The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) ©2012 Lionsgate

Perhaps the most anticipated movie of the year, The Hunger Games opens on March 23rd. Based on the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins, it is set in the nation of Panem, which was once North America, where each year every district must choose, by lottery or volunteer, one boy and one girl to represent them in the Capitol’s twisted idea of grand entertainment, The Hunger Games. It is an intense gladiatorial competition between 24 adolescent warriors known as Tributes, which is broadcast live on TV. Only one survivor can remain.

When Primrose (Willow Shields) is chosen to represent District 12, her older sister Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence, volunteer’s to take her place. Lawrence was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Winter’s Bone, and has also been seen in The Beaver, The Burning Plain and X-Men: First Class.

She spoke about playing the iconic role of Katniss at the press day for the movie.

What was your thought process coming into this? Were you aware of how tremendously popular the books were?

The Hunger Games - Poster; Jennifer Lawrence
Character poster; Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) ©2012 Lionsgate

Yeah, I was, and it was terrifying but, at the same time, Katniss is this incredible character in this incredible story for our generation. They are really great books and an amazing director (Gary Ross), it just would have been such an amazing movie to do.

I was obviously nervous, because I knew that everything in my personal life would change. I didn’t know if I would like it or dislike it, but I knew it would never go back to normal again.

And then as an actress it’s always scary because you’re afraid you’re going to be too well known for one thing and then whatever I do after that it’s just going to be, ‘Oh look, Katniss is doing a period drama.’ That’s not good.

Were you able to use the books as a research tool?

Absolutely. These are such powerful books, and the characters from these books fueled them into making a film and me joining it. It’s a huge resource as an actor to be able to hear your character’s inner dialogue.

There is so much love for the books, are you concerned taking on this iconic character that people are going to have their own preconception of what the character should be, and you have to live up to that?

The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) watches on while the draw is made ©2012 Lionsgate

Yeah, of course. That’s the biggest problem with making a movie based on a book and especially with such a powerful character. Everybody has their own opinions about her, and that’s great.

That’s what makes you love it and that’s an amazing thing that not a lot of movies have. But at the same time as an actor I have to shut all of that out and just go to set like it’s every other movie.

I have to follow my own instincts and listen to my director and film it like I would anything else, because if I have everybody else’s voice in my head, then I can’t listen to my own.

Can you talk about the physical component of this role — are you really good with a bow and arrow?

I’m pretty athletic, so I’m in shape. I had no experience with archery, so I had an incredible instructor, and it was a rough couple of weeks. The arrows weighed about two pounds, they were made out of metal, so they didn’t really go very far, so there was [CG] added, a lot of movie magic.

I thought the movie would be watered down and I was surprised that the spirit of the books survived.

The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) ©2012 Lionsgate

The thing about the movie and what changed my mind about it, because I was just as much of a skeptic as anybody else, is that it’s being made by fans.

Everybody behind this movie are all real fans of the book, we loved Suzanne’s work. We loved her books and none of us were going to be a part of a watered down version of them.

There was an event a few days ago that hundreds of sixteen and seventeen year old girls attended, was that overpowering to you?

I think they were there for Josh (Hutcherson) and Liam (Hemsworth), but yes that was a wonderful thing. It was crazy seeing all of those people.

That was the first time that I’ve really seen the full size of the fan base. That was nuts, but good nuts.

You remember working so hard on the movie, and how passionate you were about it, and then you see all of these people that are even more passionate than you are for something you worked hard on, and that’s a great thing.

When you watch the film can you lose yourself in it or are you just watching it critiquing yourself?

The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) ©2012 Lionsgate

I’m sitting there critiquing the first time, and then the second time I can watch it as a film. So I’m looking forward to the premiere because then I might be able to enjoy it.

You’re involved in another franchise, The X-Men. Are you signed up to do the next one?

I’ve only heard what everybody else has heard, just whispers, but I haven’t heard anything officially yet. But if they write me in, I’m there.

If you, Jennifer Lawrence, were in the Hunger Games, how would you fare?

Would I die? Within seconds! I would just stay on my podium and wait. I would walk right into the center of it and ask for it to be quick!

Note: Jennifer was asked if it was important to her that the sequel Catching Fire stuck to the book as closely as this movie did to the first novel. Click below to listen to her answer.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.