IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

Tuesday, 19 November 2013 12:46 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

Let the games continue.

Last year, The Hunger Games became a legitimate pop-culture phenomenon and a rare blockbuster to not only bust blocks, but also please critics and audiences, sprinkling spectacle with thought-provoking themes and compelling characters. 

The first sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is currently riding a wave of critical adulation and widespread anticipation that suggest it's a rare follow-up that improves upon its predecessor.

Based on the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire finds Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark briefly returning home to District 12 after their unprecedented finish in the 74th Hunger Games upset the status quo.  As they embark on a Victory Tour, the two see just how much impact Katniss has on the subjugated populace as a symbol of resistance.  But the Capitol has plans to stop the nascent rebellion in its angry tracks, forcing our heroes into the Quarter Quell, an all-star Hunger Games consisting exclusively of Tributes who have survived the competition in the past.  As President Snow prepares to snuff out our heroine and the spirit she represents, Katniss attempts to stay alive in a game that will change Panem forever.

IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was on hand for the recent Catching Fire press day in Los Angeles, where he was able to engage in a discussion with director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and stars Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Josh Hutcherson (Detention), Liam Hemsworth (Paranoia), Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), Donald Sutherland (Ordinary People), Jena Malone (Saved!), Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman), and Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America).

The director and cast enthusiastically talked about returning to Panem, the success of the first film, the challenges of the sequel, the newcomers to the franchise, what's in store with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2, and the universal themes of the source material and the films.


Jennifer Lawrence has won an Academy Award since the first film hit theaters, but she remains conscious of the pressures inherent in playing such an iconic character in a series of such popularity. "We were obviously surprised by the success," she said. "How could we not be? But, we did know what to expect to a certain extent. And if I was going to be identified for a character for the rest of my life, that is a hard thing to think about. But I love this character and I am proud of her, and I would be proud to be associated with this movie and this character for the rest of my life."

While the onscreen talent has remained largely the same, The Hunger Games director and co-writer Gary Ross departed the follow-up shortly after the first film's release, leaving big shoes to fill.  The man with the feet to fit those figurative shoes turned out to be Francis Lawrence, who is currently directing the two-part adaptation of the final novel in this series.

Taking over as director, he said, "One of the things that I wanted to make sure of was that there was still an aesthetic unity to all of the movies. And I thought Gary had done an amazing job with the world building in The Hunger Games. So we worked with the same production designer to make sure that the Capitol was still built from the architecture, that District 12 still had the same, almost 1930s Appalachian feel. And we're going to do the same with Mockingjay and the funny thing about Mockingjay, though, is that we actually get to see the a bunch of districts. We'll actually get to see the Capitol in a very new way. We'll actually go down to the middle of the streets in the Capitol which will be fantastic. But we worked with the production design team to make sure that there was an aesthetic unity all the way through."

This sequel ups the ante with the Hunger Games themselves, which this time take place in a more complex jungle arena. "Figuring out the puzzle of making a movie is sort of the fun part. I knew, very early on, that the arena in this was going to have to be figured out," he explained. "It’s a place that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, so we were going to have to build part of it, and shoot different parts in different locations. We ended up building the island in the cornucopia in Atlanta, and unfortunately in 40 degree water, so the actors had to jump in and out of that. Then we did the jungle in Hawaii. I always take it as a really fun challenge."


The director isn't the only new addition to the cinematic world of The Hunger Games.  In Catching Fire, the audience is introduced to veteran Tributes like the mysterious and audacious Johanna Mason, the District 7 Tribute who emerged victorious in the 71st Hunger Games.

"I think that I loved every single thing about Johanna Mason," said Jena Malone. "When I read the novel in forty-eight hours because I had my wisdom teeth out and I just laid in bed and ate a lot of ice cream and just poured through them and was just sobbing at the end and was just so emotionally invested. I think for me beyond just the seed of the novels and the amazing cast and an incredible director, the fact that this kind of book was so well received in a young audience was that they were hungry for it and that it’s sort of a symbiotic relationship. You can’t create a good idea without someone wanting to receive that good idea. And I feel like it’s a really incredible thing to know that this new generation is hungry for a different type of sense of identity. They’re looking for something else in stories that are being sold to them. They don’t want it sugarcoated anymore. What I thought was so amazing about Johanna Mason is that she kind of represented a lot of that in the sense that she doesn’t sugarcoat and she is hardcore and truthful and violent and angry. And all of those things are not just cool aspects of her. I don’t really think that that’s a badass thing. It’s actually a survival technique. And I think that’s a really interesting thing to talk about for young women to understand that they can take on tools and personality traits that may not be their own, but they can use them in forms of survival to be able to elevate themselves in the world which I think is pretty cool."

Sam Claflin, meanwhile, joins the series as Finnick Odair, the fan-favorite District 4 Tribute who is possessed of unparalleled sexual charisma and opaque motives.  Though he has played supporting roles in event films before, Claflin explained, "I have to say I was slightly intimidated entering into this world that had been created very strongly by my fellow cast mates, especially approaching a character like Finnick that is described as some kind of god, I suppose. To approach a character like that, it was quite tough to say the very least. I had to go through some huge physical transformations, a shaven chest [laughs]. It was very intimidating but I kind of embraced the challenge and worked as hard as I could. That’s all you can do. As much as there was a fair bit of negativity when I was cast initially, I think now a few people have been turned. My goal is to obviously turn the world [laughs] and that’s what Finnick’s goal is as well. So I guess I have that in common with him."

Returning as Effie Trinket, Elizabeth Banks was struck by the popularity of Katniss and what she represents for strong female characters at the multiplex, saying, "Well, Jennifer is an amazing actress who gets amazing roles and I wish that she gets them always and forever for the rest of her life. I’ve been doing it a little longer and I know there’s a lot of girlfriend roles out there, and a lot of wives and a lot of supporting roles that are less interesting than Katniss. And I hope for her that she gets to play Katniss-level roles forever and ever. They’re rare. I think this movie and Gravity, I’m so excited to be seeing such amazing, strong female role models in movies for the fifty percent of moviegoers who are ladies."

Also returning are Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson as Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark.  While Gale was largely sidelined in the first movie, this installment increases the tension in the nascent love triangle between Katniss and these two very different young men.

Though Gale endures his own horrendous trials in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hemsworth contextualizes his character within his relationship to Katniss, saying, "I think when Katniss comes back from the games, Gale obviously sees the post traumatic stress that she is dealing with and has obviously seen her fall in love with someone else and cares deeply about it. As angry and frustrated as Gale is watching her going back into these games I think he understands that at the end of the day Peeta is trying to protect her as well and is one of her best chances at survival. I think he does appreciate that as hard as it is for him to watch all of this to unfold between them."

Hutcherson, meanwhile, seized on the potential for growth unique to film series like this one, where a figure like Peeta changes dramatically over the course of the entire story.  He was also grateful for the source material.  "It’s nice when you have a whole book and then you have to whittle it down into a movie because as an actor you have a lot more information about your character I think. For me, I think that Peeta is angrier in this movie," he said. "In the first movie he was a vacant painting and in this one he has more edge to him. He is angry about having to go back into the games. He is angry about how Katniss has been with him and the feeling that he has been led on. Up until they are training together and have that moment of coming together as friends he feels really disappointed with the whole situation obviously. I think this movie really expands on all the different relationships. I think you see a lot more of the dynamic of Katniss and Peeta, how they are affected by the games and by the whole world they live in and the relationship between."


As President Snow, Donald Sutherland plays the primary antagonist of the overall story, but the actor's perspective couldn't be more different from that of his character. "For me, it was essential, for me personally, that I somehow find my way to be a part of this," he said, referring to his casting in the first film. "Because it more clearly represents the dangers of an oligarchy of the privileged than anything I've seen for a long, long time."

The relevance of the text and the films was not lost on Jennifer Lawrence, who recalled, "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. I think it's a wonderful message to show how powerful one voice can be. It's very easy as a society for us to just kind of follow the feet in front of us and history does kind of repeat itself. And I think it's an important message for our younger generation to see how important they are in shaping our society and our future."

"When you are an actor you never think, 'My job is very important, what I do is important for the world and people.' I just love doing it," she continued. "I remember being on the first movie and meeting an extra that was covered in scars because she had been burned. I remember her coming up to me and saying, she didn’t like going to school and then  she read The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and then she was proud of her scars and her friends called her the girl on fire. I just cried and remember calling my mom and saying, 'I get it.' Sometimes it seems pointless because you are covered in make-up and your hair is in curlers but sometimes there are lives that you can touch. So I don’t really have any plans but sometimes it comes up and bites you in the ass and its great. I like doing it that way."

Jeffrey Wright, who plays District 3 Tribute and electronics genius Beetee, addressed the notion that The Hunger Games has inspired a greater degree of political activism among young people, saying, "I think what’s fascinating about the movie is that, what I’ve found with interacting with fans, and talking to them about why they are so passionate about all of these movies, is that it’s kind of one of those universal spectrums of how anyone can insert themselves into the world and really express their own perspectives and politics within it. Like any good piece, it raises more questions than it answers. At the same time, the politics for the young people in the movie are very simple. There are politics around home, family, security, love, and all of these very simple, universal themes that we all relate to, and that we can all understand. I guess, yes, young people should be politically engaged, but they should be so from a very considered, principle, and grounded place. Not from a reactive place. Not from a place that has to do with a fad, or that has to do with a knee-jerk, reactive response to something, but something very grounded in principles that are meaningful and effective. I think that’s what they should take away."

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire arrives in conventional theaters and IMAX this Friday, November 22nd.

To watch IAR managing editor Jami Philbrick review The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on PBS' Just Seen It, please click here



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