THE J- LAW PHE­NOM­E­NON

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - The hunger games -

Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tives may dither over whether au­di­ences will turn up for a ScarJo Black Widow stand­alone or if Gal Gadot can jump­start the Won­der Woman brand, but via the Hunger Games saga Jen­nifer Lawrence has been prov­ing that a fe­male- cen­tric ac­tion fran­chise is ab­so­lutely money in the bank. Make that 1.5 bil­lion in the bank ( and count­ing) as global au­di­ences can’t get enough of Lawrence’s re­luc­tant but ca­pa­ble hero­ine, Kat­niss Everdeen.

While the saga launched with a built- in base of ra­bid book fans, the films work be­cause Lawrence em­bod­ies Everdeen with the per­fect mix of small- town girl re­lata­bil­ity and com­mand­ing brav­ery and re­solve. The character isn’t a far cry from Lawrence’s own hum­ble Ken­tucky ori­gins, in fact – and maybe that’s why au­di­ences buy her play­ing an av­er­age girl with su­pe­rior bow skills that were borne out of life- and- death ne­ces­sity. Nei­ther Lawrence or Everdeen are larger- than- life by in­tent and that makes both cap­ti­vat­ing to watch. We’ll see her in Mock­ing­jay: Part Two a year from now – and then in 2016 she re­turns to her other fan­dom- friendly role as con­flicted shapechanger Mys­tique in X- Men: Apoc­a­lypse.

On a typ­i­cally glis­ten­ing

sum­mer day in Bev­erly Hills, inside a well ap­pointed ho­tel room, di­rec­tor Fran­cis Lawrence is grab­bing a cup of tea and look­ing re­mark­ably re­laxed for a man who has es­sen­tially been toil­ing non- stop for the last two years.

After in­her­it­ing the Hunger Games fran­chise from di­rec­tor Gary Ross, who bowed out due to the tight pro­duc­tion turn­around be­tween the first and sec­ond in­stal­ments, Lawrence was hand­picked by pro­ducer Nina Ja­cob­son and Lion­s­gate to helm Catch­ing Fire, the sec­ond film in their newly minted block­buster se­ries. Lawrence proved so adept at adapt­ing the sec­ond book that be­fore shoot­ing was com­plete it was an­nounced he would also stay to di­rect the two movies adapted from Mock­ing­jay, the fi­nal book in Suzanne Collins’ hit se­ries. That meant Lawrence went straight from Catch­ing

Fire into pre- pro­duc­tion of Mock­ing­jay – which shot back- to- back for nine months in At­lanta and Europe – with­out a break.

On this Au­gust day, it’s only been about six weeks since prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy fin­ished and he went straight into the full- time frenzy of post- pro­duc­tion on Part One. Yet there are no bags un­der his eyes or blank looks as he set­tles into his chat with SFX, just a sweet smile as he savours his tea. He’s feel­ing zen be­cause as he puts it, “Post is re­ally nice. It’s nice to be back at my house with my fam­ily. It’s more civilised,” he smiles.

Nar­ra­tively, Mock­ing­jay: Part One picks up right where Catch­ing Fire left off with Kat­niss ad­just­ing to life, along with a hand­ful of sur­vivors from Dis­trict 12 in­clud­ing Gale ( Liam Hemsworth) and her fam­ily, in the hid­den, un­der­ground com­pound of Dis­trict 13. With na­tional Panem re­bel­lion be­ing fo­mented by 13’ s Pres­i­dent Coin ( Ju­lianne Moore) and Plutarch Heav­ens­bee ( Philip Seymour Hoff­man), the duo wants Kat­niss to be­come the sym­bol of their up­ris­ing, tak­ing up the man­tle of the Mock­ing­jay. But it turns out Kat­niss is in no shape to do much of any­thing after two soul- shat­ter­ing Hunger Games.

Fig­ur­ing out how to split Kat­niss’s jour­ney in the fi­nal book into two films was pri­or­ity one for Lawrence and the pro­duc­ers, but not a dif­fi­cult one ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor. “There are def­i­nitely over­ar­ch­ing themes through the whole se­ries, but there are two dis­tinct sto­ries [ in Mock­ing­jay],” Lawrence of­fers. “We knew there were two dis­tinct sto­ries we could tell so it was about fig­ur­ing out where that end is for Part One that tells that story prop­erly. So far, I have been pri­mar­ily work­ing on Part One, at least in post- pro­duc­tion, and I am re­ally happy about how the themes of that one are com­ing through.”

While ret­i­cent to talk specifics about those themes so as not to spoil the film’s split­ting point, Lawrence and Ja­cob­son have ad­mit­ted pub­licly that Part One is about pro­pa­ganda, while Part Two is about the hells of war all ex­pe­ri­enced from Kat­niss’ point of view. From an emo­tional per­spec­tive, Lawrence ex­plains that Kat­niss “is more dam­aged at the be­gin­ning of this than she was at the be­gin­ning of Catch­ing Fire just be­cause of what she’s been through. The dam­age is ex­po­nen­tial. I have to say Part One was prob­a­bly one of the most com­plex movies I’ve done in terms of track­ing a character’s emo­tional state. It’s so spe­cific and you have to be so care­ful not to go down the wrong path and it would be so easy for the fine tun­ing of the per­for­mance to go off – not be­cause of any­body’s fault – but it’s lit­er­ally just been about mak­ing the right choices to go down the right path.”

Real, or not real?

Yet fo­cus­ing on, and ex­e­cut­ing, that kind of pre­ci­sion sto­ry­telling has been in­dica­tive of Lawrence’s work dur­ing the en­tire Mock­ing­jay pro­duc­tion, pro­ducer Nina Ja­cob­son tells SFX. Weath­er­ing the in­tensely tight pro­duc­tion with its ad­di­tional in­ter­na­tional shoot­ing and es­ca­lat­ing cast, while con­trol­ling the mas­sively ex­pand­ing scope and scale of the last book, and

even keep­ing mo­men­tum after the tragic loss of prin­ci­pal ac­tor Philip Seymour Hoff­man with­out los­ing fo­cus would have bro­ken plenty of other direc­tors, but Lawrence never fal­tered. His quiet strength is a big part of why Ja­cob­son bet that he had the right tal­ent and tem­per­a­ment to keep The Hunger Games on a tra­jec­tory of suc­cess. With film­ing now in the rearview mir­ror, Ja­cob­son is quick to con­firm they were right.

“Fran­cis brings an ex­tra­or­di­nary bal­ance of depth and emo­tion to the char­ac­ters with scope and scale in his vi­sion,” she says of the di­rec­tor’s work. “I think th­ese movies man­age to feel very ex­pan­sive yet very per­sonal. His instincts for that are dis­played greatly in

Catch­ing Fire, but he takes it to the next level in Mock­ing­jay partly be­cause one of the things that is so pow­er­ful about th­ese books is how deeply th­ese char­ac­ters are af­fected by what they’ve been through. Kat­niss doesn’t just bounce back like a rub­ber band. Ev­ery event of the story takes a toll on her but you also see her growth.

“Fran­cis has gone re­ally deep with th­ese char­ac­ters,” Ja­cob­son con­tin­ues. “It’s man­i­fested in the per­for­mances and in th­ese jaw- drop­ping se­quences where you see the im­pact of [ Kat­niss’s] ac­tions on the coun­try, as well as the be­hind- the- scenes be­tween Plutarch and Coin as they try to fig­ure out what to do with her. Kat­niss hasn’t shown up in great shape. She ex­pe­ri­ences a great sense of loss for hav­ing left Peeta ( Josh Hutch­er­son) be­hind. But this revo­lu­tion is grow­ing and great things are ex­pected of her, yet she has pro­found feel­ings of guilt. By bal­anc­ing out the in­ten­sity of th­ese character sto­ries with the scope of watch­ing a coun­try go from bits of re­bel­lion to full scale up­ris­ing to revo­lu­tion to – by the time you get to the last movie – a war be­tween the Capi­tol and the Dis­tricts, Fran­cis has man­aged to give all of those el­e­ments their due.”

Ja­cob­son is also quick to give praise to Jen­nifer Lawrence who has to do a lot of heavy emo­tional lifting in Part One. “I am struck by the way in which Jen as an ac­tress is able to

Fran­cis Lawrence teach­ing the art of ges­tur­ing on set. Let this be a les­son: never get drunk at a tat­too party. Or even go to one. Ever.

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