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Originally published March 17, 2012 at 5:30 AM | Page modified March 18, 2012 at 7:28 AM

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Jennifer Lawrence: 'Hunger Games' important for 'our generation'

An interview with "Hunger Games" stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth in advance of the late-night March 22 Seattle opening of the movie based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling book series.

Special to The Seattle Times

Faces of the franchise

WHERE HAVE YOU SEEN the "Hunger Games" stars before?

Jennifer Lawrence (who plays Katniss): "Winter's Bone," "X-Men: First Class."

Liam Hemsworth (Gale): "The Last Song," Australian TV series "Neighbours."

Josh Hutcherson (Peeta): "Bridge to Terabithia," "The Kids Are All Right."

Coming soon

'The Hunger Games'

Opens late Thursday night in Seattle-area theaters. Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images — all involving teens. For showtimes and a review, go Thursday to www.seattletimes.com/movies or pick up Friday's MovieTimes.
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Good movies spark thoughtful conversations and deep impressions that remain lodged in the mind long after the flashing images leave the screen. "The Hunger Games" movie may or may not do that for its fans — we'll find out when it opens late Thursday night — but it's already had that effect on the film's lead actors.

Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson took time out for a group interview before heading to University Village last weekend for the final event in a six-city mall tour before the film's Hollywood premiere. Dressed in jeans and propping their feet on a coffee table at The Fairmont Olympic hotel in downtown Seattle, the three actors joked good-naturedly about making the film and their laid-back relationships with each other.

But they grew more serious when they discussed the movie's dystopian story, in which teenagers are forced to compete to the death on a government-sponsored reality TV show in a ravaged future America. In the story, the games are payback for a long-ago rebellion by the nation's 13th district and a brutal reminder of the tyrannical central government's all-encompassing power.

All three had read Suzanne Collins' best-selling Hunger Games books before they even met with anyone about the film.

"I thought that they were such an important read for our generation, and then I found out they were making it into a movie, and I was like, 'Oh, great, another great book series is going to be ruined by a movie,' " said Lawrence, who plays the main character, 16-year-old Hunger Games competitor Katniss Everdeen.

She felt better after she met the film's director and co-writer, Gary Ross, whose previous films include "Seabiscuit" and "Pleasantville." Ross, who worked with Collins to write the film script, was also a fan of the books.

"He understood that it's not a bad-ass story; it's not James Bond or Lara Croft," Lawrence said. "It's a sad, sad, horrible circumstance."

It's hard to overstate the zeal of the story's fans. An astonishing 26 million copies of Hunger Games books have been printed since the first book's debut in 2008, according to its publisher, Scholastic, and the first book has been on The New York Times best-seller list for three consecutive years. The film version is already headed for blockbuster status: According to the Hollywood Reporter, advance ticket sales ramped up at a world-record pace, surpassing previous record holder "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse."

Taking a page from successful book-turned-movie series based on the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" books, the "Hunger Games" production company, Lionsgate, plans to turn the three novels into four films.

Like many others who've read them, the actors say one reason for the books' popularity is the way they speak to our own reality.

Hutcherson, 19, plays Peeta Mellark, a schoolmate who, like Katniss, is chosen to represent District 12 in the Hunger Games and becomes both her ally and adversary.

The Capitol, the seat of power in the Hunger Games, reminds Hutcherson of Wall Street, while the rest of the population bears similarities to what has come to be known, in today's America, as the 99 percent.

While we haven't come close to a society in which teens must compete to the death, "as far as the disconnect between the people who run the country and the people who live in the country, I think it's huge, and it's growing," he said.

Hemsworth, who plays Katniss' hometown friend Gale Hawthorne, said the books dealt with the way adults treat children, a topic long important to him and his family.

"My dad's worked in child protection for 23 years, and a big part of these stories is child abuse," said Hemsworth, 22, an ambassador for a children's charity in his home country of Australia. In the story, "no one's stopping it, no one's trying to stop it. You have people who want to stop it, but they're powerless."

The film has a particular resonance for the current generation of teens and young adults, who have grown up not only in an age of war and economic upheaval coupled with an intense interest in entertainment — even when it comes at others' expense.

"We're the generation that's obsessed with reality television and watching other people's tragedies for entertainment, watching people's lives fall apart while we eat popcorn," said Lawrence, 21.

Of course, as film actors, Hemsworth, Lawrence and Hutcherson are right in the middle of America's obsession with pop culture, an obsession evident in the thousands of screaming teenagers who turned up at the U Village event. Do they see themselves in the film's characters, whose wardrobes, hair and makeup are done by professional stylists so they'll be more appealing to the TV-watching crowd?

"I had that (thought) when I was reading the book, when [Katniss] was wearing clothes that weren't comfortable and she wasn't herself, where all of a sudden she has to make people like her. I was like, 'Huh. I know how that feels,' " said Lawrence, who shot to fame when she played the lead character in Debra Granik's Oscar-nominated "Winter's Bone." (That film was introduced to local audiences at Seattle International Film Festival in 2010, where it garnered Lawrence a Golden Space Needle award; the young actress was in town for the festival premiere but got food poisoning and didn't make it to the screening.)

The actors realize that for them, unlike the book's characters, the spotlight is a choice. "I know how fortunate I am to be here and doing this job, for me to do things that I love. I'm just really grateful for it," said Hutcherson.

The three lead actors were happy to work with some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) and Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman).

Despite the dark and physically taxing subject matter they were portraying, the three said they had a relatively easy shoot in the woods of North Carolina. Hutcherson took Hemsworth to Kentucky, where he and Lawrence grew up, for a couple days during a break in shooting. (Highlights: White Castle burgers and cornhole beanbag games.) And despite the physical nature of the story, in which characters are almost always chasing or being chased, no one got hurt. Well, almost no one.

"I gave him a concussion," Lawrence said, referring to Hutcherson. "It was a beautiful kick, though ... It was exactly to the temple. The stunt coordinator was just really impressed. We were shadowboxing, and I got carried away. The funniest part was him holding ice to his head and rubbing my back while I was crying, and him saying, 'It's OK, it's all right.' "

Christy Karras: christykarras@gmail.com

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