Hunger Games stars: Kentucky roots help in bonding

Hunger Games stars: Kentucky roots help in bonding

Like his Hunger Games co-star Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson grew up in the bluegrass-and-bourbon state of Kentucky, which is about as far away from Hollywood as one can get.

The 21-year-old now finds himself fronting The Hunger Games, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest young-adult movie franchises since Twilight or Harry Potter, as the widely anticipated second film in the series opens this week.

Hutcherson's breakout role as Peeta Mellark - who is told he must fight and kill the girl he loves, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), in a cruel gladiator- style tournament - has made him a bona fide movie star.

And one adored, no less, by an extremely devoted fanbase who loves both The Hunger Games movies and the books they were adapted from. He admits that the fans can be a little "hardcore", but above all, "they are passionate".

"Every time we go to one of the events or premieres, they are there with their signs and their books. And really it's because of them and their passion that we were able to make the movies the way we do.

"The fact that so many people got to see the first movie means we were able to make the second one and, hopefully, they see the second one so the third and fourth ones aren't a bust," he says.

In the second film, Katniss and Peeta find themselves thrown together after winning the annual Hunger Games in the first film, and forced by the country's spin doctors to feign a blossoming romance while they tour the country as the first-ever joint victors.

Hutcherson thinks that the Kentucky roots that he shared with Lawrence, 23, played a part in him landing the coveted role opposite her.

"I think it helped because when I walked in the room, I had something to say to her. She had been cast as Katniss and I was trying to become Peeta, and I had something to talk about with her right away. I was like, 'Hey, you're from Kentucky.'"

Their common background was also handy in constructing their characters, who come from a poor, marginalised area in the fictional nation of Panem.

Their home district, District 12, is "a coal-mining sort of small town", much like the ones found in south-eastern Kentucky, says Hutcherson.

"Just knowing that world a little bit and kind of having that sort of sensibility as people, I think it helps the characters."

Just like their characters, it is clear that he and Lawrence - who accompanies him as he speaks to reporters in Los Angeles, and teases him like a brother throughout the interview - have grown close while making these films.

They will reprise the roles again next year and in 2015, when the next two sequels, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, are released.

However successful these movies are, though, Hutcherson does not want to limit his career to this franchise.

He appeared last year in the science-fiction adventure comedy Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a sleeper hit that made more than US$300 million (S$373 million) worldwide and sparked a romance with co-star and now ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens.

He has also made a yet-to-bereleased film at the very other end of the spectrum of The Hunger Games: a small European-produced indie called Paradise Lost. Set in Colombia and filmed on location in Panama, this movie also took him a long way from Kentucky, casting him as a surfer in love with a woman whose uncle turns out to be the famed drug lord Pablo Escobar, played by Benicio Del Toro.

Hutcherson notes, with pride, that he "was one of only three Americans in the whole movie, which I thought was awesome".

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