The Fire Rises – An Interview with the Cast and Crew of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Star Jennifer Lawrence, director Francis Lawrence and other members of the cast talk about the explosive Catching Fire.

It doesn’t take Jennifer Lawrence long to explain exactly what attracted her to the Hunger Games trilogy of books when asked during a press conference we attended for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. “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,” Lawrence said. “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.” Lawrence, of course, is more than just a fan: unless you’ve been hidden away in District 13, you know that she stars as Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games victor and would-be revolutionary leader in the two films (so far) based on Suzanne Collins’ books. The Hunger Games came out in March 2012 and earned an astounding $408 million at the U.S. box office alone, expediting the production of movies based on the next two books in the series (Mockingjay, the third and final novel, will be split into two films that will arrive next year and in 2015). With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire arriving in theaters this Friday (Nov. 22), the series looks like it could possibly surpass the Twilight movies as the biggest “young adult” franchise of the modern era. The best part is that unlike the five Twilight films, which are about nothing and have ranged from mediocre to incompetent, The Hunger Games books and movies do actually say something. A lot of things actually: They address the threat of fascist rule, the divide between the wealthy, powerful elite and the downtrodden, fear-driven working poor, the roles of women and men in leadership positions, and the pervasive and intrusive nature of reality television. They are surprisingly the first science fiction films in years to come close to the genre’s peak era of the late 1960s and 1970s, when social commentary was integral to the field.Catching Fire amplifies the first movie’s themes, putting its main characters directly in the crosshairs of a dangerous dictatorship.  In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss and her fellow victor, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are tasked with touring the 12 Districts that make up Panem (formerly North America) as the latest winners of the deadly Games. They must pay tribute along the way to all the other combatants who died – which doesn’t help a PTSD-stricken Katniss – and must also pretend to be in love, which doesn’t sit well with the boyfriend left behind, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). With the masses seeing Katniss as a potential symbol of revolution, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) orders up a special edition of the Games in which all the previous victors must compete – and where Katniss will, if Snow has his way, meet her death. “I think that Peeta is angrier in this movie,” offers Josh Hutcherson about Catching Fire’s primary male protagonist. “In the first movie, he was a baker and a painter, 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 [Katniss and Gale].” Superb character actor Jeffrey Wright, who plays returning combatant Beetee in this week’s juggernaut film, expressed similar thoughts about the new film’s expanding scope.  “When I was called, in my case by [Director Francis Lawrence], to be a part of this, I dug in and I realized that there was something very interesting happening here,” says Wright.  “This is epic moviemaking of a scale that we see a lot of now. But at the same time, there are these poignant, relative ideas that are being presented to young developing minds that I think are really essential. They’re not specific, but they’re just presented in an intelligent way that allows each reader or each audience member to place themselves within the world and make these considerations that are relevant to their lives outside of the theater.” Lawrence takes over the directing reins on Catching Fire (and for the rest of the series) from Gary Ross. “I think one of the things that I wanted to make sure of was that there was still an aesthetic unity to all of the movies,” says the director, whose previous films include I Am Legend and Constantine. “I thought Gary had done an amazing job with the world building in Catching Fire. So, we worked with the same production designer to make sure that the Capitol was still built from the same architecture, that District 12 still had the same, almost 1930s Appalachian feel. “We’re going to do the same with Mockingjay and the funny thing about Mockingjay is that we actually get to see a bunch of Districts,” continues Lawrence. “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.”  Joining Francis Lawrence and Jeffrey Wright as newcomers to the Hunger Games films are cast members Sam Clafin (Finnick Odair), Amanda Plummer (Wiress), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee) and Jena Malone (Johanna Mason). The latter, with her quirky and often fiery temperament, seems born to play Johanna, the District 7 tribute who is royally angry over being called back to the Hunger Games again. “I loved every single thing about Johanna Mason,” Malone said. “She doesn’t sugar coat 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. I think that’s a really interesting thing 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 as forms of survival to be able to elevate themselves in the world.” Johanna joins Katniss as one of the strong female characters in The Hunger Games films – a refreshing part of this franchise in an era when even one complex or pro-active woman in a sci-fi or action movie is something of a rarity. “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,” said Elizabeth Banks, who returns as Katniss and Peeta’s chaperone in the Games. “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 in this movie and Gravity, I’m so excited to be seeing such amazing, strong female role models in movies for the 50 percent of moviegoers who are ladies.”  Which brings it all back to Jennifer Lawrence, the young actress at the center of all this, with both an Oscar (for Silver Linings Playbook) and a blockbuster franchise on her resume. With Catching Fire about to light up the box office (first weekend earnings of $180 million are within reach) and two more movies to go, is Lawrence content to be identified with Katniss for years to come? “That was a hard thing to think about — if I was going to be identified for a character for the rest of my life,” she admits. “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.” Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!