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When Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to the Capitol for the Hunger Games, their lives are overtaken by a team devoted to turning them into both TV superstars and shrewd warriors.
This entire process is supervised by Effie Trinket, their jack-of-all-trades escort and PR campaigner. To play the outrageous but equally desperate Effie, Ross chose Elizabeth Banks. The director had worked with her in ‘Seabiscuit’, but she caught his attention for Effie when she wrote him an impassioned letter asking for the role.
“I read the book right when it was published and immediately fell in love,” Banks recalls. “I called everyone I knew the minute that I heard they were making a movie of it. It was a dream of mine to be in it from the get-go, and Effie was the one character I knew I could play.”
Ross was impressed by her enthusiasm but continued going through his usual rigorous casting process, considering a wide range of people. Yet, as time went on, the choice became evident. “Eventually, as I began to really think about the part and what it requires, I saw that it had to be somebody who has comedic sensibilities but, at the same time, isn’t just interested in the comedy,” Ross says. “Liz really understood that and she was able to see Effie in a context that was incredibly important to the story.”
Banks wanted to bring out not only Effie’s perky humor but also her complexity as she juggles her precarious position in the Capitol with the eerie realties of her job.
She’s a very flamboyant person, but I also think she’s scared,” Banks observes. “She sees firsthand the oppression that is going on around her, whereas I think most of the Capitol’s citizens live in ignorant bliss. But she also has the knowledge that, as much as these lives are at stake, her lifestyle is at stake as well, and if she ever pisses anyone off, they could take all this away from her.”
Another beloved character found in the Capitol is Haymitch Abernathy, District 12’s only living Hunger Games victor – now middle-aged, bitingly sarcastic and rarely sober – who becomes the official mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Haymitch may believe the Games are all just a show and winning is as futile as losing, yet he slowly but surely becomes Katniss’ advocate.
He is played by two-time Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson, known for his wide-ranging screen characters in such films as ‘The Messenger’, ‘The People Vs. Larry Flynt’,‘No Country For Old Men’, and the recent ‘Rampart’.
Harrelson was seduced by the sly rebel within Haymitch’s celebrity-savvy soul. “You might say he’s a bit anti-authoritarian, which I can relate to,” remarks Harrelson. “He was a kid who won this thing and then suddenly, he was making money, people were nice to him and he had a nice place to live but he just found it all to be a fraud and absurd.
He starts out not wanting to become emotionally invested in Katniss, because as far as he’s concerned, she’s not going to be around long, but as things go along, he starts to think maybe, just maybe, she has a shot.”
Harrelson and Lawrence embodied the tricky relationship between Haymitch and Katniss. “Haymitch has a lot of friction with Katniss because they’re so similar,” notes Nina Jacobson.
“They’re both scrappy survivors and he can’t help but develop a grudging respect for her. In Woody, you can see the man who has seen and experienced it all and has that weariness. But you can also see that subversive, fiery man who has the intelligence to help Katniss through the Games.”
Ross watched Harrelson not only find the comic side of Haymitch but the disillusionment that drives his savage wit and is upended by Katniss. “There’s a truth and kind of sadness and anger underneath what Woody does in this role,” the director observes. “Even though Woody is amazingly funny, he also brought a real smoldering subtext to Haymitch.”
While Haymitch attends to Katniss’ strength and strategy, her appointed stylist Cinna forges her image, revealing not only his artistic skill with such head-turning outfits as the “Girl on Fire” dress, but a caring heart as well. Taking on the role is Lenny Kravitz, the rock star and actor who gave a memorable performance in ‘Precious’.
“We needed somebody for Cinna who could be strong, sexy and have great appeal without a lot of adornment,” Jacobson observes. “This is a character who is handsome on his own terms and a rock star in his own right. So we got a guy who’s a rock star in real life.”
Kravitz found the character riveting. “Cinna helps Katniss create her vibe and teaches her how to attract viewers during the Games so that she can get sponsors,” he explains. “I think he falls for Katniss as a person, and he not only wants to help her with her styling but as a human being.” He also says working with Lawrence made that easy. “She plays Katniss as someone who really knows who she is and for someone so young, that’s a beautiful thing.”