Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth interview: making The Hunger Games and more
As The Hunger Games approaches its cinema release, we met with Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth for a round-table discussion about the film...
If you've read our review of The Hunger Games, you'll know we thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a rare example of both a great teen movie and an intelligently-made blockbuster, both urgently directed and effectively cast. And among its ranks of immediately recognisable actors, there's also Elizabeth Banks, who plays the flamboyant villainess, Effie Trinket, and Liam Hemsworth, who plays Katniss' friend and hunting partner Gale Hawthorne.
Ahead of The Hunger Games' release on Friday, we enjoyed a round-table interview with Banks and Hemsworth to talk about their roles in the film, its making, and what we might expect from the next instalments...
What did you think of the film when you saw it? Did you know it’d be good when you were making it, or were you worried at all…?
LH: There were too many extremely passionate people around it for it to be bad. Gary Ross is such an amazing director and I think we all felt comfortable enough to really trust him. His vision is, I think, perfect and really captured what Suzanne Collins was trying to do. And she was also such a huge part of writing the script and her opinion was always very much valued; she wasn’t pushed aside, she was always part of the process.
Did she give you any guidance on how to play your characters?
EB: She’s very shy!
LH: Yeah, actually, I met her in person for the first time a couple of days ago, at the premiere.
EB: She was not around very much. And you can’t please everyone when you’re making this kind of movie. For me, it was like, let’s please Gary, the director – it’s his vision, let’s serve that. And then if Suzanne, the goddess of Panem and this world and these characters, if she’s happy, then I’m happy.
When they were filming Potter, Rowling was providing notes throughout – did Suzanne give you anything like that?
EB: Not to me!
LH: Not to me, no. I spoke to her on the phone before we started shooting and she told me a little bit about my character, and I told her what I thought, but yeah, that was kind of it.
EB: I just got a note saying “I think you’ll make a great Effie.”
Elizabeth, was it true that you wrote Gary a letter, and you were really determined to get this role?
EB: Well, I really loved the books. I was an early adopter of the Hunger Games, I read them before they were best sellers – I was on the pre-order wait list for Mockingjay on Amazon.
And Gary and I made Seabiscuit together, so when he got the job, I knew that the book was in great hands, and so – he and I are friends, so I just sent him an email that said “I love these books, and I’d love to play Effie” and he said to me “yeah, that’s great Banks – I need to find Katniss.” [laughs]
I think I emailed him like the day after he got the job. I was like “Oh! You got the job! So, anyway, I’d like to play Effie!” He was like “yeah, yeah, I have to find these kids first…”
What was it about Effie that made you want to play her, specifically?
EB: I just think she’s a very fun character to play. I had a great time playing her. I went to drama school, and when you’re in drama school you get to play those kinds of characters all the time and you think you’ll go out into the world and get to do that, and then you never get to do that. So to play someone so theatrical and over the top… you know, she’s a villain, but she’s very loveable, and she’s comic relief but she’s very layered; there’s so much going on with her. That’s what I loved about her, and that was every conversation I had with Gary, was about how to make sure that she was not written off as comic relief but there was more to her.
She’s quite, er, visually interesting – how did you feel when you saw the makeup and costumes for Effie?
EB: It was really fun to watch myself disappear in the mirror every day and watch Effie appear. We had an a-ha! moment every day on set – sometimes it was when the lip went on, or when her hat went on, or the shoes, you know; everything contributed to the character. The clothes are very constricting, and a great reminder that she lives in this totalitarian regime and is oppressed; the hair – we drew a lot of comparisons to Marie Antoinette when we were crafting her look; for me, she is the latter day Effie; she sat in the castle saying “let them eat cake” – she was the one per cent when the 99 per cent starved around her, and she didn’t seem to care.
You bring up the slight political…
EB: I don’t know that it’s slight, I think it’s pretty overt!
Exactly. Donald Sutherland has been saying that he hopes the film inspires people to be a little rebellious – is that the same for you guys?
LH: Yeah, I think a big part of my character is that he’s so passionate and outspoken – at least to Katniss – about not siding with these Games and he doesn’t agree with them, and I think if I was in that position, I’d be doing the same thing. I’m an ambassador for the Australian Childhood Foundation, which is about protecting children who are getting abused, and this is child abuse in this – I feel very strongly about that, and I think I’d be doing exactly what Gale’s doing, trying to find a way around it and a way to fight back.
Do you think people will take that message away from the film, then?
LH: Yeah, I think it has very very strong messages, and child abuse is a big issue, so if people can take something like that away from it then that’s a bonus.
Liam, how do you think you would have fared as Peeta?
LH: I don’t know. I always, when I read the books I always related to Gale, so when I read the script, it was for Gale.
Are you an angry man?
LH: Am I an angry man? [laughs] I think, just like I said, I think Gale is extremely passionate about not being part of these Games and trying to find a way around it and I think I’d be doing the same thing.
If Gale had been picked at the Reaping, how do you think he would have fared in the arena?
LH: I think the arena is completely unpredictable and you can never tell what’s going to happen but he’s a pretty well-rounded guy, pretty knowledgeable in the wilderness, and I think he’d probably do okay.
It shouldn’t be unusual, but it is kind of unusual to get a film like this that’s anchored by such a strong female character who isn’t simpering over some guy – the two guys, really, are the damsels in distress, really… is that something you have thoughts on?
EB: It’s definitely one of the reasons that I loved the trilogy. I think she’s a great heroine and a great role model, and if there’s a message in the movie, for me, it’s that young people matter, that their actions have consequences, that you can make a difference in your world through acts of courage and bravery and dignity and love and hope, versus, you know, our basest nature. That’s what I love about the books; she’s that beacon of hope in a really dark world.
Could you picture anyone but Jennifer Lawrence in that role? She seems perfect.
EB: She really is. I honestly can’t picture anyone else. I was so happy when they cast her.
There has been some uproar on the internet over casting – there always is with these things – did you read anything awful about yourself after you’d been cast?
EB: I was really lucky because I had the support of Entertainment Weekly in the United States – they said “cast her!” and I was like, oh, they don’t know, but they are gonna cast me! Which was really nice. And you know, we can’t please everyone. There’s just no way to do it. So I hope the haters… I would like to turn them around, I hope they leave the movie thinking, oh, she was fine.
LH: Everyone was a bit weird about me and Josh because we pretty much both swapped hair colour and physical attributes. I generally don’t read anything on the internet and try not to, but hopefully everyone’s pleased.
Have you had any run-ins with fans?
LH: I’ve had a few marriage proposals and prom date proposals, and a few interesting things like that. But it’s really fun to turn up to places and see so many people waiting, and they’ve been waiting for so long, and they’re so excited about it. It’s really fun to be part of it all.
In the story, Gale asks Katniss to run away and live in the woods with him. How would you cope if you had to live in the woods?
LH: I’m pretty outdoorsy! My family used to live in the hills in the middle of nowhere and [my brothers and I] literally used to have bows and arrows and air rifles and throwing knives and we would spend all day in the forest. So I think I’d probably do okay for a little while. Hopefully I’d be able to catch rabbits and squirrels…
The marketing for this has been brilliant in that it’s really emphasised Katniss’s bravery. Do you think men will be put off, or will they go and see this film?
LH: I think it’s great that we have a young woman who’s the most courageous character in the books. I’m all about it. I’m a guy and I’m a fan of the books and I think the movie is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen. Regardless of whether you’re a girl or a guy there are so many extremely strong characters in these books that you care about and they’re in horrific situations and you want to see them get out of that. I don’t think it really matters.
EB: Nobody asks me if I care about going to see a guy-fronted film!
How was working with Woody Harrelson?
EB: Woody… I’m in love with him.
LH: Me too!
EB: Everyone is in love with Woody. He’s very loveable. He’s a great Haymitch. I had never met him, though we have mutual friends, and we started telling each other very crass jokes within four minutes of meeting each other. And then he really made me laugh with a very off-colour joke that I cannot repeat to the media, and he was sort of shocked at how giggly I got over this material, so we became fast friends.
We’ve heard Lenny Kravitz’s hotel room was party central…
EB: Lenny was preparing for his world tour at the time, and so he had his entire band in town with him and also all of his clothes for the tour. So his clothes were on racks in his room and he was very generous in letting us try on his clothes. He has the best wardrobe of anyone in the world.
So you got actually styled by Cinna?
EB: No, we helped ourselves!
Elizabeth, you seem like the biggest of many fans of the books involved with the film. How do you, as a Hunger Games fangirl, feel about some of the changes that were made?
EB: I think the essence of the books is in the movie, and that to me is the most important thing. If there’s anything that, as a fan, I was missing… it’s really hard to say. We can’t ever be in Katniss’s brain like we are in the books, so we never really know how she feels about anything, except that Jennifer does such a great job of conveying everything with her face, with her eyes. [In the books] I really loved the Avoxes; to me they really represent the brutality of the Capitol, but I think you get that in the movie anyway, so it’s great, I just thought they were really cool characters.
What are you looking forward to filming, from the other books?
LH: There’s a lot of pretty crazy stuff in the third one.
EB: Yeah, I was gonna say! I can’t even imagine the bunker that they live in in the third one…
LH: The third book is wild and crazy and for that to be a movie… it’ll be just extreme.
EB: It’s gonna be intense.
LH: That’s where the whole uprising and rebellion is, so if we’re gonna shoot that it’ll be pretty awesome.
Are you shooting back to back?
LH: We haven’t shot anything else yet.
EB: No, no one’s even read [the second script].
Have you been contracted for three or four movies?
EB: Can we confirm or deny that? I do not believe we can confirm or deny that. I can confirm there are three books. Three books and I don’t know how many movies.
-Did you ever have any concerns about how the violence would be handled in a movie like this?
EB: I had total faith in Gary, from knowing him and knowing how passionate he was about the material. We knew we were making a PG-13 movie, so it’s important to remember that. Tone was discussed constantly on set, how to preserve as much as we could to delineate the stakes of the movie, that it’s life or death, and that the Hunger Games are brutal and horrifying, but at the same time protect the audience as well. I think it’s a great balance.
It’s funny that it’s a film about a society that’s desensitised to violence, but most of the kids who’ll see this movie are probably desensitised to violence and won’t be shocked at all…
EB: I don’t want them to be desensitised. I hope, actually, that this is a conversation starter about exactly where we’re at with senseless violence in the media now.
LH: These characters, too… you feel for them. Most of these kids going into this arena are scared, they don’t want to be there… apart from the select few who are there because it’s glorified. But the violence, it’s not glorified in any way; it’s not like you go “hurrah!” when someone gets killed, it’s pretty horrific since it’s young children who are extremely scared, so you feel for them.
EB: And you feel every death, unlike the sort of completely senseless gunplay in a big action movie that leaves like 30 people dead on the street and no one even thinks about it.
Doing a film like this can lead to a certain heightened level of fame – Liam, you’ve got a very famous girlfriend, has she given you any advice on how to deal with any of the craziness that might be coming?
LH: I think you just keep your head on straight and don’t lose your feet; that’s what most people tell me. I’m very fortunate to come from a great family who are extremely supportive and I always have them to fall back on. And I surround myself with good people who keep me me, and bring the best out of me. I don’t generally hang out with crazy people.
Liam, how was going from The Hunger Games to The Expendables 2?
LH: Yeah, it was a whole different world. It’s pretty amazing to be on set with all those guys, guys I’ve grown up watching. It was probably one of the most crazy sets I’ve been on. I mean, those guys are actually very very calm and professional, and there was never any drama on set, they show up and we do it, but it was really fun to be around them all and see how they are as people and actors. It was a very cool experience.
The Reaping is an incredible scene – can you describe the atmosphere on set that day, with all the children there?
EB: It was 100 degrees...
LH: It was over 100 degrees, and the first shot of the day was 10am or something, and on “action!” it was literally “Action!” “And cut!” because a young extra had collapsed on the ground.
EB: And that continued for three days in a row. They were dropping like flies! It was a lot of hydrating, with these kids.
And I – you know, Effie is in her full regalia the whole time I stood onstage in the sun, so they were kind enough to put me in this weird room – we had to walk a long way, our trailers were not close – so I had to stay close to set, they put me in this backstage area and they brought in an air conditioning unit and blew it directly on me. The air conditioning unit had the temperature on it, and it never got below 87 degrees Fahrenheit. So even with an air conditioning unit blowing directly on me in a room that was like three feet by six feet, it was always hovering around 90 degrees. My full body was drenched. I stood up and sweat poured off me into a puddle. Good times.