It's sort of crazy to think that Josh Hutcherson is still only 22-year-old. The Kentucky native has already been a centerpiece of two major studio franchises (“Journey” and “The Hunger Games”), appeared in a Best Picture nominee (“The Kids Are All Right”), starred in an unnecessary remake (“Red Dawn”), voiced a major character in an animated release (“Epic”) and starred in two classic family films (“Bridge to Terabithia” and “Zathura”). His four-year journey as Peeta comes to an end this November, but Hutcherson is actually spreading his wings into his first real adult role this weekend with “Escobar: Paradise Lost.”
Directed by first-timer Andrea Di Stefano, “Escobar” centers on a Canadian surf boarder (Hutcherson) who falls for one of the nieces of the notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro). While the movie's storyline is fiction it was inspired by the tale of a young Italian who made the mistake of getting too close to Escobar's family.
The thriller was shot two years ago and debuted last September at the 2014 Telluride Film Festival. After hitting most European markets in December and January, “Escobar” is finally hitting U.S. theaters. Hutcherson, who just finished filming two James Franco-directed films back to back, sat down earlier this week to talk about the challenges of filming “Escobar,” his desire to direct someday and what's next.
HitFix: How are you doing man?
So, this may sound funny to you, but I saw your movie on a plane on my way to Europe last month. It was playing on Air New Zealand and in fact it was really weird because I interviewed Benicio at Cannes for his new movie 'Sicario' and he was shocked that it was already available on commercial flights.
Oh god. It's kind of nightmarish, but okay.
So, there's actually a compliment here. if you're watching a movie on a plane and it's not good the fact it's on that tiny screen usually makes it worse. And I thought it was great. I was like…
It's like a real test, a really hard test to take.
Exactly. I want to ask you about the movie, but I had a quick question first: when you're on planes, and I know most of the time you're in first class or whatever, how weird is it when you're there and you're seeing people watching your movies?
Oh it's weird. It just makes you so uncomfortable. It happens all the time too. Like especially like the last couple years and 'Hunger Games' has been on the plane all the times, even like in first class or wherever you just look over and there's like the 'Mockingjay' [logo] or what ever and you're just like, 'Holy shit!' Or you see the advertisement on the screens where they start up and they'll have 'Now showing 'Hunger Games''. You're like, 'Oh my god this is so embarrassing.' I just feel so embarrassed.
Do other passengers ever react with a 'Wait I just saw…?'
I really don't get that. Sometimes I get it just in genera, but I don't think anyone's ever connected the two dots together because they're like in their little world, but it's a little uncomfortable.
Do you ever watch yourself?
I don't seek myself out but I like to watch myself and kind of learn because I want to be a director one day and I want to be able to direct myself and whatnot. So, I think it's important to critique yourself and see your ticks or see your kind of go to reactions that you want to change or whatever and I think it's important to watch.
Would you consider this your first adult or close to adult role?
Yeah. I think so. I mean the story takes place over five or six years I think so I go from being like 20 to 25/26 and, so, yeah I do think it's my first adult role. That's one of the reasons why I really liked it a lot too because it was a new journey for me. It was a new character. A new world to step into, a new type of movie. But yeah, it is kind of my first like grown-up sort of type role I think.
The interesting thing about watching film was I immediately thought, 'Oh this must be true.' It seems as though historically it all works, but it's actually an 'inspired by' story. Did that give you any hesitation before you came on board? Were you worried about the historical aspects at all?
I really wasn't because the truth is all the elements involving Pablo are true. Everything that he goes through from the way he [supports] his family, hiding the money, killing the Minister of Justice, and all the events [that lead to him] going to prison? All those events are real events. The manufactured story is my character's point of view. And Andrea was telling me there was a guy who was like a pool boy that Pablo had who was not part of the Pablo family kind of came in and got brought in close. So, it was kind of inspired by that as well. What I like about it is to have a fictional character moving through a non-fiction world it gives you freedom on the perspective of it all and you can kind of show things the way you want them to be shown without having to be tied to a historical narrative. And so with Nick, in my mind he kind of represents a metaphor of the Columbian people. He's kind of this innocent, pure thing, which is like a civilization, and he got seduced by Pablo into this world, then got royally [expletive] in the end and then got the shaft. That's kind of what happened with the Columbian people. They were seduced. He treated them like family and then [went on to do] horrible, disastrous, monstrous things.
The movie is independently financed, but it looks like a studio film at times. There is a ton of action and it has a pretty big canvas. Was it a shorter shoot than someone would expect?
They stretched it quite a bit, which is great. We had around two and a half months I think — ten weeks or so. It's a pretty long time so we were very lucky. We had financiers that were very supportive and we were able to kind of move with us when we needed a little more time or things like that. And Andrea was great about never feeling panicked because I feel like a lot of times with a first time director you can get a sense of 'We got to get this.' They've got frantic energy and Andrea always gave the actors space, because being an actor himself [he understood our needs]. He always let the scene move the way it needed to and didn't really rush us, which is really nice to have.
I know you've done action in the past,but did this feel like the most sort of gritty thing you've done to date?
Yeah. It definitely does. It was really – I really enjoyed it. It just felt more grounded. 'Hunger Games' is great and there's action and stuff, but it's like running away from mutts, CG mutation creatures and things like that and this was just very grounded in reality. It felt like I was operating in this world.
I know you've worked with some huge names during your entire career, but I have to tell you although he's incredibly talented I find Benicio one of the most intimidating people to and sit down with, let alone interacting with him in the context of him playing Pablo Escobar. Hadd you met him before? What was your guy's relationship?
Yeah. He directed me in a short film like a few years back and it was part of this thing called 'Seven Days in Havana and we shot in Cuba together. So, we met on that and got along really great and he was a very relaxed director. He wasn't an intimidating personality in that sense at all. Playing Pablo however, he was very intimidating and a very different kind of Benicio. But, no, we got along great and the scenes where I needed to be intimidated it was easy to be intimidated because he's very good at that.
Did you guys both get on this project because you had worked on the short film together?
There was a connection. We had both been given the script and Benicio, I think, [was sent it] like a year before I did and he like didn't really kind of want to do it at that time or whatever or wasn't sure about it. Then the project kind of resurfaced again when it came to me and I signed on to do it and I didn't know who was going to be Pablo yet. Benicio, because he worked with me, heard that I was going to doing it and he was like, 'Oh, if Josh is going to do it then I'm going to be part of it too.' So, he came on and we kind of ended up like teaming up together to do it, which was cool.
I know you've shot two James Franco movies back to back and when you had the chance to make something in between two 'Hunger Games' movies you did 'Escobar.' Have you been specifically trying to make indies in your off time? I know actors say they never plan out their careers, but…
A lot of people do. I don't think I'm consciously trying to run away from 'The Hunger Games.' I don't think that's the case. I'm not trying to like do something to show me in a different world, but [there are projects] I want to pursue. Also, because I've been doing 'The Hunger Games' now for four years I am looking for things personally that satisfy different sides. The James Franco [films are] super artsy and crazy and weird and then this movie, which is dark and thriller and tense. Very, very different worlds. And that's just because of my personal taste and less about like trying to kind of plan like a [career] trajectory.
It wasn't necessarily in regards to 'Hunger Games,' I was more curious in regards to the studio versus indie dynamic.
Sure. I mean I love independence stuff personally. That's a great energy onset and it always kind of feels really collaborative and free and like you can make a [expletive] you to whatever you want when you're making an independent film in a way. But it still a public art form. You can't do something so off the map that people won't come see it or else…
You might not get to make something else again. So wait, you said you wanted to direct, which I think I've heard you talk about before. Are you working on your own material?
I'm taking my time. I mean 'Hunger Games' is just now winding down. This is my final press tour coming up. So that's going to be ever present I think. But I'm going to have more time on my hands to kind of focus on the things that I want to do and I have around seven projects right now that I'm developing, producing wise, and could act in a couple of them hopefully. I mean they all are in various stages of development and whatnot, but none I really want to direct. And I want more of a film history education before I jump into directing. I feel like I could do it right now, but I want to like prepare myself in the best way possible and I need to see more classic movies because I have really poor knowledge of classic films.
I mean you've worked with some great directors. Are you're afraid you'll do something and think it's great but someone else did it 30 years ago and you didn't know that?
Well, there's a bit of that, but there's also like a bit of earning your stripes. I feel that in order to be a director you need to respect and understand how we got to where we are directing wise and the history of cinema. So, I want to work on that some, but I'm really also trying to find the right story. I've kind of toyed around with some things and I've written a couple of shorts that I like. I'm nervous. I'm being too precious about it. Everybody's tell me just go [expletive] shoot something – do anything.
Right. Because if you make a short and you're not happy with it you don't have to show it to anybody.
Make it for yourself. I've had a lot of people tell me that. But no, the trick is like since I was nine years old I've been so [expletive] lucky working with great people from directors, actors, producers, everything and so I've learned a lot from over the years and I've always been so fascinated with filmmaking and storytelling as a whole so this is definitely something that I'm dying to get involved with.
You've got a long promotional tour ahead for 'Mockingjay.' Do you know what you're doing afterward?
I don't right now. No I don't. I just finished up two of James Franco's projects and then like I said I'm developing quite a few things. So I'm focusing on that for the time being and there's a bunch of stuff that's coming on the horizon, but nothing anywhere near concrete enough to really say it's happening.
“Escobar: Paradise Lost” is now playing in limited release.