‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’ director on Jennifer Lawrence and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Nov. 20, 2014 | 2:43 p.m.
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Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Woody Harrelson stars as Haymitch Abernathy in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Coin (Julianne Moore) in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Natalie Dormer stars as Cressida in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Jeffrey Wright stars as Beetee in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Mahershala Ali, left, and director Francis Lawrence on the set of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Murray Close / Lionsgate)

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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

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Woody Harrelson as Haymitch in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

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Jeffrey Wright as Beetee in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

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Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

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Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

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Donald Sutherland as President Snow in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in a poster for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." (Lionsgate)

Inside filmmaker Francis Lawrence’s West L.A. office sits a framed collection of arrows with an inscription reading, “May the odds be ever in your favor,” a signature line that fans would immediately recognize from “Hunger Games” lore. The director received the gift for his work on last year’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which saw him take the reins on Lionsgate’s blockbuster franchise from original director Gary Ross.

With the release this weekend of the third movie in the series, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” the odds would continue to be in Lawrence’s favor. The film, with Jennifer Lawrence reprising her starring role as headstrong archer Katniss Everdeen, is on track to break boxoffice records, possibly collecting as much as $160 million in just three days of release, according to some early estimates.

“Mockingjay” sees the leaders of an underground military facility – Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former Games maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) recruit Katniss to help incite citizens of Panem to take up arms against the autocratic Capitol and end the tyrannical reign of the cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Filming the “Mockingjay” movies – “Part 2” arrives next year – took nearly a year, during which time the production encountered logistical challenges in the form of a Southern snowstorm. But the sudden, devastating death of Hoffman from a drug overdose in February delivered a more powerful, emotionally crippling blow — director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) still sometimes refers to the actor in the present tense.

In an interview with Hero Complex last month, Lawrence discussed Hoffman’s contributions to the franchise and how the cast and crew of the blockbuster series banded together in the wake of the Oscar winner’s tragic death. He also addressed the widespread appeal of the series, which concludes on screen with next year’s “Mockingjay – Part 2,” which Lawrence also directed.

Hero Complex: Production was halted briefly after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. How did you begin to move forward once more?

Francis Lawrence: We started very small, just one scene with Katniss and Gale [Liam Hemsworth] so there weren’t any extras around. It was just the two of them and not long days. We kind of eased everybody back into work… It’s a big cast, too, so every time somebody who hadn’t been around for a while would come back it would bring it all back up again.

HC: Having watched him work on set, how would you describe your experience of knowing him?

FL: Fantastic. Like a lot of really good actors, I’ve always sensed that in the beginning, when they don’t really know you as a filmmaker and how you work that you’re a little bit at arm’s length and they’re deciding whether they trust you and whether or not they’re going to direct themselves or they’re going to trust you. But we got along really well… I felt that he really trusted me and he had a lot more to do in these movies [than in “Catching Fire”], so he was around a lot more. Instead of being scheduled for 10 days he was scheduled for 55 or something like that. It was great to have him around, so much fun to watch him work. I learned a lot from him.

HC: What sorts of things did you learn?

FL: Just process. It’s interesting when you work with somebody like Jen, she doesn’t talk about what she does. She just does it. It’s all instinctual and I think she even has a hard time talking about it, Phil is a completely different guy. He likes to talk about things and he likes to keep talking about it and unlike a lot of other actors who like to talk about it and then nothing changes, he can actually change his performance. The way he would dig at a scene… There’s a scene with Phil and Julianne and Jeffrey [Wright] sitting at a table [early in the film]. It was fascinating for him to just keep digging and digging, and to see the layers of nuance and subtext that were getting added. You can watch it in a way that’s different from a lot of actors because he’s talking about it as he does it. Between takes, he’s asking questions out loud and talking to me or talking to Julianne and you can see it evolve and change. It’s amazing to watch.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part1." (Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part1.” (Lionsgate)

HC: Has your relationship with Jennifer Lawrence evolved over time?

FL: I don’t know if our relationship has changed. She’s very instinctual with her performances and I think she’s a really amazing study of people and people’s personalities and behavior and I think she can pick up on things and use it and she can do it instantly. But I think because of that she’s a quick read on people. I’m guessing here but I think that for whatever reason she read me very early on and liked me and accepted me and that was that. I never felt at arm’s length with her ever. I’m sure had she hated “Catching Fire” it would have changed but she didn’t.

The most interesting thing for me to watch with Jen is … she’s getting older and I mean in a good way. I think when she goes to darker places it takes a little more out of her now. I think it was easier before. Nothing lingered. Now I sense when we would go to places – and these films only get tougher, for her especially — I could see that for her to go to certain places, you could kind of feel it reverberating a little bit, that it wasn’t as easy to shake off as it had been before. Some of that is maturity, that there’s a different tool set that she’s tapping into.

HC: The Suzanne Collins novels that inspired the films end on an emotionally devastating note. Is there any pressure to tweak the conclusion of “Mockingjay – Part 2”?

FL: We’re making the books. Books and movies are very different things, right? Suzanne knows it because she came from TV, playwriting and screenwriting for television, she gets it. Certain changes have to be made when you have to make things physical. They actually have to be in a place and work and move from here to there. There are scenes in the beginning of “Mockingjay — Part 1” that don’t exist in the book. I’m never afraid to make those kinds of changes but I would never take something huge and something really identifiable, sort of a tent pole moment, especially one connected to the theme and the core of the books, [and change it]. I don’t think you could do that. It doesn’t make sense to me.

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’ director on Jennifer Lawrence and Philip Seymour Hoffman

  1. SHELIA says:

    RIP PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN RIP

  2. Foundstar says:

    Funny..I watched Hoffman work and was always fascinated with his 'instinct'..Talent does that..makes it look natural and easy. Jen just 'does' it…again..talent.

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