x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Josh Hutcherson is hungry for action

As The Hunger Games premieres in cinemas, its 19-year-old star Josh Hutcherson is all set for the limelight.

Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark in the The Hunger Games
Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark in the The Hunger Games

Starring in The Hunger Games is further evidence that Josh Hutcherson must have been bathed in lucky lotion as a child. That's not to suggest the 19-year-old isn't talented, just that it seems everything he does ends up smelling like roses.

The latest example of his fortune is The Hunger Games, the most anticipated cinematic adaptation of a series of novels since Twilight and Harry Potter. The film is based on the first of a trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins, set in a dystopian future where children between the ages of 12 and 18 are forced to fight to the death against each other as televised sport.

From the moment he began reading the book, Hutcherson had an immediate affinity with Peeta Mellark: "I've never seen a character so close to me as a person," he says, adding: "His self-deprecating humour, the way he wants to stay true to who he is no matter what, are all things I could relate to from my own life."

From chatting with Hutcherson it's hard to argue with his own assessment. Affable and charming, he has an innocent quality about him, yet scratch the surface and a steely determination is revealed. He was born in Kentucky and his mother was a flight attendant while his father works for the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet, from a young age, Hutcherson had only one ambition: to move to Hollywood.

"I had such a passion and drive to be an actor that I was going to do whatever it takes to be an actor," he says. "I actually called an agency that I found in the Yellow Pages and told them I wanted to be an actor. I was nine at the time. They kind of laughed a bit. Then I met with some local agencies and slowly began building from there."

If jumping on the acting fast-track and appearing in films such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Bridge to Terabithia and The Kids are Alright in your teenager years is "slowly building", then it's headache-inducing just trying to think what he considers fast. In The Hunger Games, the director Gary Ross exploits the actor's natural affinity with the camera – point a camera at him and the seemingly shy boy immediately becomes a star.

At the centre of The Hunger Games is Peeta's burgeoning relationship with Katniss, the heroine played by the Winter's Bone star Jennifer Lawrence. Unusually, and in a smart gender reversal, it's the female in the relationship who is the fighter, expected to keep the couple alive. It's a dynamic that makes their relationship so much more interesting than that of Bella and Edward in Twilight.

Hutcherson says it was easy to build up a rapport with Lawrence. "Jen perfectly encapsulates a young woman who finds power to take care of herself and others around her. She has both a hardness and vulnerability that is beautiful and really genuine."

He shows his self-deprecating side and ability to laugh at himself once again by revealing how, on-set while play-fighting with Lawrence, she tried to show how she could send a kick over his head, but instead knocked him sideways when her foot landed on his temple.

The on-screen chemistry is part of what makes The Hunger Games such a fantastic film. While they are battling for their lives, the best friend of Katniss, Gale (played by Liam Hemsworth) looks on helplessly as the watching world wills Katniss to kiss Peeta. The love triangle is perfectly set up to be exploited in the impending sequels.

Other smart cameos come from an unrecognisable Elizabeth Banks, disguised under a cake of make-up, Woody Harrelson as a former winner of the game and Donald Sutherland is at his eerie best as the leader of the Panem nation, President Snow.

The physical transformation seems to have been the aspect that the actor found most arduous in getting into character. Hutcherson may have had to spend weeks at the gym to put on 15 pounds of muscle, but it was dying his hair blond that he found most difficult. Naturally dark, it went copper and orange before blond and he bemoans the fact that he continually had to have his eyebrows retouched every 10 days as they grew out so quickly.

Hutcherson's star is destined to rise further this year with the release of Red Dawn, a remake of the 1984 Cold War adventure that starred Patrick Swayze. Hutcherson is playing the C Thomas Howell character from the original.

"Red Dawn was the most epic thing, my character starts out as not being really like a nerd, but a tech guy, good with technology. The Chinese invade and a group of teenagers and one ex-Marine escape into the woods to a cabin. Basically we act as a militia and start launching attacks. It's modernised a little bit to show how China owns about US$20 trillion (Dh73.5tn) of US debt and that's their reason to invade."

He's also not averse to taking risks. He is one of the few American actors who can claim to have made a movie in Havana: the actor went to Cuba to star in a short, directed by Benicio Del Toro. It's part of the portmanteau film 7 Days in Havana that is expected to unspool at the Cannes International Film Festival, taking place from May 16-27.

Then, of course, he'll be dying his eyebrows again, as filming to the sequel to The Hungers Games begins later this year. It will have to be some movie to be as good as the first film in the series.

 

artslife@thenational.ae