Ask a fan of “The Hunger Games” to describe the character of Haymitch and they usually start with the words “alcoholic” or “drunk.” That actually presented a challenge to Woody Harrelson, who said he didn’t want to slip into “Barfly” cliches with his portrayal of Haymitch Abernathy in the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of the Suzanne Collins sci-fi novel.
“He’s got a drinking problem and he’s got some issues and he’s damaged, but I didn’t want to do it totally like your typical version of an alcoholic in a movie,” Harrelson said Monday. “So I tried to keep him a little put-together. I dressed him up from what you would expect, too. That was one of my things I wanted — to make him, particularly in the Capitol, a bit of a snazzy dresser — or at least a dresser with his own style.”
In the grim future world of “The Hunger Games,” Haymitch is the sour and besotted mentor to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), two young people who must fight to the death in a televised, government-sponsored tournament of blood. Haymitch is a former champion in the contest but, in the years since his victory, his demons have chased him into the bottom of a bottle.
Cynical and slippery, the character is a fan-favorite among readers but those fans will see a slightly different Haymitch on the silver screen when the Gary Ross-directed adaptation arrives in theaters on March 23.
In the books, for instance, Haymitch is described as a paunchy, gone-to-seed middle-aged man with short, dark, curly hair, but Harrelson’s version looks more like Kurt Cobain’s fashion-conscious uncle. For the 50-year-old Harrelson, meanwhile, the Haymitch character might deliver a career-first; despite this era of ubiquitous sequels, the actor has never played the same character in two films. That will change if all goes as Lionsgate hopes and a four-film franchise can be made out of the three “Hunger Games” novels.
Harrelson said there’s plenty on the page for the films to mine.
“It’s good writing and it just keeps you on the edge,” Harrelson said. “And making [the movie] was a fun experience with just really cool people. I was really impressed by everybody that was associated with it. The look of everything is amazing too. The wardrobe is incredible and the makeup, the [stuff] they came up with is mind-blowing. The imagination behind the hair and the makeup and set decoration, it was just really impressive. It’s the work of brilliant people.”
“I only saw one scene — that’s all they had me in to do, just loop [the sound for] one scene — and that scene looked great,” Harrelson said. “I don’t know how the whole movie is going to turn out but it’s Gary Ross so I’m sure it’s going to turn out great.”
— Geoff Boucher
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