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Sure, acting is cool; you get to be the face of a movie and play great characters, but there are also a ton of restrictions when it comes to doing your own stunts. You can’t have your lead actor taking much of a risk, right? In come stunt doubles like Tara Macken.
Macken’s done stunt work on a slew of projects including Nikita, The Lincoln Lawyer, In Time and more, and now she’s adding The Hunger Games to her list. Macken is on board as one of District 4’s tributes, a tribute that quickly rises to the top, joining those born and bred for the games, The Careers.
Macken really gets the best of both worlds when it comes to The Hunger Games. She’s representing a district and is taking on the role all on her own, but also gets to unleash some of her wicked action and combat abilities. In honor of the film’s approaching March 23rd release, Macken took the time to dish on her experience making the movie as well as her rise to the top in the stunt industry.
Check it all out for yourself below.
What came first, the script or the book?
Tara Macken: I didn’t know anything about the book until I had to audition for it and then I read it after the audition.
When you read it, did you just read it to read it or were you focusing on your character?
I just read it with an open mind because I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get this work,’ or, ‘I want to be this character;’ I just really wanted to enjoy it. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter, I love reading, so it was really good to find another book that I could be obsessive about for the weekend.
What was it like when you got to the end and you realized what you’re a part of?
It was pretty awesome. Growing up and doing acting, you’re like, wow, I would have died. I would have been the happiest person to be on Harry Potter or Twilight. It would be my dream to be any of those characters on those movies. And so it’s actually funny to be able to read a book, really enjoy it, and then be a part of it, it was a pretty surreal feeling.
As a Harry Potter fan, how’s it been looking at this like it could be the next Harry Potter?
They’re two completely different styles of books. The stories are completely different and the whole world. I feel like it’s similar in the sense that you have a huge fan following and also, I think originally Harry Potter was meant for kids, it was meant for a younger audience and then the audience grew as the books progressed whereas, The Hunger Games, you’re also targeting a pretty youthful audience, but everyone loves it. One thing I really love about The Hunger Games is that it has a very strong female movie character, which, you know, Harry Potter obviously has Harry Potter and then you had his sidekick and then you have Hunger Games and you have Katniss. It’s really cool to be able to see a very inspirational, young female character fight for her family and fight to change a system.
How about your character? We don’t know much about the girl from District 4 from the book, so did you develop your own backstory for her?
Yeah, absolutely. I tried to make the character as similar to my situation as possible, to make it real. I’m originally from the Philippines and I grew up on the beaches, so I thought it was perfect casting when I found out that I was going to be representing District 4, which is the fishing district. And then also, in the book, my character’s supposed to be one of the bigger, stronger tributes and I think it goes hand in hand and they really thought deeply when it came to casting each of the tributes. It’s good that you have a big background in stunts and action; I thought it was extremely fitting for me to be a stronger tribute and definitely a tribute that’s living in the fishing district. I think that really played to my advantage. And, in addition, my tribute partner, in the book he’s supposed to be a really small tribute, like the youngest of all of them besides Amandla [Stenberg], so it was really good as a contrast to have me there. I’m not the biggest of people. I’m only 5’4” so to have a tribute partner who is 4’10”, I think aesthetically it helped develop my character.
Did Gary Ross give you any pointers?
He definitely helped when it came to getting the feeling for it, especially for the Cornucopia scene. He worked one-on-one with each person. Certain characters wanted to be in the arena and actually enjoyed fighting, like the career tributes. They’re trained from a young age to be in these games and so for us, it was a matter of really thinking about our character and our motives for being there and why we were chosen and whether or not we wanted to be there in the first place. Gary would talk about our characters so we would understand the emotion that these characters are gonna go through, knowing that they could die in an instant. They could die as soon as they fall off the platform and explode. It was pretty hard in the sense of the level of fear, when it came to the battle scenes just because you’re there with all your peers, these awesome actors and you’re all having fun and this is really cool, but at the same time, you know that you have to live this character, live as this person who’s actually really scared and trying to survive and trying to not die in the next five seconds.
You’ve got a very extensive stunt background, so how would you describe your character here? Is it a lot of stunt work or does she get some quieter, one-on-one moments?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk that much about that … I guess you have quieter parts when it comes to the training facility, but that’s pretty much it because the majority of the time for most of the tributes, all of our action resides in the cornucopia, in the big battle scene.
And how about during the opening ceremony? Do you get a dress?
Oh yeah, that was a lot of fun. When I read the book, I was envisioning the costumes and they go into great detail describing how every district looks so it’s kind of a trip to finally be in a position where everybody had really unique and pretty avant-garde costumes that apply to their district. It was definitely a very cool experience. On the chariot and to have these awesome costumes, it was just cool. We had about 700 extras that day to play the audience watching and so it was really quite a trip to see 700 people dressed up in all these pretty flamboyant costumes.
So what is it that made you want to be a stunt person?
To be honest, growing up I never knew that stunting existed as a career or as a job. My family’s all doctors and engineers, so definitely not the route they had expected of me. When I came down to LA, I was a dancer and a gymnast and an actress in school, so when I moved down to LA, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna do acting and dance,’ and little by little I found stunt people and I’m like, ‘Wait. What? You can actually do this for a career? This is awesome!’ Growing up I was kind of climbing trees and falling on my head just for fun, so this is basically my extension of me playing and getting paid for it. [Laughs]
You’ve got a lot of really impressive stunt work under your belt already, so are there any aspiration to become a stunt coordinator?
I think I would eventually like to, but it’s so hard to say. I think I’d be able to do it on a smaller scale because I can’t even envision myself being responsible for the safety of the action for an entire movie. So it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility. I think it’s something that as a stunt performer, I probably will have to encounter in the future and I’d definitely do it to the best of my ability.
Is there any one stunt you look back on as the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
[Laughs] Absolutely! I do a lot of martial arts, a lot of wirework. I guess the coolest thing I’ve done would be repelling out of a helicopter with four other Navy SEALs for a Nike commercial. That was the most exciting because I’d never had the opportunity to jump out of a helicopter all day long with a bunch of train killers essentially.
To be honest, I got really excited watching the trailer. Not because I was just in it, but, you know, when you’re on set and you’re working 14 or 16 hour days, filmmaking can get mundane or very repetitive because you’re doing scene after scene, so you forget how exciting the project is once it’s all together. Sometimes you do think it’s just a job. You’re like, ‘Okay, I guess I could do this scene again,’ and it’s ten takes. But then when I watched the trailer, you don’t have in your head the music they had envisioned or how they were gonna edit it. You just know the book and the characters and you know the situation that you’re currently in and so I guess when I was able to see it all put together in Gary Ross’ imagination in the form of a trailer, it gave me chills. I was just like, ‘Wow, that’s some powerful stuff.’ I think everyone’s gonna be pretty blown away and excited by how Gary puts everything together and makes this book come to life.
Looking ahead for the franchise, playing a District 4 tribute, do you have any thoughts on who should play Finnick in Catching Fire?
I’ll get back to you on that one. That’s one to really ponder about! [Laughs]
What up next for you? Anything lined up?
I was one of the lead stunt doubles on G.I. Joe: Retaliation. I doubled a ninja. My character’s name is Jinx. So that’s coming out this summer, which I’m really excited about. And then I also did stunts on Battleship, which I believe is coming out this year also and then I’m guest starring on an episode of Children’s Hospital and I’m playing Henry Winkler’s daughter. It was cool just to be The Fonz’s daughter. I’m like, ‘Yah! Look at me doing stuff with Fonz. This is awesome!’