“The Hunger Games” stars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are like night and day when you first see them in person – if only due to the extreme height differential between the two. At 5’7″, Hutcherson has wide, sharp features and a boy-next-door look that reminded me a little of Michael J. Fox in his younger years. Hemsworth, on the other hand, is 6’3″ and brawny – your prototypical leading man.
The chemistry between the duo, on the other hand, was light and easy during the press roundtable I attended; though the two don’t actually have any substantial scenes together in the film, they previously met through Liam’s older brother Chris Hemsworth (you may have heard of him).
“I worked with his brother Chris on ‘Red Dawn’,” said Hutcherson of how the two first came in contact. “And so I”d had a couple barbecues at my house and whatnot, and Chris kind of brought him around and some of [his] other Australian friends and whatnot. …And, actually, it was funny. We had almost the exact same auditioning process [for ‘The Hunger Games’]. We went in and we saw each other in our first meeting and then both got called back to do the chemistr[y reads] with Jennifer, and then saw each other again. Then, actually, when we finally got the roles, Liam had – did you call me and leave a voicemail?”
“Yeah, I called him…to say congrats,” explained Hemsworth. “And I said, ‘Hey, man, congratulations on getting the film. I”m really happy for you. I actually didn’t get the part.’ And [then] I was like, ‘Just kidding! Call me back.'”
So how are the two newly-minted heartthrobs, who play Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) in the forthcoming Suzanne Collins adaptation – dealing with the inevitable “Team Peeta” vs. “Team Gale” fan frenzy?
“We started Team Haymitch [the character played by Woody Harrelson in the film] is what we”ve started,” joked Hemsworth. “We need some T-shirts made up and we”re going to wear them everywhere we go.”
“Everywhere. We won’t change them once, either,” said Hutcherson.
“In fact, I might just tattoo Haymitch”s face onto my face and I could be him,” continued Hemsworth. “That’s what I”m thinking about.”
Of course, the “Peeta vs. Gale” matchup (as far as the two characters’ rivalry for the affections of Katniss goes) is a tad premature at this point in the game, given that – as noted above – they aren’t really ever on-screen together in the first movie.
“We [have] one scene…[where] we have maybe an eye connection,” said Hemsworth.
Joked Hutcherson: “Yeah, it was nice, though.”
The attention now focused on the two young actors (Hutcherson is 19; Hemsworth is 22) is of course quite reminiscent of the fervor that attended the introduction of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner – as Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, respectively – in the “Twilight” movies, though “The Hunger Games” is actually quite a bit more thematically sophisticated than the Stephenie Meyer vampire franchise it’s so often compared to.
“The whole world that [author] Suzanne [Collins] creates is so interesting,” answered Hutcherson to a question as to why the books have struck such a chord with so many. “You know, the idea of combing reality TV with a totalitarian dictatorship government is kind of interesting, as well as, I think, the way Suzanne writes. She”s realized that kids these days aren’t like kids in the “90s, ’80s and [other previous] decades. They”re so much more advanced.
“Like I have a 15-year-old brother you can talk to like he”s a full adult,” he continued. “So she doesn’t condescend…she doesn’t talk down or try to spoon-feed them information. You know, it”s done [in] a very like level playing field kind of way. And I think that’s kind of why adults can read the book and find it just as interesting as kids do.”
The project struck a chord with Hutcherson personally, he says, because he could in many ways identify with Peeta. As his “Hunger Games” character is facing a heightened situation that practically demands he sacrifice his morals and personal identity to get ahead, so has Hutcherson – a child actor who received his first screen credit a decade ago – been faced with such pressures in the course of his Hollywood career.
“I think that Peeta…has [a] really strong belief that [you] can’t just become a piece in someone else’s game, and you”ve got to really be the controller of your own life and who you are as a person. And I believe in that 100 percent,” he told us. “And since I first started acting, you have a lot of chances to kind of change who are and what you believe in, and I never wanted to and I never plan on it. So I think I really connect with him in that way, as well as, I mean, he”s good at communicating with people and like turning it on when he needs to and that’s something that I definitely know [about].”
Hemsworth, of course, is much newer to the Hollywood scene, though with an older brother currently tackling another huge franchise (brother Chris played the title character in last year’s “Thor”, and reprises the role in this summer’s mega-tentpole “The Avengers”), he’s at least been able to glean some sense of what he’s in for and how best to navigate the madness.
“I have two older brothers that have been actors before I have,” said Hemsworth, also referring to his brother Luke. “And Chris has definitely been through a lot of it before me, and it makes it that little [bit] easier to have someone who can guide you in the right direction and tell you how it all is.”
All of that said, neither actor is very worried at this point about the frenzy of attention that inevitably awaits. More than anything, they’re just happy to be working.
“It”s job security,” said Hutcherson, referring to the fact that the rest of the trilogy has yet to be filmed (with talk of the final book being split into two movies, a la “Breaking Dawn”, seeming like a pretty likely eventuality at this stage). “I”m happy about that. I mean, as an actor, it”s such an unsure business, where like you could go months without working.”
“Yeah, I mean, as actors, we want our work to do well,” Hemsworth concurred. “So, at the end of the day, if maybe we have a couple of stalkers, at least we”re doing what we love and we get to make movies that we”re passionate about.”
“What’s a couple stalkers, right?” said Hutcherson. “What’s a couple creepy people that’ll [follow] you wherever you go?”
“Creepy people [that will] maybe lock you in a bag and put you in the back of their trunk or something,” said Hemsworth. “Life is an experience, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“It”s life, guys. What kills you – ” Hutcherson began.
“What kills you kills you, though,” interrupted Hemsworth.
Agreed Hutcherson, without missing a beat: “What kills you kills you.”
“The Hunger Games” hits theaters on March 23.
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