Bringing to life Suzanne Collins’ Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark are The Hunger Games stars Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. The former is best known for his leading role in The Last Song while the latter has appeared in projects like The Kids Are All Right and, most recently, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
In the film, Gale and Peeta are two thirds of a love triangle that forms around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young girl from one of the poorer Districts of what was once North America. She takes center stage in the new nation of Panem when she volunteers to take her sister’s place at the annual “Hunger Games,” a bloody winner-take-all competition in which 24 teens fight to the death for the amusement of the evil Capitol. Also participating in the Games is Peeta while Gale, left behind in their shared District, can only watch Katniss’ fate on the television broadcast.
ComingSoon.net had the chance to speak with Hemsworth and Hutcherson in the second of several conversations with the cast and crew that we’ll be featuring between now and the film’s release on March 23rd. If you missed our interview with Lawrence, you can check it out here.
Below, the two male leads discuss the production, the fandom and the future of the franchise.
Q: As in the books, there’s a tension between Peeta and Gale. How do the two of you work together to build that?
Josh Hutcherson: I think the rivalry between Peeta and Gale is an unspoken tension, because they never really have it out. Its never like Hey, shes mine! Were in the reaping, but I dont know if were in the same shot once. Eye contact, once?
Liam Hemsworth: Its pretty unspoken at the moment.
Hutcherson: 100% unspoken.
Q: You both also have to play up the sense of romantic pining.
Hutcherson: Ive pined a few times in my day.
Q: Josh, how involved did your training get?
Hutcherson: Physically, it was pretty similar to what Id done before, but what was different was that I had to put on weight, which I hadnt done before. I put on fifteen pounds of muscle, so that was a lot of eating chicken and a high protein, low-carb diet. Also a lot of heavy lifting and a 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.
Q: I assume you’re both ready for the sequel?
Hemsworth: Oh yeah.
Q: Liam, you’re playing a character that really only gets developed in the later books. How does that change how approach his role in the first one?
Hemsworth: At this point, Im happy to be part of something special. As an actor I liked to choose scripts that Im passionate about.
Q: Do you read all the books to get a better sense of where your character is going?
Hemsworth: Yeah, I read all the books before I met with anyone about the movie. Im a fan of the books.
Q: Theres a tricky part to the Peeta character in that we dont know how much hes telling the truth, and how much hes playing to the audience. How is it giving a performance that contains another performance?
Hutcherson: Its interesting because, in the book, you have Katnisss internal monologue and dialogue to help you understand that shes confused about Peeta. 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’ 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 its got a lot to do with the structure of the film.
Q: Taking someone as decent as Peeta is easy to screw up as an actor, making him come off as holier-than-thou. Did you actively try to strike a balance to make sure he was grounded and still well-motivated?
Hutcherson: I think that came from his self-deprecating humor. I think those that are holier-than-thou dont make jokes. They take themselves too seriously and Peeta doesnt take himself too seriously. This is what I believe in and Im comfortable with that and I can make a joke here and there.
Q: Peeta – once hes in the Hunger Games seems to go through the stages of grief about being in the contest. Was that something you developed consciously?
Hutcherson: Definitely, when you get chosen to go into the games, its more or less a death ticket, so its disbelief. Shock is the first thing he goes through. What you dont 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 hes weirdly okay with the fact that he probably wont make it out of the games and help Katniss survive.
Q: Whats it like being a romantic lead and an action star? Whats the great appeal of that blend?
Hemsworth: As an actor, Im 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.
Hutcherson: Doing action, the thing is, its cool to watch it. As a guy, I like seeing it. With the romance thing, its something everyone can relate to. Once you have love as a motivator in a story, I think everyone can do anything. Once someones in love they can do the craziest thing that no ones ever thought of. You have that excuse to do whatever you want.
Q: Are you guys worried about the overwhelming phenomenon aspect that is “The Hunger Games”?
Hemsworth: We love making movies. We got into the business to make movies. At the end of the day, whether youre doing a low budget film or a big budget film, you want it to do well and you want people to see it. Thats the whole point. You want to put some kind of message in it.
Hutcherson: 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 youre actor and you become successful, you become well known. And thats just part of the business.
Q: Twenty or thirty years ago, the lead character would probably have been a man. In that, Gale would become the girl at home and Peeta, the girl in the field. Did you do much to explore that role reversal?
Hemsworth: More power to them. I think thats the appeal of the book. You have this young, courageous, strong woman whos doing unbelievable things, and Im all for it.
Hutcherson: And Jennifer is perfect for this role. Shes such a strong person, on screen as well. Having a character that powerful as a woman is amazing.
Q: Whats it like working with Gary Ross as a director?
Hutcherson: I love Gary.
Hemsworth: Hes amazing. Ive been a fan of his since “Pleasantville,” and I love that movie. Hes a great director to work with, because hes very open and he’s trying everything possible and getting it from every different angle. Hes energetic, keeps everyone on their toes, and keeps the set alive. He’s just open to your ideas.
Hutcherson: And hes 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 its s–t, the movies going to be s–t as well. But hes 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.
Q: Does he give you the freedom to improv?
Hutcherson: There was improv but we didnt need to.
Hemsworth: Hes an open enough person to try, but if it doesnt work, we move on.
Q: One of the real-world things connected pining love is music. I’m curious if you ever made use of songs to inform your performance.
Hutcherson: Sades No Ordinary Love! (laughs) Musics a huge part of my life, but I cant think of anything. Ive 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.
Q: What did you each take away personally from the experience?
Hemsworth: Every job I do I learn more. Working with an actress like Jennifer and a director like Gary, I learn more again. I learn more with every job, and Im very thankful for where I am.
Hutcherson: Every experience on this film was so much fun for me. Its great to see a movie with such an intense subject and a dramatic story line and still have fun on set. Its something I learned, as Liam said, you work with amazing people, like Jennifer and Woody and Lenny. Its a great experience.
The Hunger Games hits theaters on March 23rd. Check back between now and then for more interviews with the cast and crew.
(Photo Credit: Apega / WENN.com)