At long last, ravenous Hunger Games fans can sink their teeth into Catching Fire, the long-awaited second installment in fantasy film franchise swiftly rivaling the empire built by that wizard kid with the glasses.
CultureMap sat down with stars Alan Ritchson, Stephanie Leigh Schlund and Golden Globe-winner Jeffrey Wright at the Houston Four Seasons to hear how they developed three of the film's most formidable contestants in the gruesome 75th annual Hunger Games.
While filming on location in Hawaii may sound like a Hollywood dream to most of us, Ritchson and Schlund — who play knife-wielding siblings Gloss and Cashmere — agree that the physical demands of their roles added a layer of stress to their extended stay in paradise.
"I've never had to train as hard as I trained for this," explains Ritchson.
"I've never had to train as hard as I trained for this," explains Ritchson, a Smallville alum recently cast as Raphael in Michael Bay's reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. "I thought I was in better shape than I was. In the first five minutes, I was dry-heaving and asking for a break.
"Everyone was making fun of me . . . because it was just the warm up."
With the exception of few dangerous falls, Schlund says that she and Ritchson did all their own stunts after months of knife training and rehearsals.
"They set us up in a corner of this warehouse and there'd be weapons flying in every direction. If someone hollered 'duck,' you'd better duck," she laughs. "They taught us the basic moves, but you didn't know what you'll actually be doing until you're on set because of the rocks or sand or trees."
For exploring the depth of their characters, cast members had the rare opportunity to refer to the original trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, who co-wrote the screenplay and remained on set throughout the filming process.
"Younger audience members don't have ownership of other films and stories like they do with The Hunger Games. I think it's going to blow the minds of fans."
"[Suzanne Collins] has an incredible ability to reveal her characters with so few words," Ritchson says. "It was a huge advantage for us that the screenplay was so faithfully adapted from the novels. The author's intent was well preserved in the film, so the books became these wonderful resources."
For Jeffrey Wright — known for playing Felix Leiter in the current James Bond series as well as for his starring role in the 1996 cult classic Basquiat — the book series not only provided insight into his tech-saavy character Beetee, but also helped to unravel the complex post-apocalyptic world created by Collins.
"Francis Lawrence, the director, has this amazingly clear vision of the larger storyline," he notes. "Younger audience members don't have ownership of other films and stories like they do with The Hunger Games. I think it's going to blow the minds of fans."
While the books may have been written for young adults, Wright says the mass appeal of the franchise stretches across generation lines thanks to its pointed social commentary.
"At the spinal center of the film are these themes that will raise broader questions among viewers about themselves and the world around them. That's the best filmmaking you can have, this wonderful marriage of escapism and relevance."