman who’s doing unbelievable things, and I’m all for it.
JH: And Jennifer is perfect for this role. She’s such a strong person, and on screen as well. Having a character that powerful – as a woman – is amazing.
What’s it like working with Gary Ross as a director?
JH: I love Gary
LH: He’s amazing. I’ve been a fan of his since Pleasantville, and I love that movie. He’s a great director to work with because he’s very open, and trying everything possible, and getting it from every different angle. He’s energetic, keeps everyone on their toes, and keeps the set alive, just open to your ideas.
JH: And he’s a talented writer on top of that. Coming in with Suzanne (Collins) to get the script where it needed to be. I think much of the heart and soul of the movie is the script, and if it’s shit, the movie’s going to be shit as well. But he’s able to add in different devices. The books is all narration and he found ways to make it work in the film without it being just exposition.
Does he give you the freedom to improv?
JH: There was improv but we didn’t need to.
LH: He’s an open enough person to try, but if it doesn’t work, we move on.
One of the thing about pining love is the music, so I was wondering if there music you used to get in that mindset?
JH: Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” (laughs) Music’s a huge part of my life, but I can’t think of anything. I’ve done that before with characters, but I never really did this. I normally listen to music all day every day. I normally go into interviews and I bring speakers with me to play music softly.
To have specific junket music, like Metallica?
JH: Metallica, Slayer. Nah, something relaxing that keeps my mind in a calm place.
What did you each take away personally from the experience?
LH: Every job I do I learn more. Working with actress like Jennifer, directors like Gary, I learn more again. I learn more with every job, and I’m very thankful for where I am.
JH: Every experience on this film was so much fun for me it’s great to see a movie with such an intense subject and a dramatic story line and still have fun on set. It’s something I learned, as Liam said, you work with amazing people, like Jennifer, and Woody and Lenny, it’s a great experience.
How was working with Woody?
JH: He’s so great. He’s one of those guys where sometimes when he’s talking to you you’re not sure if he’s on Earth, but if you listen to what he’s saying, he’s very perceptive and he gets a lot of things. He’s such a good person to, what he believes in.
Are you glad they eliminated the scene where he throws up on Katniss’s shoes?
JH: Yeah, it’s a bit much.
LH: I don’t know, I was looking forward to it (laughs)
The Hunger Games opens March 23. Check it out.