Hunger Games

Liam Hemsworth, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson attend a special screening of The Hunger Games hosted by The Cinema Society and Calvin Klein Collection at SVA Theatre on Tuesday on March 20 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

If it isn't already obvious by the number of TV commercials we see on a daily basis and the number of billboards set up around town, a good way for a film journalist to gauge the importance of a movie to its releasing studio is by the number of publicists handling talent on a press day and how closely they monitor the time allotted to us to talk to said talent.

Judging by those criteria alone, it would seem that The Hunger Games is a pretty important film for its Canadian distributor Alliance. That, of course, is a gross understatement. Everyone not completely alienated from popular culture knows that the film of author Suzanne Collins' dystopian best-seller is on track to have one of the biggest openings in recent years, with estimates of this weekend's grosses reaching as high as US$140 million.

Hunger Games

But if they feel any pressure being attached to such a huge project, Hunger Games co-stars Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and Alexander Ludwig aren't showing it. Ensconced within the lush confines of Toronto's Soho Metropolitan hotel this past Monday afternoon, the handsome trio, in separate interviews, evinced only excitement and humility at being part of the most anticipated film series since sparkly vampires first graced the silver screen.

For those of you who don't know, The Hunger Games takes place in an unspecified future when the government of North America, renamed Panem after it was devastated by war and natural disaster years earlier, has instituted yearly competitions, called Hunger Games, which pit one female and one male "tribute" from each of its twelve districts against one another in a fight to the death. Only one survivor may remain.

We see events through the eyes of our heroine, District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence: Winter's Bone). Along with baker's son Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), Katniss is sent to the Capitol and trained for the games which are broadcast for all residents of Panem to watch in a reality TV show run amuck.

With some 23.5 million copies of Collins' three Hunger Games novels circulating around America alone and the movie accounting for 92% of online movie ticket retailer Fandango's pre-sales as of this past Tuesday, anticipation for The Hunger Games is high. But for Vancouver-born Alexander Ludwig (Race to Witch Mountain), who plays deadly District 2 tribute Cato, the craziness is only just starting.

"With the LA premiere that just happened, that was insane," he says. "It took me, like, an hour and a half to get down the red carpet, and you've got all these fans just screaming your name. You feel like a god, and totally, totally undeserving. That's probably when it first started hitting me."

For Hutcherson, the weight of fan expectation began well before he ever set foot on the Asheville, NC, set last summer.

"I think that, for me, I put an automatic intense amount of pressure on myself any time I'm in a movie, just because I want to be good and not suck," he says. "So that's kinda my mentality going into any role.

"At the same time, y'know, when you do take on a character that so many people have kind of a predetermined idea of what they want in the character, it is a bit more pressure. But for me it's kinda like a calling to just, y'know, do a better job."

Liam Hemsworth's perspective on the potential Hunger Games franchise is unique given that his older brother Chris broke into the mainstream playing the title role in last year's comic book action film Thor, a role he reprises in this summer's tent-pole feature The Avengers. The younger Hemsworth, who plays Katniss' hunting partner Gale, is asked if he and Chris discuss the ramifications of being part of such high-profile franchises.

"Uh, yeah. I mean, y'know, we're able to step back from it all and realize how lucky we are and how funny it is that we're here doing this and how amazing it is and how, y'know, we're so thankful for it. We grew up in a normal family, great parents, and we didn't grow up in this industry. So, yeah, we're able to appreciate how great it is, what we do."

As to the film's satire of reality TV, all three admire its condemnatory tone of the lurid genre, although some admit to having their guilty pleasures. (Ludwig is a fan of I Shouldn't Be Alive, even though "I kind of hate reality TV.")

"Reality TV these days is getting more and more ridiculous," says Hemsworth, an ambassador for the Australian Childhood Foundation. "You have things like Toddlers and Tiaras... It's just completely ridiculous. You have young children who don't know what they're doing - they're too young to make their own decisions at that point. You have these parents that are allowing and forcing them to do it. I believe that's child abuse, and I feel very strongly about it. I think that gets brought up in this [film], and I hope people can take something away from that."

Adds Hutcherson: "Because of the TV screen protecting you, you feel the freeness to watch it and laugh at their misery. And [The Hunger Games] is kind of taking that to the extreme version of it. And I don't think it's so much about prediction of the future as it is just a fantastical, hyper-reality version of it. But at the same time, it does speak to that message."