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Though he’s been involved in sports since he was a little kid, Josh Hutcherson had to put on 15 pounds of muscle for the role of Peeta in the thrilling box office succes ‘The Hunger Games’. “I had to eat a lot of food and work out hard five days a week, with a lot of heavy weightlifting,” he explains. “The training was rigorous but it worked. And I loved doing all the running, jumping and evading people.
Stunt trainer Logan Hood adds: “We had Josh eating a ton and doing a crash program of heavy push and pull exercises. We had such a short lead time, but he jumped right into it.”
The muscle building was one thing, but finding the competitive edge necessary for the Games was something else again. “We had to learn to go from hanging out with your fellow actors to finding all kinds of fear and aggression against them. It was a very drastic transition every day, but we had amazing actors who brought that out physically,” says Hutcherson.
Alexander Ludwig especially had his work cut out for him as the ferocious Cato. “The fight training was extremely intense,” Ludwig admits. “I trained and trained and trained because I really wanted to be skilled the way Cato is. It was a great experience because I got to learn a lot of cool stuff, diving over things, doing flips, and more. I wanted to incorporate it all in the film, because I didn’t want to let any of what we learned go to waste.”
Dayo Okeniyi also had to do a lot of training to play Thresh. “I had to gain about 20 pounds so I went on a rigorous protein diet, did bodybuilding exercises, trained with swords, trained with boxing, and trained hand-to-hand combat for two months. But I love that stuff, so it was awesome.”
The entire cast was awed to see the results of their work ethic. “We were doing a lot of fun things like somersault rolls, balance boards, jumping on high blocks and obstacle courses,” recalls Jacqueline Emerson who plays Foxface. “But suddenly, you realize you’ve built all kinds of strength and stamina.”
Like the Tributes, the cast also had to endure the mercurial threats of shooting in the deep woods, which ranged from extreme weather to wild bears – not a complete surprise, given they were shooting in an area of North Carolina known for having the highest black bear density in the United States. “At times, if felt like we were all participating in the Games,” remarks Jon Kilik. “We were literally confronting snakes, bears and lightning and that is something you feel on the screen.”
“It was brutal at times,” Jack Quaid admits. “We had torrential downpours, flooding, scorching heat and then a bear would wander onto the set. But it was an amazing bonding experience. For most of us, this is either our first or second movie, and here we were flung into this crazy world. We definitely all had a great story to tell about what we did on our summer vacation.”
In the end, Ross wanted that heady mix of Katniss’ exhilaration, adrenaline, mortal fear and moral dilemmas to transfer directly to the audience as the characters battle to survive. He knew there could be no holding back from the character’s raw emotions and tough decisions. “The beauty of what Suzanne did in the book was to always be honorable and never exploitative,” sums up Nina Jacobson. “She achieved that so deftly and Gary set out to keep that part of The Hunger Games’ legacy.”
For Suzanne Collins, that legacy is most of all about provoking young minds to think about the direction of the world’s future. As she told The New York Times about her hopes for The Hunger Games’ impact:
It’s crucial that young readers are considering scenarios about humanity’s future, because the challenges are about to land in their laps. I hope they question how elements of the books might be relevant in their own lives.
About global warming, about our mistreatment of the environment, but also questions like: How do you feel about the fact that some people take their next meal for granted when so many other people are starving in the world? What do you think about choices your government, past and present, or other governments around the world make? What’s your relationship to reality TV versus your relationship to the news?
Was there anything in the book that disturbed you because it reflected aspects of your own life, and if there was, what can you do about it? Because you know what? Even if they’re not of your making, these issues and how to deal with them will become your responsibility.