One of the most interesting aspects of The Hunger Games is the simple fact that the lead character is not only female, but an exceptionally strong one. She can hold her own in a fight and is an exceptional archer, she’s passionate about the people in her life that she cares for, and doesn’t let anybody use her. As a result, however, the lead male characters in the story, particularly Peeta, seems weaker by comparison. But if you ask Josh Hutcherson, Peeta has his own kind of strength.

Prior to the film’s release I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with Hutcherson, and in addition to discussing the alpha female vs. beta male aspect of the film, he discussed looking to the other books in the series to inform his character, handling the phenomenon and stepping into Suzanne Collins’ science-fiction universe.

It’s kind of a big question to start, but I have to ask: are you ready for this?

I don’t think there’s any way to get ready for it. I’m just taking it day by day and it’s exciting, you know? To be part of something so highly anticipated, and it’s the first time for me and I’m very passionate about the story and the movie. I just saw the movie last weekend and that just reassured me of this whole thing and I loved it. I’m very proud to be a part of it.

How have the mall tours been going?

It was crazy. There were 2,000 people there – I think there were 1,000 there four hours before we were going to get there. So it was incredible for me to see that kind of support. And as an actor your goal is to be successful and with success comes notoriety in this business. And it’s kind of weird because in my mind I never really put two and two together somehow. I just wanted to become successful, I didn’t realize that that came with it at the same time. So it’s a whole different side of it. It’s fun and it’s exciting and it’s very, very, very different.

Is it strange that you’re still three weeks out from release are you’re already seeing this incredible surge?

It is weird. When we first started shooting there was 8 million copies of the book and now there’s 20 something million copies of the book, so it’s grown so much since we first started. But yeah, the saga has been building for so long and now we’re ready for it to come out.

To talk a bit about Peeta, 20 years ago if you there had been a movie like this made it would have featured a male lead and female supporting characters. But here it’s the alpha female, beta male. I was hoping you could talk a bit about that perspective.

I think Peeta’s strong in his own way. That’s something that myself and Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins talked about often was making sure Peeta works cinematically and by that I mean I think he has a little bit more backbone. In the book he’s a great character, but obviously can come across as a little soft sometimes and I think that cinematically he’s much more interesting because he has a bit more backbone. So I think that a few scenes in the cave scene with Jennifer we really wanted to add in a little bit more strength to his character and instead of being kind of sappy with it he’s coming from a place of, “I could die, I need to tell you how I feel about this.” Katniss is such a strong character and the story is obviously told from her perspective, so I think that anybody who is a strong woman can relate to that, and strong women can be with a strong man and it works out that way. But it is different and that could be why it’s so important to people because it’s something that they haven’t seen before.

He’s such a raw, emotional character, he says exactly how he feels, he actually talks about how his parents think of him and Katniss and it’s refreshing to see a male character that’s that open.

Yeah, typically it’s supposed to be “the man,” and “I don’t cry.” And it’s cool for me because I’m a lot like Peeta in that way. I’m very open with how I talk about things and talking to people and my emotions, I really connect with him on that level, especially.

At what stage did you really click with the character? Was it in the audition process or was it while you were on set?

I clicked with him when I read the book. For me, as soon as I read it and I saw how much he was like me in certain ways and he had the same kind of constitution as a person, I connected with that instantly. As far as me rousing out how big a deal this whole thing was, that whole thing didn’t connect until I was on set. I was standing there and the first scene that I shot was actually the scene where Peeta throws the bread to Katniss – and that’s an amazing way to start off a shoot, by the way – I was standing there and then they called action and the rain’s pouring and I have a loaf of bread and I’m in my apron and everything and I look over and there’s Katniss leaning u- against a tree and I was like ,” Oh my god, this is actually happening.” [laughs] To that point it was really too surreal to believe.

To talk about being in that environment, I have to imagine that being in a science-fiction film is really something else because you’re actually inhabiting a completely different world. Particularly having read the books where you only have your imagination, what is it like stepping into, for example, the Capitol and seeing it all brought to life?

It’s pretty cool to see it realized. It’s one of those things where everybody has their own kind of idea of what it looks like in their minds and to finally see it out in front of you is incredible. I thought the same thing about the characters. When I saw Woody [Harrelson] transform into Haymitch, Elizabeth [Banks] transform into Effie… it was just incredible to see those kinds of characters come to life.

I was talking with Elizabeth Banks earlier and she had an answer to this question and I’m curious what yours is. Can you take the events of the next two books in the series and use them to inform how Peeta acts in the first story?

Honestly, not really because as the story happens, those things haven’t happened yet in that world, so therefore if I was trying to bring in elements from the second and third books beside the ones that are already built in, with foreshadowing and what not, it might kind of ruin the performance and make it so we can see into the future, kind of. For me, I like to take it at the same pace as the characters.

That in mind, how much were you able to add your own flavor to the character? Obviously fans are so passionate about Peeta on the page, but some things just can’t work for the movie. Were you able to kind of move into it?

Yeah, definitely. Gary was very open to us bringing elements of ourselves to the roles, which I think is great. I love having a collaborative environment on set and Gary is very collaborative and extremely smart, and while I had my ideas and everything I 100% trusted Gary. Every time that I had a question about something I’d go to him and trust him with all my heart. But we had some freedom to move around.

I was also hoping you could talk about the audition process for this part. When it was up for grabs Peeta was one of the most in demand parts for young male actors in Hollywood. How intense was it sitting outside that room?

It was really intense. I never really, nowhere near wanted a part as much as this and if I didn’t get it I would have lost my mind [laughs]. So it’s a good thing I did. The audition itself was the kind of normal process, I came in and auditioned twice, once with Gary and Suzanne and again with Jennifer and Gary. And it was actually fun because Liam [Hemsworth] and I had the exact same audition schedule. I went in the first time and saw him in the waiting room and then again when I came back to read with Jennifer so it was pretty cool.

And what was it like working with Jennifer, because obviously you have to have the chemistry or it doesn’t work.

It was great. Jen is amazing, we hit it off right away. I met her a couple times before hand and we were from the same place in understanding what that world’s like and she’s a very real person. She’s very genuine and says what she believes and what she thinks and that’s what I admire in a person.

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