Jennifer Lawrence can’t say goodbye to Katniss at final ‘Hunger Games’ panel

As the Lionsgate panel begins, I find myself surrounded by drummers, including an entire marching band drum corp standing two feet from me, all of them banging away at top volume while my brain, still sore from the HitFix party the night before, tries to escape from my head.

Welcome to Comic-Con 2015.

Conan O'Brien sounded like an odd choice for moderator when he was originally announced, but of course he was charming and funny and kept things moving. When he took the stage, he snarled, “I'm Team Josh and I'll fight anyone who isn't!”, and was immediately offered at least five fights in response. When he made the announcement about how no one should take any video of the clips that would be shown, he added, “Rest assured I will be shooting all of this on my iPhone, and I'll have it up on the Internet in 40 minutes.”

They ended up screening the new trailer for the film twice, and it's a pretty great trailer. Fans of the series are going to see a lot of familiar faces, and the promise of some pretty large-scale action. Basically, this is the war movie, and as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) leads the rebellion into the Capitol to try to capture or kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), they encounter a cityscape that has been rigged with thousands of traps designed by the Game designers. It's a minefield of clever traps that they face, and we see glimpses of some of them as they go off. One of the fun things about seeing a trailer like that here in Hall H is that they have a sound system that turns the bass in these trailers into a physical force. It is not often that I can feel my hair movie with each new “BWAAAAAAAAA” sound in an action movie trailer.

Director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobsen were the first two brought out, and they were joined by Willow Shield, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, and Jennifer Lawrence. As soon as they were all onstage, Conan gave us a “We're done. Thank you. Good night!”, and they settled in as the audience laughed.

Jacobsen talked about what it's been like for her as a producer, from the time she found the books to now. “We've had amazing material that has captivated audiences, and that has an enormous amount to say.” She talked about working hard to figure out how to make the films pay off in terms of theme, character, and story, and how it's emotional to finish something like this with a group of people who work this well together. “It's emotional for us, but it's emotional for audiences, and we want to deliver for the fans.”

Francis Lawrence promised that this movie puts the emphasis on action, with Katniss going after Snow in a major way. I was struck by how much of an emotional jolt I got from a single shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the trailer. I miss that guy more than I can express. He talked about how the shift from shooting on stages in Atlanta to locations in Europe made a huge difference in the way this shoot felt for him and for the cast. It was definitely bigger, and that scale is reflected in the footage we saw.

One of the things that is most charming about watching Jennifer Lawrence speak to a room full of fans is just how much she struggles with every single word out of her mouth. When asked if there's any single moment from the making of the films that she considers a favorite, she genuinely wrestled with figuring out how to answer that. Willow told her that she should mention the moment from the first film when Katniss steps up to take Prim's place. “That has to be your favorite moment,” she prompted. In the end, Lawrence couldn't name any single thing, so she took the safest option.

“Um, my favorite moment is from the new film, and it's a spoiler, so I can't say it.” She looked very pleased with that answer.

I was surprised to see Conan reading pre-prepared questions from Lionsgate. I've never done that with any of my Hall H panels over the years, and no doubt it's because I would feel weird with someone else's words in my mouth. Conan flat-out joked about the questions, carefully reading one of them. “'When we last left Peeta, his memories had been hijacked, and he was not Katniss's biggest fan.' That's the nicest way of saying 'tried to choke the life out of someone.'”

Hutcherson talked about playing this damaged version of Peeta, struggling to get back to being himself, and while he was very serious, he got derailed when Lawrence said, “You couldn't stay away for long. You couldn't resist… this.” That got him laughing, and that was pretty much the end of the answer.

Liam Hemsworth talked about being glad that Gale is finally getting into the game. “Gale's been on the sidelines for a long time, and he's finally in the mix and a big part of the plans and the ideas behind how they're going to attack the Capitol.” He and Conan started joking that anytime you're on Conan's show, you have to fight him before the taping, with Conan saying that you have to strip to the waist first.

Willow Shields talked about how she feels like the relationship between Katniss and Prim is one of the major driving forces of the series, and how that's changed by the time this final film begins. “Prim gets to be there for Katniss more than Katniss is there for her. She's kind of taking care of Katniss in a way.” Conan told her how mad he was when Prim went back to get the cat in the last film, and then realizing how many cat lovers might disagree, urged the crowd to express their displeasure on Twitter with #ConanCatHate.

As the panel wore on, the cast got giddier. At one point, Hemsworth referred to Josh's character as “Peter,' helped no doubt by his Australian accent, and as they started to bust his balls about it, he practically growled, “Well, who names someone Peeta anyway?” He also promised, “We have a really emotional scene together, and there might be a kiss between Josh and I.”

Josh sighed. “No spoilers, man.”

Nina talked about what the end of the series means to her. “Before this, Katniss tries not to be in the game. Someone else is always calling the shots. This is the story in which she finally takes control of her own story. She makes decisions for herself, and not the easiest ones… that, to me, feels very satisfying.”

When Conan asked if there was a moment where the cast felt like the series was officially concluded, Jennifer described the final day of shooting, which was a scene between her and Woody Harrelson. Hutcherson and Hemsworth showed up to watch them shoot, and then, afterwards, “There's no way to say this that doesn't start rumors, but we held each other and slept like puppies.”

Even as everyone laughed, she continued, “What have we learned over the years about me and public speaking?”

Hutcherson replied, “Don't do it. I have a kill switch here for your mic.”

Conan took questions from Twitter before throwing it out to the audience for a live Q&A, and most of the questions were adoring softballs. He had fun reading out Twitter names like “HemsworthHugs” and “HutcherWife” and “SassyJoshifer.” Jennifer talked about props she wished she could keep, like the orange backpack from the first film, and how they tried to give her a rehearsal longbow instead of the main one she used in the film. “Like I wouldn't notice.”

At one point, the entire cast tried to do the “Mockingjay” whistle, and all they succeeded in doing was making it sound like the “X-Files” theme.

Later, Jennifer teased Josh about holding the microphone while talking. More than any of the specific answers, what is clear is just how playful the relationship is between the cast. There was one question that Jennifer tried to answer, and in her stammering failure, she revealed just how much it means to her to try to get these answers right for the fans. The question asked was whether her characters rubbed off on her while making a film. “I would hope some of Katniss rubbed off on me. We're nothing alike. She's brave, and I'm an actress.”  She struggled with her answer. “What I have in my head is actually pretty interesting.” It was clear what point she was trying to make. In the books, Katniss has this role and this important thrust upon her, and Lawrence feels the same way about getting the role and suddenly finding herself at the center of this pop culture phenomenon. Whether she felt satisfied with her answer or not, it was clear what she was trying to say. “Thank you for your wonderful question. I'm sorry for my horrible answer.”

Talking about the final stretch of the book and adapting that for film and how they had to change things, Jacobsen said, “”In the book, Katniss doesn't know a lot of what's going on around her. There's a period where she's somewhat in the dark. You can't leave your hero passively in the dark waiting for news. We needed to find a way to stay with her and see things through her eyes and stay rooted in her POV. We needed to let an authentic emotional response evolve, and at the same time, we tried to be mindful of still driving towards the conclusion. You want true emotional resolution for these characters.”

By the time they wrapped things up, the cast was getting silly, petting Hutcherson during one of his answers, erupting into giggles over everything. One of the last questions asked from the audience was, “How did Jennifer Lawrence say goodbye to Katniss Everdeen?”

Lawrence considered the question before answering. “I don't feel like it's happened yet. It's still such a big part of my life. These movies really did change my life. The people who are in my life… you guys challenged me. I love you. I think that the changes that happened in my life are so permanent that I don't think I'll ever really say goodbye to her. She feels like she's part of me.” She continued, “When I signed on to these movies, I was 20. Now I'm 24. I remember feeling frustration about Katniss's hesitation to be a hero. I wanted her to be more excited and take charge. As I grew with her, I realized how real and powerful her hesitation was. This war doesn't solve problems… sometimes. I can't remember what your question was, but I remember thinking this could possibly answer it, so I hope that was, in fact, true.”

One last screening of the trailer wrapped things up, and with that, “The Hunger Games” concluded its final visit to Hall H.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” will be in theaters November 20, 2015.