Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Liam Hemsworth looks just as attractive in person as he does in the pictures. Tall and almost stereotypically Australian looking, he stands in his Toronto hotel room drenched in an almost cliché amount of sunlight coming through the window. He’s quiet and reserved, but also quite charming, polite, and possessing an incredibly firm handshake.
The beau of Miley Cyrus has landed the coveted role of Gale Hawthorne in the hopefully lucrative Hunger Games franchise. Hemsworth – who really doesn’t look anything like his brother Chris, who will be starring in that other big franchise film coming out in a few months, The Avengers – plays the closest confidant to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) back home in District 12 and is forced to watch from afar as his best friend and potential love interest is put through gruelling physical test as young people battle to the death. He’s also forced to watch her play up a burgeoning relationship with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in a bid to influence the home audience and potential sponsors.
While his character doesn’t play as big of a part in the first Suzanne Collins’ adaptation, he will find himself quite busy in the next two installments as his hunter and gatherer character will be put to the test. But none of that worries him for now. The confident young man (who last appeared on screen opposite Cyrus in The Last Song) has more than enough to keep him busy until the next film with five films in various stages of production (including The Expendables 2) and his own personal philanthropic work.
Hemsworth talked to Dork Shelf about the building of his character over the next few films, working with co-star Jennifer Lawrence, and his disdain for reality television.
Now, since your character doesn’t have as much screen time as some of the others in the film, what was your reaction to seeing the completed film?
I really didn’t know just what to expect going in, but after having seen it I think I’m a bit more at ease because I know it’s good now. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. I’m really happy with how it turned out. (Director) Gary (Ross) really captured the essence of the books and what I think Suzanne Collins wanted to be captured.
Now we’re going to see more of you and Gale in the upcoming movies. Did that make the audition process here any different for you? Did you have to draw a lot on what you know will happen to the character in the future?
Well, not too much. I mean, yeah, I obviously knew where the character went, but at this point in the story I was focusing on the script, and this particular script, and how he is at THAT point. Not where he’s going to be. And I mean, Suzanne Collins had a hand in the script, which is very true to the book, so that was easier. And most of my trust was in Gary, but Suzanne had enough confidence in me to give me this part and I’m thankful for that.
Were you kind of envious watching all your co-stars getting to do most of the action this time around?
No, but while the action is fun to do as an actor, I’ve always been more of a reality person. The thing I related to most about this character is that he’s passionate about NOT being in these games and he’s trying to find a way to get away from it and a way to fight back. That’s a big thing because I thought if I was in the same situation I would do the same thing. He’s a very, very strong character and I envied him in a lot of ways. He’s so young, but he’s keeping himself and a whole family alive, and when Katniss goes into these games he’s looking after her family now, as well. And, you know, in that last scene of the movie, it kind of sums up just what kind of a guy he is. He’s a good guy.
It seems like Gary worked really close with all of his actors. What was your specific relationship like with him?
He’s amazing. On the set he’s the most energetic and passionate person there, and I think it was really nice to see someone like him who has done this for so long and made so many great movies to still be happy to turn up to work and have all this passion for what he does. He’s a great leader, and I think that inspires us all also to just bring it because he had such a clear and great vision of the film. It didn’t feel to me when I was on set with Gary and Jennifer that we were making this huge film. It felt like an indie with all this passion, and the way it was shot was very real with a lot of steadicams and really close. It was loose and free. Nothing else felt staged, and that was all because of Gary.
Was that something that was surprising to you?
Yeah, yeah! It totally was! I come to the set expecting because of all this expectation and all these fans for it to be huge, but it wasn’t. And that’s what’s so good about it is that Gary kept it so organic and so real. And as clear as his vision was, he was so open to hearing everyone else’s ideas. He loved to use cooperation and he always wanted you to bring a little bit of yourself to the table. He’s kind of manic on set because he’s trying a hundred million different things, but he’s also keeping an eye on what you want. I really, really like him as a director.
Did that fan base and those expectations ever add any extra pressure for you during the filming?
When we signed up for it, I don’t think we realized just how big it was going to be. I mean, it was already big at that point, but it’s grown so much more since. Like I said, when we’re on set none of us I think were even thinking about it at the time because we were all trusting in Gary and how it didn’t feel like this huge thing at the time. Also, there were too many people that were a part of this that were also huge fans of the books, and they all wanted to see the best possible version come out.
You’re working on something right now that’s tracking to be the biggest thing in your career right now, and your brother Chris has something similar going on with The Avengers coming up. Do you guys ever talk about the pressure and the hype you’re facing?
Yeah, we do, but I think we’re both able to step back from what’s going on and realize just how lucky we are and how funny it all is that we’re here doing this and how amazing it is. We’re just so thankful for it. We grew up in a normal family with great parents. We never grew up in this industry, so we’re able to appreciate how great it all is. I mean, most of my best friends are builders or electricians doing trades. I even used to lay floors for a while before I was in this industry. I think we’re better able to appreciate what we’re able to do and how great it is.
Is there anything in the upcoming and seemingly inevitable sequels that you’re looking forward to playing up?
Gale becomes a big part of the uprising and rebellion in the third book. That will be really great to shoot and you’ll all get to see just how deeply passionate he can get, and how it can get the best of him and how he might go a little crazy at times. (laughs)
The film is geared towards a youthful audience that’s been clamouring to see it. Is there anything that you hope younger people take away from this experience?
There’s a lot of things. There’s a lot of great messages in these films. One of the things that I’m passionate about is that I’m an ambassador for the Australian Childhood Foundation, and a big part of these books is child abuse. The fact that these adults are forcing these young people to do these horrific things, and they don’t have a real choice and they don’t fully understand it, and that it’s not their fault and that they haven’t done anything wrong.
I feel like reality TV these days is even more ridiculous. You have these things like Toddlers & Tiaras that’s just completely ridiculous. You have young children that don’t know what they’re doing and are too young to make their own decisions, and you have these parents that are allowing and forcing them to do it. I believe that’s child abuse. I feel that’s a part of what we’re getting at, too, and I feel very strongly about it. I don’t think we really shy away from that.
What was it like walking on the set for the early scenes in District 12 during The Reaping where Katniss offers herself for tribute? It feels like a different dynamic since there’s an actual stage there and hundreds of extras.
The one thing that emotionally and physically was kind of the hardest was that scene. We had three or four hundred extras on set and we shot it for three or four days and it was hot – over a hundred degrees – and we had young extras fainting on set and getting dehydrated because people were standing out in the Carolina sun for four days. It was physically very hard, but definitely there’s a huge emotional load, as well, because we’re standing in this crowd of 300 or 400 people waiting for a name to be called and you couldn’t not think about who was going to leave and probably not come back I really felt the emotion in that scene.
Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and she does some incredible work here. What was it like working with her in the scenes you have together?
It was easy. It was really easy. She’s easy, down to Earth, fun and great to be around. And as an actor working around her, when someone is that good you don’t have to really do anything. Half the work is completely done for you and you just don’t feel like you’re acting.
You don’t have to really burden a huge physical load in this film, but the other members of the cast had to go through some hard physical training. Did you have to go through any of that in preparation for the film?
Yeah. My character is hunting for food every day for him and his family so he’s not eating a lot. So losing weight was the big part for me. We trained for about a month on that before we started shooting, about five or six days a week, sweating a lot more and eating a lot less to get a sense of what hunger does to your body and what it can do to your mind. I lost a little over 15 pounds.