In “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” which opened this week, reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen has joined the rebel forces.
The young woman’s feats in the reality-TV bloodsport of the Games have already inspired an oppressed nation, and the resistance now wants to make her a media symbol of the fight by creating propaganda videos about her. But Katniss has no talent for pretending she is someone other than who she is and dislikes having the focus on her.
Based on Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of young-adult novels, the first two “Hunger Games” films have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide, and the next two are likely to bring in an equal amount.
At the young age of 24, the franchise’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays Katniss, has already won a best-acting Oscar (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and become a giant international star.
With all the media attention on her, it is easy to see parallels between the actress’s life and that of her character, although she told a group of reporters last week that she hoped fans don’t mistake Katniss for her.
“It’s not me. I’m a very different person,” she says about what Katniss goes through. “I would have been crying every single day, ‘Where’s my mom?’” she jokes.
“Sometimes I feel for her and her loss of anonymity,” says Francis Lawrence (no relation), who directed the actress in the second “Hunger Games” movie, “Catching Fire,” and both “Mockingjay” films.
In the new film, Katniss is suffering post-traumatic stress from the Games. She is assigned a documentary film crew – headed by a new character named Cressida (Natalie Dormer) – who try to stage footage for propaganda purposes.
What Katniss goes through reminds Lawrence of what she went through during her first award season, when she was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her role in the 2010 film “Winter’s Bone.”
“You’re being put into a dress that isn’t you, and everybody is listening to what you have to say. And you’re like, ‘Don’t listen to me. I’m 20,’” says the actress.
Francis Lawrence says that despite her meteoric rise, Jennifer Lawrence is that same levelheaded young woman he started working with almost three years ago.
“She’s a lot of fun to watch because she keeps it so surprising. That hasn’t changed.”
“Mockingjay,” though, does bring changes from the first two films. The story is no longer set around the Games – a deadly televised sport meant to be a diverting spectacle and keep the districts of Collins’ imaginary county of Panem in line. Instead, the tale has grown darker, shifting to more of a war movie. Rebels live in a subterranean secret base from which they plot to overthrow the totalitarian regime run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
“Suzanne Collins really set out to do a story about the consequences of war for teenagers,” observes Francis Lawrence, “and we are really starting to explore those themes in these two movies.”
After destroying the Hunger Games at the close of “Catching Fire,” Katniss has been brought to the rebel base by Plutarch Heavensbee, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated. The director says the actor had two major scenes in the film when he died from a drug overdose in February.
“There was just no way we’re going to try to re-create a digital Phil,” says Lawrence. “So we rewrote the scenes and gave his parts to other actors. It was a horrible time for all of us to emotionally try to get back to work.”
The filmmaker says the structure of Collins’ third novel allowed it to be naturally divided into two parts. He shot as much as he could in sequence. Logistically, that allowed them to finish “Part 1” and begin editing it, even as they were shooting “Part 2,” due out Nov. 25, 2015.