Two months ago, Entertainment Weekly revealed the first images of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the teenage hero of The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins’ blistering dystopian trilogy about children forced to fight to the death on national TV (and due out next March). In this week’s cover story, we introduce you to the devoted young men who fight for her.
We sat down wth Josh Hutcherson, the 18-year-old actor whom director Gary Ross fought hard to cast as the deeply decent Peeta Mellark, at a cozy diner in Asheville, N.C., where The Hunger Games shoot was mid-way through filming. His hair was dyed blonde; his newly pumped-up biceps could believably belong to that of a baker’s son. And while Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) understands fans’ hand-wringing online, he’s here to assure you that Lawrence will not in fact tower over him on screen.
“Jennifer’s not two feet taller than me!” he says with his easy laugh. “If anything, maybe she’s a half inch taller.” And Ross assures devotees of the books that 21-year-old Liam Hemsworth, who’ll play Katniss’ righteous childhood confidante Gale, is more than just some Australian beefcake who starred in Miley Cyrus’ last movie. “On first glance he’s such a hunk that it’s easy to just sort of ascribe a hunk-like simplicity to him,” says the director. “But this is a phenomenally subtle actor.”
Although Peeta and Gale circle each other warily throughout the series, it turns out that Hutcherson and Hemsworth bonded hard during their six weeks together on set. So much so that Hutcherson brought Hemsworth along on a weekend visit to his hometown in Kentucky to relax with his family and sample his grandmother’s famous fried chicken. “I think it’s going to blow people’s minds when they see that Peeta and Gale are actually best friends in real life,” says Hutcherson.
For more on The Hunger Games, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands July 29, or buy it here.
Want more scoop? See EW’s exclusive new Hunger Games movie photos!