Our Interview With Gary Ross, Director Of The Hunger Games

I’m a great admirer of Gary Ross, director of The Hunger Games, and it wasn’t until he was involved with the film that I considered picking up the book. It was Ross’ involvement that made me wonder what there was to this thing.

And, as I found out, there’s actually an awful lot.

So I enjoyed the book a good deal, particularly as a fan of socially-minded, angry sci-fi, and I was expecting to really like the film too. As it happens, I absolutely loved it.

All of my problems with the original text had been tidied up, new and exciting ideas had been introduced and Ross had absolutely, 100%, nailed the atmosphere, the world building, the oppressive tone and the characters.

As the film has already proven to be a great success, Ross has rolled onto working on the next film in the series, Catching Fire, and he’s not available right now for interviews. Because I was so keen to speak to him, however, I was offered “the next best thing”: an exclusive piece by Ross, derived from an interview conducted with him on the film’s set during shooting. This has not run anywhere else and it’s been given to Bleeding Cool alone.

But that’s not why I’m running it. I’m running it because everything Ross had to say interested me.

I’m going back to see The Hunger Games for the second time tonight. I strongly recommend it to all of you too, particularly those with a taste for 70’s-styled, satirical sci-fi in the vein of Rollerball or Soylent Green.

Now. Here’s Ross, with his take on The Hunger Games, and what he needed to get right to make the film work.

On getting hooked

My kids had read the book. I remember my daughter reading it and being completely immersed in it for two days. I’d say, ‘What are you reading?’ and she’d lift up her head, stare at me, and go straight back to reading. That’s the experience of many parents: ‘My God, what is this book?’ Then when I heard they were making it into a movie, I read it and was as taken with it as everyone else. I think my first experience was to become a fan. I started reading it at 11 o’clock on a Friday night and finished it at about 1am. I shut the book and instantly knew that I wanted to do the movie.

I think my daughter was about 13 when she read it. She is 16 now. My children are twins and they both worked on the movie with me, which was fantastic. My son worked in the camera department and my daughter worked in the visual effects. They were very hard working crewmembers.

I was really, really drawn to the first-person narrative. I was really drawn to the voice of Katniss. I thought what an amazing challenge it was to do something on this huge canvas and yet at the same time it was intimate and it did have this first-person narrative that was so subjective .I tend to be drawn to material that is going to be challenging and will keep me interested.

On Katniss, her morality and casting the role

Katniss is a protagonist who begins by fighting only for her own survival and by the end of the first book she wants to give her life for something which she believes in, rather than kill an innocent human being. She starts off as someone who is only trying to save her life but at the end she is willing to sacrifice that life and finds her own personal ethics in the process, her own humanity, her own morality.

My first exposure to Jennifer Lawrence was Winter’s Bone and some other movies and then I just knew it. I said, ‘Who is this girl? It’s crazy; she is so good. What is going on here?’ Then I met with her and I remember at the meeting I said to the people who work for me that I would be stunned if this wasn’t the girl. Then she came in and read for me and I was completely sure. I was literally knocked over.

I think you find this literally once a generation. If you were a football coach and you saw Messi play for the first time you would just up and go, ‘My God, what is that?’ It’s the same with Jen. I have never worked with anyone more talented and I think she is peerless, I really do. I think we are going to wait another 10 or 15 years before we see this again. Like I say, it must be like being a football coach and unearthing a great player — I like football, actually. I support ‘Spurs.

On the action sequences

The action has to be compelling, urgent and it has to be in the first-person. We shot this movie, I think, in a much more urgent, subjective way than a lot of other tent-poles are shot. I don’t think any of the action scenes are going to disappoint. I think the Tracker Jacker sequence may be one of my favourite sequences that I have ever done in a movie.

On the regular (but utterly misguided) comparisons to Twilight and other fan chatter

I don’t think it’s frustrating. It’s a compliment. What they are saying is that they feel that it has taken root in the culture and that’s very nice. The two projects couldn’t possibly be more different, though. Ever since Harry Potter, there are certain books that are really resonant in the culture and that take root and that people gravitate to and that they love and that is really what they are saying with the comparisons.

My first obligation is to make the right movie – also, I am a fan, so the first fan I am pleasing is me. I think that when there is fan chatter and speculation, people want one particular person cast and others want another person cast, all it means is they are passionately attached to the material and it is a really personal experience.

On Woody Harrelson’s uncouth character, Haymitch Abernathy

Haymitch’s inebriation diminishes as he progresses over the course of the story, but it is always with a kind of a depth in the story — that he has brought this baggage with him because of the pain of having been a past victor and because of a lot of the things he has inherited. It is more complex than just being a drunk. Woody Harrelson is a marvellous actor. I can’t imagine anyone else in the part now.

On his career before becoming a director

I saw Big at The Tribecca Film Festival and I hadn’t seen it for about 15 years and they played it outside to about 4,000 people last year and it was such a wonderful experience. I haven’t written a comedy in a little while but seeing that amount of people laugh, it was definitely worth it.

I was trained by Stella Adler and directed theatre when I was young so these were always things that I had an interest in. I got successful very young as a screenwriter and so it sort of embarked me down that path for a while but I had always wanted to direct. I really did an apprenticeship. I was on the set of Big every day, on the set of Dave every day, and I sort of learned my craft that way. It was almost an apprenticeship programme. By the time Pleasantville came around I was ready to direct.

Thanks to Lionsgate for letting me have this for Bleeding Cool. Hopefully I’ll get to ask Gary my own burning questions when the next film comes around.

The Hunger Games is a new sci-fi classic and comes fully recommended.

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