Willow Shields grew up before our eyes in the Hunger Games films. And now that the final movie is hitting its home release (it's already available digitally, and the Blu-ray comes out Tuesday), she has some perspective to offer on what it's like inhabiting the same character for roughly the same amount of time most people spend in high school.
We had a chance to hang out with Willow and Elden Henson (who plays Pollux) ahead of the opening of the Hunger Games Exhibition in San Francisco last month, and the two were happy to answer a few questions. But before we get to their commentary, here's an exclusive clip from the upcoming Blu-ray, featuring Julianne Moore's take on the franchise's legacy:
Now keep reading for details on what it's like playing Jennifer Lawrence's little sister, pretending to know sign language, and why those lizard mutts were actually kind of hilarious on the set.
On Playing Primrose Everdeen in Four Movies
Willow Shields: As an actor it's kind of a dream role because first of all you have the books to base it on, which is basically like having your homework done for you. You get to read the books and the rest is up to you, but at least you have something to base it off of.
It's fun for me because Prim has such an arc in the series. Each film as she gets a little older, I get older with her. And each film she has this newfound character trait that people didn't expect from her. In the end she's there for Katniss, and is really a lot stronger a person than in the first film. For me it was a real pleasure to be able to play that kind of character.
On Joining the Franchise Halfway Through
Elden Henson: It was an interesting thing for me because I found out I got the job, and it was a couple days later in Atlanta that I was going to shoot. I just honestly looked at the movies. They were already so big, and they already had such a following that I just felt lucky to be a part of it. I think I just wanted to try my best not to mess it up.
Playing a character whose tongue had been taken out was, surprisingly, one of the more rewarding experiences of my career — just to do something I'd never done before, and figure out how to convey emotion and dialogue. It's funny because I went to a TV show directly afterwards. I had just a couple weeks in between. And I went from not speaking at all to talking a lot, and I remember a lot of days thinking, 'Man I wish I was just back on that 'Hunger Games' set. All this dialogue I gotta memorize! Aw man!' [Laughs] But honestly I just felt really lucky to be a part of it.
Willow's Favorite Scene to Shoot Was:
The scene in Mockingjay, Part 1 where Katniss and I are in a bunk bed. I had woken up in the middle of the night and realized she was up, and I figured she was pondering her future in District 13, and what she was planning to do, and I had this great conversation with her. I felt like it was a pivotal scene for Prim because it was her stepping forward and becoming this young woman that people didn't realize she was yet. You could see her grow up just in that scene. She's there telling Katniss how to step forward into what became the biggest part of the revolution.
Elden On Turning Pollux Into a Character:
One of the great things about working with [Director] Francis [Lawrence] was he gave you a little bit more leeway than you would normally get in terms of developing the character. For me, I showed up with a big beard and long hair and thought for sure they were gonna make me cut it, but Francis was just like, 'It's good.'
It's just a testament to him and how he makes you feel like you're involved in creating that character. I really just tried to do the material as much justice as I could. I had an easy time because I came in on something that was already wildly successful. I got to work with amazing actors. I just felt like as long as I was present in every scene, then I would be doing okay. [Laughs] And also my brother in the movie, Wes [Chatham], he is just an incredible guy, and no one has more fun on set than Wes, and that was great. So we bonded immediately, and I think that really helped.
Willow On Working with Jennifer Lawrence Through Four Movies:
She's an incredibly inspiring person to work with and Jen herself as well as Katniss — they're both really empowering women. Jen has paved an amazing path for young women in Hollywood which was really exciting for me because at the time there wasn't yet those huge roles that were strong young women, which was very surprising. She really just had no doubts in herself and went for it. I think she's just an incredible role model.
Eldon On Shooting the Scene Where Jennifer Lawrence Sings:
That was the first thing that I shot and I was really nervous. You know, she's amazing. And it was a nice life lesson because she was very nervous about singing. She didn't think that she sounded good, and she sang and she sounded great! And I just remember thinking, "Okay it's cool for me to be nervous because no matter where you are in your career, you still feel those same nerves." That, in a weird way, gave me a lot of ease going into the rest of the movie.
On the Message of the Movies:
Willow: One of the biggest things is how teenagers have taken a lot away from this. The Hunger Games series has been an outlet for them, a way for them to develop and discuss their opinions. It's brought up a lot of that in young people.
Elden: I'm struck by the idea that in our society these days we have this gap between the rich and the poor getting wider and wider, and these movies certainly touch on that. The thing that was inspiring to me was that it makes you remember that everyone really does have a pulse, no matter who it is. If you care enough and you put your heart into something, then you actually can change things.
Elden on Those Terrifying Lizard Mutts:
Shooting the lizard mutts was actually the funniest thing in the world because they're just a bunch of stunt guys in onesies and we're supposed to be terrified! [Laughs] It was hilarious. That was a day when you say to yourself, "I'm an actor. I've gotta keep a straight face and act really scared right now."
Elden on Saying Katniss Is Beautiful in Sign Language:
One of the PAs on our set majored in sign language, so I immediately pulled him aside and was talking a lot with him and with Francis, and we had a conversation about finding little moments in the movie that show how close Wes and I were. There's that scene where I talk about how beautiful Katniss is, and on that day — and this is a testament to how great Francis is — I said, "You know, there might be an opportunity for Wes and I, who were just sort of in the background of that scene, to do something." Francis was like, "Yeah, okay," and he walked away.
I thought, "Hmm, maybe I've overstepped my bounds a little bit. Maybe this was not the right time." But then like 45 minutes later he came up and said, "All right I got together with [Screenwriter] Peter [Craig], and this is what we're going to do, and the PA showed me the thing I had to do, and it was just — I mean, as an actor, that's the stuff that you live for. And again it's a testament to Francis, and how he has everything in his mind, and he's just layering everything to make every character feel important to the scene.