Let the Games begin!

Let the Games begin!

Let the Games begin!

First published in Celebrity Interview

As Twilight draws to a close and Harry Potter has reached its epic finale, The Hunger Games - based on the best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins - looks set to become the next big thing. With the first film of three, The Hunger Games, opening in cinemas on Friday March 23, stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson offer their thoughts on the phenomenon, their gruelling training and on-set pranks.

By Shereen Low.

With the sun setting on the Twilight Saga this November and the Harry Potter series embarking on a magical future away from the big screen, there's a fantasy franchise-sized gap just waiting to be filled.

Step forward The Hunger Games.

Based on the best-selling book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the series is already loved by many, including Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who blogged about being "so obsessed" with the futuristic novels within days of the first book's publication in 2008.

The Games refer to an annual televised battle - a twisted punishment for a past uprising and ongoing government intimidation tactic - in which two teenagers from each of the 12 districts in the fictional nation of Panem (the ruins of what was North America) are randomly chosen to compete until only one survivor remains.

Like a cross between 2000's Japanese cult thriller Battle Royale and The X Factor, each 'tribute' has to win audience votes while using their survival instincts to fight for their lives - or be killed.

Oscar-nominated Winter's Bone actress Jennifer Lawrence takes centre stage as Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old from the impoverished District 12 who volunteers to take her younger sister's place to enter the Games, with Josh Hutcherson starring alongside as fellow tribute Peeta Mellark.

"Katniss is this futuristic Joan of Arc - she's a symbol of hope, freedom and revolt, and she's a hero that doesn't want to be a hero," explains Lawrence.

Hutcherson, 19, was also immediately drawn to his role: "I've never connected with a character as much as I have with Peeta, so it was really good to do a role that's close to who I am as a person. He believes strongly in being true to himself, much like me."

Lawrence admits she had a moment's hesitation about signing up, before her mum talked her into accepting the role.

"When I was doing indies and people were asking me why I don't do a studio film, I always said the size of the film doesn't matter. What matters is the script, the story and telling a story you care about," says the 21-year-old.

"This was a story I cared about and I wasn't going to do it because of the size of it. The books are important for our generation to read. We live in a world that's obsessed with reality television and it's completely desensitised us to the shock factor. People's tragedies are used for entertainment - the more tragic, the higher ratings and more entertaining it is.

She adds: "The size of the film definitely made me pause - because it's life-changing. But I don't want to pass on something just because I'm scared."

The actress revealed that X-Men: First Class, in which she played shape-shifting Mystique, gave her a taster of the training involved.

"X-Men was more difficult because it involved gym work, whereas Hunger Games training was more running outdoors and working out in ways you don't realise you're working out. It's like playing on a gigantic jungle gym and swinging around, as opposed to doing 100 pull-ups," she says.

Both stars had to undergo gruelling and intensive training to get into shape. And despite being a natural sportsman, Hutcherson - who has appeared in The Kids Are All Right and most recently in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island - had to pile on 15 pounds of muscle to play Peeta.

"I love stunts and physicality, so that was right up my alley. The dieting took about four weeks but it was a lot of eating. That was the hardest part - eating a lot of protein," recalls the Kentucky-born actor.

"I was eating things I don't like. Not Pop-Tarts sadly, but always grilled chicken breast. By the 10th one of the day, I'm like, 'I can't swallow this bite. It's too much!'"

It was just as painful for Lawrence, who trained with an Olympic archer and had to learn parkour to play free-running expert archer Katniss.

"I had to do lots of running because Katniss never walks anywhere. But I'm not athletic, I move like an idiot, especially when I run," she admits.

The actress, also from Kentucky, is quick to deny rumours that she damaged her spleen during training.

"I was doing wall runs, where I had to run up the wall as hard as I could. All of a sudden, my feet stopped," she says. "So I hit the wall as hard as I possibly could have. I was unbelievably sore, but went to hospital for a scan and I'm totally fine."

She believes the training has paid off: "Josh is faster than me, but I can hit a bullseye. If somebody stood really still, I could probably kill them with a bow and arrow."

Lawrence confesses she once accidentally gave Hutcherson "a concussion" on set, but says it was revenge for a prank he played on her.

He adds: "I got Jennifer pretty bad. I made her pee in her pants after I put a life-size dummy in her trailer. She went in to go to the bathroom and got terrified!"

Both insist that the film, which Collins co-wrote and is executive producer of, does justice to the book.

"We are all genuine fans of Suzanne's work and want to stay true to it. We love what she's trying to say and want to say it," says Lawrence.

Director Gary Ross didn't "downplay the violence" despite the 12A rating, she adds.

"We weren't going to make a watered-down version of what we love. If you take the violence and brutality out of the movie, you take the entire heart out of it," she explains.

With buzz building around the release, Lawrence and Hutcherson are aware that their lives are about to change for good.

"No matter what, my life will never be like this ever again," says Lawrence.

And Hutcherson admits he's taken aback by the fans' anticipation: "It doesn't feel real. I'm a huge fan of the books, so to have so many people excited about the film before it's even out is amazing."

He hopes it will match the achievements of Twilight and Harry Potter but is careful to note it's entirely different.

"It's a very fascinating world with a lot of interesting characters, so I hope people will feel that it fills the void."

The Hunger Games - Supporting cast :: Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne) - Katniss's best friend. Hemsworth says: "Gale thinks the Hunger Games are very wrong. He always felt Katniss and him were each other's only escape from this horrible world they live in."

:: Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) - Katniss's personal stylist and closest confidante. "Cinna tries to develop Katniss's personality so people will like her," says Kravitz.

:: Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) - Effie is District 12's flamboyant PR for the Games. "It was a dream of mine to be in from the get-go, and Effie was the one I knew I could play," says Banks.

:: Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy) - District 12's sole Hunger Games victor and Katniss and Peeta's mentor is sarcastic and rarely sober. "I did try to get into the headspace of the character so I went on a bender - that helped," jokes the actor.

:: The Hunger Games opens in cinemas on Friday, March 23 Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne. See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Hunger Games. Pictured: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). See PA Feature FILM Hunger Games. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lionsgate. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Hunger Games.

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