While waiting two weeks to hear if he got the part of Peeta Mallark in the wildly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” Josh Hutcherson couldn’t even speak properly.
“It got to the point where literally anytime there was a word that began with “H,” I would say ‘hunger,’” Hutcherson (“The Kids Are All Right”) says. “I’d be like, ‘Are we hunger—having dinner?’ It would just come out of my mouth. It was all I thought about 100 percent of the time.”
Now, of course, the 19-year-old actor’s life will never be the same as he travels the world (“I woke up today in my hotel room, and I literally did not know where I was for a second,” he says) promoting a movie guaranteed to be one of the year’s biggest. Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit”) directs the story of teenagers Peeta and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who represent their district in a futuristic, food-deprived society in which young adults annually fight to the death on national TV.
Before heading to a mall appearance in Aurora, Hutcherson sat down at the Peninsula Hotel to talk about his own survival skills, flinging berries at cars before filming and the boy-band reason for the previous, pre-Peeta time he dyed his hair blond.
These books are huge. What’s the most extreme story you’ve heard about fans taking something about “The Hunger Games” to heart?
Oh, man. At the fan event we had out in L.A. just before I came here, the mall thing, it was crazy. They had head-to-toe: The pants, the shirt, the necklaces, the bracelets. Everything was Mockingjay, Peeta, Tribute, this, that. I didn’t go, but Jen and Liam [Hemsworth, who plays Katniss’ friend Gale] went down to Mexico City and they held this event where fans—they actually separated them into different districts and they have challenges. So people really get into it. It’s crazy.
How many people were killed?
A lot of people were killed. A lot of people died. But it was for promotion for the movie, so it was worth it. [Laughs.]
Tell me about your foraging skills. How long would you last if dropped off in a forest?
I have pretty good foraging skills. I grew up in Kentucky in the woods, playing a lot, and I love hiking and camping and being outdoors. I watch a lot of “Man vs. Wild” with Bear Grylls. So I feel like I’d be prepared for any situation. I feel like I might do all right in the Hunger Games. My biggest problem would obviously be killing someone, but as far as surviving in the wilderness I think I’d do all right.
What’s the most extreme experience you had in the wilderness?
Actually maybe when we were filming. Liam and I were actually doing an interview and we hear this horn, and all of a sudden this bear comes running right at us. Literally running. It was a black bear; it was probably 400 pounds. It looks up and saw us and then took off in the other direction. That was pretty intense, all of a sudden seeing a bear running toward you and being like, “How do we handle this? What exactly is going to be our plan here when this bear attacks one of us?”
A lot of people ask you the same questions. Tell me a story you haven’t gotten to tell yet about Jennifer.
Before we started filming—here’s a good one actually I haven’t told anybody—when we were staying at our apartments in North Carolina, one night we had everybody over to Jennifer’s apartment and we decided we were going to get a slingshot and we were going to slingshot berries at people in cars as they drove by. So we’re sling-shotting like grapes and blueberries and eventually the people in the hotel like called up and they’re like, “Uh, are you guys shooting things off the balcony?” And we’re like, “Nope, don’t know what you’re talking about.” [Laughs.] So we stopped. So we got in a lot of trouble, but it was pretty fun.
What did the people in the cars do?
One lady, [laughs] it was kind of hilarious, she pulled up to the hotel lobby and was sitting there, and we were like I think 10 floors up, six or 10 floors up and so we started [throwing] cherries and grapes at her car. And she literally would not get out of her car. She was looking out, and eventually the hotel manager came out. I guess she called the hotel and been (impersonates old lady), “Somebody’s throwing things at my car!” It was harmless, it was berries, but at the same time it was pretty funny.