The Hunger Games Interview 5: Director Gary Ross
“Jennifer’s power as an actress is just absolutely remarkable.”
The Hunger Games is the equally-awaited movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s book of the same name. Directed by Gary (Pleasantville, Seabuscuit) Ross, it’s out in the UK on 23 March.
Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its 12 districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which the Tributes must fight with one another until one survivor remains.
Gary Ross spoke with Olivia Mordsley for SFX…
How did you first become interested in The Hunger Games?
“My children actually read it and turned me onto it. That was my first experience. I saw my daughter disappear for two days, completely immersed. Then when I heard it was being developed as a film, I read it and was just as taken as everyone else.”
How did you work with Suzanne Collins on the screenplay?
“I wrote the draft and then Suzanne read the draft and liked it and came out to LA to talk to me. I just wanted to sit with her, pick her brain, get her thoughts, and as I did that, I realised what a great and helpful process it was to work with her. So I invited her to do the last draft of the script with me. It was a natural evolution. We just started talking and before we knew it we were working and we locked ourselves up in a room for four days and had a wonderful time together.”
You’ve obviously got a brilliant cast. You’ve got some classic actors, like Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci, obviously the new ones like Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. Was it difficult to be directing some people that had been in the industry for decades along with some people that were fairly new to it?
“With these particular young actors, Josh, Liam and Jen in particular, it was just like directing anyone who had a tremendous amount of experience. I honestly felt no difference. There was no learning curve to them. They were just so constantly professional. I’ve never worked with anyone more talented than Jennifer Lawrence. It’s stunning what she’s able to do.
“And Josh too. I didn’t get a chance to spend as much time with him. All three of them were just a dream to work with, that really is the truth. It was an incredibly easy, fluid process and they were amazingly talented.”
Did you have Jennifer in mind when you wrote the script?
“No. I wrote the script and then I started wondering who was in the age range. Then I saw Winter’s Bone and I thought, ‘I bet this is going to be the girl.’ I just had a sense. Then I had a meeting with Jennifer and I came out and said to the people I was working with, ‘I would be stunned if this was not the girl.’ Then she came in and read for me and just knocked me out. Jennifer’s power as an actress is just absolutely remarkable. I think talent like this comes around once a generation, I really do. I think Jennifer Lawrence will be an enormous star and more than that a very important actress. When you do what I do, you’re like a sports coach. If you see someone like this you go, ‘Oh my god, the talent is incredible!’ You just know it when you see it. I don’t think we’re going to see another Jennifer Lawrence for a long time.”
A lot in the book delves into Katniss’ thoughts, so how have you translated that onto the screen?
“I think a lot of that job is in the subjectivity with which you do shoot the movie. I spent a lot of time before this began wondering about what a first person narrative really was, and how one sits in the shoes of a character when you’re on film as opposed to a first person narrative in the book. And, in a really simple way, one of the things I realised is that you never know more than your protagonist; you’re experiencing the story with them and you’re encountering this world as them and walking in their shoes….
“Usually in a movie, the audience gets to have a point of view that’s larger or more complete than the heroine does. So we used this very kind of tight, urgent narrative; it’s important to stay in Katniss’ shoes, so you’re not cutting from place to place. You’re in the point of view of the protagonist and because of that you’re moving in a serpentine fashion through this world. And that was important to do with the way I shot the movie.”
It sounds like you learnt a lot about yourself while you were doing it.
“I think so. I mean I never enjoyed shooting a movie more than this. There was just a feeling of incredible enthusiasm throughout the whole shoot. I felt free to shoot in this style and to be completely hooked up into the narrative with the lead character. The story had so much integrity that in many ways it was never really a struggle to find the shooting style or the through line of the narrative. Maybe it’s because I‘ve done a few movies before this, but it just felt very natural. It was wonderful shooting in North Carolina, that was a fantastic experience for me. It was great. My kids worked on the movie with me so I got to spend the summer with them so that was fantastic.”
If you were on the other side of the camera, who would you like to play?
[laughs] “I have no idea! I would probably be drawn to Haymitch as he’s so complicated. I think he would be the most fun one to play.”
You seem to enjoy working in a diverse range of genres?
“Yes, you want to stay interested. The first thing is, is this going to sustain my interest through the course of a year? And so far I’ve never been bored. I love my job every day. That’s what makes this thing thrilling, and the physical challenges, being in the mountains in North Carolina, dragging cameras up hills, it was fantastic. The film process was incredibly challenging but they were challenges that we met and prepared for and those were thrills. Being bored is the most challenging thing in a movie and I was never bored.
“My previous two movies, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit were incredibly challenging too. That’s important to me; something that I can sink my teeth into and dive into. I try to set the bar high every time. I’m happy with all the things I’ve done. I don’t work as often as many other directors but I’m very proud of every film I’ve made.”
Other that Jennifer Lawrence, is there anyone else in your career you’d love to work with again?
“All of them! Jen, Josh, Liam, all of them. This is the second thing I’ve done with Stanley Tucci, the second thing I’ve done with Elizabeth Banks, there was no part in this for William H Macy but he’s been in every other one of my movies. I’d work with Woody again in a heartbeat, I’d love to find something to do with him. One of the nice things.”
Do your children have a say in what you choose to do?
“My children have a say in everything I do. They’re two of the smartest people I know so I tend to take their advice.”
Is there any particular director you would aspire to be like?
“I don’t aspire to be like any but I admire so many. I admire what they do but it doesn’t mean I want to direct like them. I’m a fan of many people but I’m happy being me.”
Read our The Hunger Games review.