Interview: The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson

We chat to Peeta Mellark himself about hanging out with Woody Harrelson.

One of the many good things about The Hunger Games (released 23rd March) is the character of Peeta Mellark, and the performance of Josh Hutcherson.

Gary Ross’ powerful adaptation of the dystopian novels by author Suzanne Collins stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a poverty-stricken teen forced to fight to the death in a post-war America split into 12 industrial districts. The Hunger Games of the title have been held annually for the last 74 years, as a way for the totalitarian Capitol to manipulate the poor workers. Every year in a blood-freezing ‘reaping’, a boy and a girl are picked by lottery to represent their district as ‘tributes’, with the 24 children forced to kill each other in televised games. When Katniss volunteers to save her 12-year-old sister, she’s partnered with Peeta (Hutcherson), knowing only one of them may survive.

As Katniss begins an epic tale of courage, sacrifice and defiance in the dangerous forest the games are held in, she and Peeta become both the manipulator and the manipulated. Read our review here.

DIY met up with Hutcherson in his London hotel back in February for an intimate round table interview. The 19-year-old former child actor is a movie veteran, so seems completely at ease with the impending madness of life as a franchise star. He recently made an impression as the son of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right, and we’re really hoping his comedy-horror Detention makes it over here after wowing FrightFest attendees.

When we meet the relaxed and friendly Hutcherson he’s marvelling at the ‘hustling and bustling’ streets of London, laughing as he didn’t realise everyone walked so much in the UK. We settle down for a chat about hanging out with co-star Woody Harrelson, auditioning in front of Collins herself and seeing his face in newsstands.

Did you read the books before you got the script?
With these books I read them when I heard they were making the movies, as I hadn’t heard of them until that point. I found out they were wildly popular among all ages. I read the whole series in a week, and I couldn’t put it down. As soon as you finish each book you have to pick up the next one or you’ll go crazy! It’s like crack! I read so many scripts - that’s my main literature that I read. When I’m not reading scripts I like to read books about psychology and sociology and non-fiction.

How involved was Suzanne Collins in the making of the film?
She was very involved. It was great actually, as she was in the first audition that I had, which was mildly traumatising. To walk into the room and see the author of the book! She gave me a call when I got the part, saying ‘if there’s anything you need, here’s my cell phone, my home number, my email, just let me know’. She’s so sweet and she was on set a bunch. It was great to have her there, as it felt it gave the fans a sense of calm to know they weren’t just giving it to Hollywood to make whatever version they want. She was great at making us not feel intimidated, she was aware of it. She knows we are actors who make our own interpretation of it, said she can’t wait to see what we do with it. Like, excited to see it move into the next medium. She was on board to make little adjustments to make it the best movie possible. She offered herself up for any questions, but the [character] was all in the books. I’ve never read a character in my life who I’ve felt was so much who I am as a person, and stood for the same things I stood for. When I was reading it, I thought how has Suzanne written a book that is who I am. Everything about Peeta I believe in 100%.

Before signing on, did you think about the Twilight thing, and how your life could become like theirs?
I didn’t think about that when I signed on. For me, the reason I do movies is because I love acting and playing different roles. When I read these books, I connected with Peeta on so many levels, and what I believe in is what he believes in. I would’ve died if I had not gotten to play this role. That didn’t enter my mind until after the fact: ‘oh wow, there’s that too…’ It’s exciting to have that support from fans.

What was Gary Ross like as a director?
He’s a brilliant human being, an incredible director and writer. He’s so specific in what he wants, and I’m a very specific actor who likes to ask a million questions about every little detail. So to use the same language was fantastic. We’re so lucky to have him direct this and the next movies as well. I can’t even describe how much I love him.

Is it fair to say that there won’t be any sugar-coating of the brutality, and it will be quite violent?
It has to be, as it’s part of the essence of the books, capturing how brutal it is. One of the big points of the story is that these kids are forced to be in these situations. It was tough though to find that balance between staying true to the book and the essence of the brutality and alienating the audience with gory visual things. You have to make it for a huge audience. One the reasons Gary Ross was hired is because he knew how to make it work in all aspects.

If you were entered into the Games, how good would you be at surviving?
I’m a modest person, I swear to God, but I think I’d be really good in The Hunger Games, as I’m a very outdoorsy person. I love the wilderness, I grew up playing in the woods, camping and hiking. I’m fast, I play sports, I’ve done fighting training - I think I’ll be all right! I might have a good chance of survival. My downfall would be the Careers, who are trained to kill. They have a disconnect when it comes to killing people, so that would be my biggest problem. I would try to survive as long as possible without having that face-to-face conflict.

What was the hardest thing you filmed?
SPOILER The fight scene at the end of the movie with Cato and Katniss, that was one of the tougher scenes to shoot, physically. We shot it at night, and it was a three-night shoot. We had this whole fight choreographed and it was so hot and humid we were sweating so much, so it was really physically challenging. END SPOILER

What was your favourite scene to film?
SPOILER Probably the scenes between Katniss and Peeta in the cave. It’s the moment when… the whole time Katniss is questioning whether she can trust Peeta, and Peeta’s been, all of his life, not telling Katniss how he feels. And that moment when he’s in a fever delirium on his deathbed he finally admits to her how he feels, and she finally is able to trust him, and as an actor that’s the big turning point for the character, so that was really fun to play. Even as a reader, that was my favourite part to read, it was like ‘Yes! He finally said it!’ END SPOILER

Are fans going to be split into Team Peeta and Team Gale [Katniss’ childhood friend]?
They want to make it out to be a bit of a rivalry between Peeta and Gale, but it’s really not. With Peeta, what I love about him so much is that he’s very true to himself the whole time, and believes in maintaining himself as a person no matter what he’s faced with. So I think that would be my big push for why people should be Team Peeta!

How was the atmosphere on set, with all the fellow tributes?
It was great. One of my favourite things about acting is getting to interact with really cool people. Everyone they cast in the movie I love so much. The tributes were incredible. It was strange to go from a scene where you have to be terrified of them, and then be hey, what’s up, high five, let’s go get some lunch.

Were you at all starstruck by the big names in the cast, such as Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson?
These are people I’ve looked up to my whole life, and now they’re working with me, and being in movies I’m in - it’s incredible. Woody Harrelson, out of all the cast members in the movie, is the one whose movies I’ve seen the most - White Men Can’t Jump is one of my favourite mvoies ever. Working with him was an honour, and now we text and talk all the time. He’s actually a friend of mine! He’s not just Woody Harrelson, he’s my friend! How is this even possible, that’s amazing!

Jennifer Lawrence sings Rue’s lullaby in the film - how’s her voice?
I haven’t seen it! I haven’t seen the movie and I wasn’t there when they shot that. She likes to play down her singing skills, and will say she’s a horrible singer and hated having to sing. But I’ve heard her sing a little bit and she’s not a bad singer at all. I think she did a great job. [On whether he would sing ‘Safe and Sound’] No, and thank God, as I cannot sing at all! I’m quite happy that that never arose.

Peeta’s a baker - if we came round to your house, what would you cook for us?
I can bake! I can make a really good French apple pie with crumbles on top. I’m more a grill kind of guy when it comes to the main course. If I was going to make a fancy dinner, it would be steak or chicken, but if it was a barbecue it would be burgers.

Do you get embarrassed seeing your face on newsstands?
For me the most embarrassing part is when my friends are like, ‘look what I have!’ It’s one of those things that’s very cool to have that sort of recognition. But at the same time it’s kind of embarrassing and kind of surreal. You see yourself in a magazine and say, oh I remember doing that shoot! You don’t realise it’s a national publication that millions of people read. One of my best friends is Avan Jogia, who’s an actor on TV, and I’ve been friends with him for five years. My roommate Andre isn’t in the industry. He owns a marketing company that does charities, and we’re best friends and hang out all the time.

Did fans of the book show up on the set of The Hunger Games?
Lionsgate were so tight when it came to security on location. When we walked from our trailers to set, or to our cars, they built like barricades so people couldn’t see the costumes. One time we were in North Carolina, and it was the weekend, and I got into the hotel lobby and there were two girls who had driven nine hours on the chance I would be there. They had a bunch of stuff for me to sign and everything. They have their ways! All that pressure was washed away as soon as I got on set as I started acting, and doing what I loved. When I was in in New York City for the premiere release of the trailer on Good Morning America, one of the fans had made me a hand-knitted scarf, and gave it to me out of nowhere. It was one of the nicest things a fan has ever given me, for free!

Can you remember when you first realised you wanted to be an actor?
I honestly dreaded doing school plays. I hated it so much, not because I had stage fright, but because I thought the subjects were cheesy. They were like 1950s shoo-bop showaddy waddy and it made me mad. One time I was doing a grandparents day show at elementary school when I was probably eight years old. They wanted me to sing these horrible ’50s songs, and I was okay, fine I’ll just go up there and mouth the words ‘watermelon’ over and over again and pretend you’re singing. So I went up there and mouthed ‘watermelon, watermelon, watermelon’ all angry and pissed off. Afterwards, my grandmother came up and asked ‘were you singing watermelon up there?’ I loved entertaining people and my family, but I never wanted to do it in a school play. My first movie was Miracle Dogs for Animal Planet, which was about these dogs who could lick people and heal them. I loved doing it, and thought, if they keep on hiring me, I’ll keep on doing this. They have, thankfully.

Have you treated yourself to anything special since earning?
Once I started making money, my biggest goal was to start taking care of my family. So as soon I was able to do that I got them a nice house. They gave me everything I have today, and all the tools I have as an actor came from my parents and brother and they keep me very humble. He kicks me right down! They are my number one thing in life.

Click here to read our interview with Jennifer Lawrence.

Click here to read our interview with Lenny Kravitz.

Trailer for The Hunger Games below: