Generally, media-savvy actors who can navigate a press day with that right mix of wit and humility are seasoned professionals with a lengthy list of films to the credit. It’s rare that a young performer can step into the spotlight and provide charming and thoughtful answers that leave you feeling as if you’ve experienced something special.
But that’s precisely what happened when 12-year-old Willow Shields and 13-year-old Amandla Stenberg, who played Primrose Everdeen and Rue, respectively, in Lionsgate’s blockbuster The Hunger Games met with journalists during Comic-Con International.
An adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novel, the film is set in a dystopian future where each year, the nation of Panem selects 12 boys and 12 girls to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised event in which the contestants (called tributes) must fight to the death. Kantiss Everdeen (Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Prim, and travels to the Capitol with her district’s male tribute (Josh Hutcherson) to train for the Games. The Hunger Games grossed $683 million worldwide.
As we sat down with Shields and Stenberg on the terrace of the Hard Rock hotel in San Diego, both actresses beamed with excitement. It was their first trip to Comic-Con, and their eyes had the excited glow of newness that comes with stepping into what seems like another world. Of all the costumed characters they’d seen that day, they were most impressed with, “that guy from Prometheus,” an Engineer cosplayer who painted himself from head to toe and wore only a loincloth. The two also looked forward to their autograph sessions scheduled for later that day.
The first real question, as to whether they’re now recognized by Hunger Games fans, was met with a contemplative pause before Stenberg responded, “It depends if I let my hair down.” Shields said she tries to gently remind fans, and especially press, that, “I’m not Prim. I’m Willow.”
When asked what they’re most looking forward to about the Blu-ray and DVD release of their blockbuster film, Stenberg was most excited about the behind-the-scenes extras and the bloopers. “It’ll be cool to see us goofing off and being ourselves,” she said. “I think it’ll be fun for fans to see Glimmer eyeing Rue, and then we cut and we’re listening to ‘Super Bass’ by Nicki Minaj.”
For her part, Shields seemed a little envious of her co-star’s action figure. “I hope I get an action figure,” she smiled. “Keep your fingers crossed.”
Both actresses were already ”big fans” Collins’ novels when they were cast in the Lionsgate adaptation. Stenberg recalled being “super-nervous” for her audition, for which she dressed like Rue, complete with mud. The actress then realized what a nice house director Gary Ross had, and that she was tracking mud everywhere. The story capped with her bemoaning having to sit on Ross’ “nice suede couch” while reading. As a fan, Shields was especially excited when she was able to meet the author at the movie’s premiere.
Stenberg then opened up about the difficulties involved in filming a death scene.
“It is hard,” she admitted. “What are you thinking as you’re dying?” Stenberg said Collins visited set the day that the scene was being filmed, and offered some advice to the young actress. It must have helped, as Rue’s death is one of the film’s most impactful scenes. While watching the sequence in a theater, Stenberg said her best friend started sobbing loudly, a reaction elicited not-so-polite shushes from other members of the audience.
Both actresses had nothing but praise for Ross, who won’t be returning to direct the sequel Catching Fire. Shields said she’s “sad to see him go, but excited to see what Fancis Lawrence will do.” She also expressed excitement about working with co-stars Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson in the upcoming film. “They’re both amazing actors,” she beamed.
When asked about their parents’ reactions, both actresses said there was very little change in how they’re treated. “They’re treating me differently, so that I won’t act differently, if that makes sense?” Stenberg clarified, before returning to her death scene. “People always ask me if I cry when I see myself die,” she said. “You’d have to be really self-involved to cry.”
The obvious philosophical questions raised by the novels have left their impact on both actresses as well. “It’s a world not far from our own,” Stenberg observed. “So it can serve as a warning, if not a prediction.”
As the interview came to a close, they were asked about their upcoming projects. Shields, of course, has Catching Fire, which is expected to begin production later this month.
Stenberg, however, couldn’t divulge her plans, joking, “I feel so fancy to say that I have a couple projects n the works I can’t talk about yet.”
The Hunger Games Arrives Aug. 18 on Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand and Digital Download.