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March 20, 2012

‘Hunger Games’: Josh Hutcherson on Peeta, fame, Jennifer Lawrence

Posted in: Movies

Liam Hemsworth, left, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson attend "The Hunger Games" kick off their U.S. mall tour on March 3 in Los Angeles. (Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Lionsgate)

Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, left), Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in a scene from "The Hunger Games." (Murray Close/Lionsgate)

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in "The Hunger Games." (Murray Close/Lionsgate)

Katiness Everdeen, left, played by Jennifer Lawrence, Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, and Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz, in a scene from "The Hunger Games." (Murray Close/Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson stars as Peeta Mellark in "The Hunger Games." (Murray Close/Lionsgate)

A fan snaps her photo with Josh Hutcherson, right, at the premiere of "The Hunger Games" on March 13 in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Josh Hutcherson, left, Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth attend the European premiere of "The Hunger Games" in East London on March 14. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Josh Hutcherson attends the Canadian premiere of "The Hunger Games" on March 19 in Toronto. (George Pimentel/Getty Images)

A movie poster for "The Hunger Games" shows Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark. (Lionsgate)

Josh Hutcherson thinks he’s in Dallas, though all he’s seen is an airport, a hotel and a mall. It’s 16 days before the opening of “The Hunger Games,” and though the 19-year-old actor has been performing since he was 9 — in films as diverse as “American Splendor,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “The Kids are All Right” — the reaction to co-starring in the adaptation of the Suzanne Collins novel is unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

It’s also the first cross-country mall tour the young actor has jumped aboard, hence the reason for his location confusion. In the last week, the actor has been in giant shopping centers in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Dallas, signing posters and books for throngs of screaming fans who have shown up to get a glimpse of the young man playing Peeta Mellark, the loyal tribute from District 12 who fights alongside heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in the highly anticipated film, which opens in theaters Friday.

Josh Hutcherson (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)

“Last night’s mall event was crazy,” said Hutcherson in a phone interview. “There were 3,000 people there. They had been there for hours and they were screaming at a level where your ears could no longer process the sound. I couldn’t quite get my brain around what was happening. It was so surreal.”

Hutcherson understood that playing the character would change things for him professionally, but the intensity of the fan spotlight has still taken the actor by surprise. He says he has no regrets, though, about his decision and is ready to accept the complications that come with moving up the fame ladder.

“It’s totally worth it,” said Hutcherson of being at the center of a worldwide media storm. “ I love my job more than anything in the world and I could never imagine doing anything else. So this whole thing is a very small price to pay compared to someone who has to go to an office to work. I could never imagine that.”

Hutcherson read the books quickly and was hooked on Collins’ world immediately. He said he easily connected to his character Peeta and saw his relationship with Katniss as symbiotic and true.

“Peeta has an infatuation with Katniss. I think that’s what he has felt for her his entire life because he knows what she does for her family, how hard she has to work to make a living for them,” said Hutcherson. “Because of that, it gives him more security in his idea that he is going to do everything in his power to help her survive.”

The majority of Hutcherson’s education has taken place on film sets. Originally from Union, Ky., Hutcherson only spent one semester in high school — he wanted to play soccer for his local school — and hated every minute of it, including but not limited to the ritual of waking to an alarm each weekday.

“I know it’s something kids have to deal with every single day but getting up at the same time every day and having to listen to teachers talk about things I could learn so much more easily on my own, I hated it,” said Hutcherson.

'Hunger' premiere: Tributes in Tinsletown

In contrast, Hutcherson relished his time on the North Carolina set of “Hunger Games,” specifically the scenes he filmed with Lawrence. He was impressed by both her leadership skills and her acting ability.

“Every single day, no matter how long her night was the night before or how long she’d been working that week, she came to work and was ready to go,” said Hutcherson. “She was never sluggish. She always had a great attitude.”

Lawrence also hails from Kentucky and began acting at a young age, and Hutcherson says he shares with her a similar outlook on life, one grounded by family and Southern roots: “For both of us, our family is a huge part of our lives. That’s big. That comes from being in Kentucky and having parents that raised us both in the same way. My golden rule growing up was treating people the way you want to be treated and I think Jennifer lives by that code as well.”

Hutcherson is signed on to play Peeta throughout the remaining three films in the series, though he has yet to fill his hiatus between “Hunger Games” promotional duties and the start of production for the sequel “Catching Fire,” which is likely to begin by the end of the year.

“I’m dying to work, I really want to work but I don’t have to work,” he said. “So I can be picky about what I choose. I just want to find the right thing.”

–Nicole Sperling

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