Both Hutcherson and Hemsworth became aware of Collins's books only when the film adaptation became a subject of much discussion, but Lawrence was a fan before hearing about the movie. She said, "I read the books on my own and I love them and then I found out they were being made into a movie and then I had a meeting with Gary Ross."
Lawrence became a candidate for the coveted role of Katniss shortly after last year's Oscar season and prior to her turn as Mystique in last summer's X-Men: First Class. Despite the accolades for her work on Winter's Bone and her impending blockbuster debut, the onetime model wasn't overly confident when she first met with director Gary Ross.
"I knew that I had a really great meeting with him and we really hit it off," she said. "But that happens a lot and then you never hear from the people again. Then I went into the audition and then he was a lot nicer and everybody was kind of being more–but I am so insecure that when people complement me, I am like, 'You are just putting me down or you're just being nice because then you're going to never call.' So I walked away thinking, 'That was really nice that they would complement me so much before they greatly disappoint me.' I just kept thinking they were softening the blow of not hiring me."
For the two leading men, both had to participate in screen tests with Lawrence in order to secure the roles, which they would reprise alongside the actress in the sequels Lionsgate intends to make out of the three novels. Each had nothing but praise for Lawrence, who is playing a character of indomitable strength and resourcefulness.
"With me, I think I hit it off with Jennifer right away," Hutcherson explained. "I had met her a couple of times at some events and we had talked and it was very fun. We’re both from Kentucky and kind of had that automatic connection. But yeah, it felt really good. She's such an easy person to get along with. And acting with her was incredibly easy as well. So for me, yeah, I kind of felt like right away we really hit it off."
Though the film has a sprawling ensemble cast, Hemsworth's scenes played out almost exclusively with Lawrence. The Australian actor had no complaints, saying, "All of my stuff was with Jennifer so that was amazing. Jennifer is an amazing actress and so much fun to work with. She's always keeping you on your toes and you never really know what she's going to do. So it's good."
Gale Hawthorne is a hugely important character to the overall story, but his role in this first installment is comparatively limited. While Katniss and Peeta venture to the Capitol for the titular competition, Gale stays in their native district, an impoverished locality based around mining. This difference informed Hemsworth's preparation and experience on The Hunger Games. "I had no fight training or anything like that for this one," he said. "But I lost a lot of weight for it. My character is living in depression in District 12 and hunting for his food every day and for his family. So he's not eating a lot and I wanted to feel what it’s like to feel hungry and definitely wanted to be slimmer than I usually am for it."
"I had to put on a lot of weight," Hutcherson explained. "So I was in the process of eating a kind of chicken and eggs and protein and all that fun stuff and then working out a bunch. We had this epic trainer named Logan Hood. He was this ex-Navy SEAL guy who just kicks ass. It was like flipping tires the parking lot and slamming baseball bats against body bags and crazy things. It was so unconventional and you are working muscles you didn't even know you had and you are like, 'How am I possibly this sore?' I felt like with Logan, I was sore for four days afterwards and we worked out five days a week so I was in a constant state of soreness."
Lawrence's training was crucial, and covered a wide variety of different skills that become important over the course of the games, as she said, "There was running, free running, which is like agility, archery, combat, climbing and yoga." Asked which, of all the skill sets she had to hone, was the most difficult, she replied, "Probably archery because it's all a mind game and it's all technique and when you get it wrong it with you on the inside of your arm and then you throw your bow. Then you have to do it again! But once you get it, when you get the technique and you can actually see something and be like, 'I want to hit that,' and then you hit it, then it's great."
"I still have arrows in my car," she added, laughing. "Which is weird because I didn't realize that until two of my friends were getting into the backseat of my car and they were like, 'Why do you have spears back here?' In case I get pulled over!"
On the surface, Pleasantville and Seasbicuit writer-director Gary Ross might seem like a strange choice to direct this would-be event film that, in its second half, is heavy on action. According to Lawrence, though, he is exactly the man for the job, and she had a sense of it when reading the screenplay by Ross and Billy Ray. She said, "Reading the script was incredible. I called Gary right afterwards and I was like, 'You did it,' because it was nerve-racking. I was a huge fan of the books and I went into it, like a fan of the book, completely skeptical looking for every single flaw and I thought that it was absolutely beautiful and just marvelous. It was just a beautiful war drama. Then Gary, on the first day on the set, just blew me away. He's just one of those directors that genuinely knows everything. He genuinely can do everybody's job better than he can, but he still, at the same time, listens to everybody and is very artistically free and you can 100% depend on him and trust him. Even when he would call cut and I would be like, 'I think I can do better,' he would say, 'It's fine' and I would be like, 'Okay.' And that's the first time ever that I would let something, knowing that the take going into the editing room probably wasn't the best one that I could do but I trusted him so much that I was like, 'If he saw it and if he found it, it's there.'"
Hemsworth had nothing but praise for the film itself, which has been enjoying an rapturous critical reception at the moment. "I saw it about a week ago," he explained. "It was nerve-racking seeing in the first time. I went in on my own and anything that I've done, and especially this because there was so much expectation, I was really hoping that it was good. I knew it was going to be and I was really blown away. I thought it was literally one the most powerful films that I've seen."
Lionsgate has already announced a November 2013 release date for Catching Fire, which is being written by Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy. It's been no secret that the studio hoped The Hunger Games would start a franchise, but Lawrence said that it presented a balancing act. On one hand, having read all the books, she knew what was in store for Katniss, but couldn't betray the character's future.
"Well that is always the funny thing because we don't know where we are going," she said. "We don't know what's going to happen or what we are going to grow into or become. So it was important to kind of leave that out of my mind, but at the same time, we are shaping a warrior. So she had to be scared. She's a 16-year-old girl fighting for her life and she had to be vulnerable because I never wanted anybody to feel, at any point during the games, that she couldn't die. I don't feel like she felt like that for one minute, that she wouldn't die. But at the same time, that kind of strength of a budding warrior, Joan of Arc, had to be there."
The Hunger Games also stars Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, and Donald Sutherland. The film hits theaters nationwide this Friday, March 23rd.