A stellar actor can elevate the worst tripe, while special effects tend to plasticize story, yet the right art direction will add to not only the world but the characters as well. Purely Production is a monthly post where I explore the different elements that affect a finished media, for good or ill. We’ll forget about writing for a moment and delve into all the bedazzling doodads that dress a story.
Purely Production #6: How much did casting Josh Hutcherson play a part in the success of Catching Fire?
Casting is a huge part of a movie’s production. As visual mediums it makes sense, but there is also the actor’s abilities to consider. Yes, their appearance is important otherwise costuming and set design wouldn’t matter so much, but the audience also wants to feel the character. So the actor has to be able to reflect onto the screen their character’s inner monologue, that intangible furball of thoughts and feelings that define a human being. And that’s not all, it’s important that an actor’s emoting power be just right for the situation and when responding to the other characters.
Now I am not a fangirl of Liam Hemsworth, but I was really impressed how his embodiment of Gale in Catching Fire made me understand that Katniss and Gale were never to be. He knew it, now I know it. We could see it on his face, the fear, the knowledge. Even as he clings to Katniss we see him picking up alternate passions because ultimately he know Katniss better than Katniss knows Katniss. At least concerning her feelings for Peeta. I recently read someone trash Hemsworth for picking this role. Actually I think it was a good choice on his part. Now everyone can see that Liam is just as good a Hemsworth as Chris.
Right off, I have to admit Jennifer Lawrence cast as Katniss Everdeen – a stroke of genius. You might have been on the fence about her in The Hunger Games but there is no doubt after seeing Catching Fire. Of course, this casting was most important and did indeed contribute to the franchise’s success, but what about love interest and co-contender, Peeta Mellark…did his casting matter?
Okay, let’s be honest. Josh Hutcherson is not the most expressive guy, actor or no. He embodies what you think a stoic man would be like. For Catching Fire, this is exactly what was needed. Katniss is almost obsessively frantic about Peeta’s safety and success. Every decision she makes is what she believes is in the best interest of this goal. She is the embodiment of action and energy. While Peeta is a…bedrock. He is the foundation that supports the pair of them. When Katniss is rash, he is deliberate. When Katniss is desperate, Peeta is matter-of-fact. When Katniss is unfocused, Josh Hutcherson is calm.
What I’m saying is Josh Hutcherson had many moments in Catching Fire where he shined.
In discussing this and pondering this fact, I realized that, yes, Josh Hutcherson was a great casting decision. I also realized that the screen adaption had given Hutcherson many opportunities to shine. In developing the relationships in the screenplay the characters had been balanced and developed extensively compared to the book.
While The Hunger Games stayed more true to the point of view of the book, in Catching Fire the same story was treated as a dual point of view. Katniss still took center stage but Peeta became as equally important a point of view. (Even Gale got thrown a few moments in which Liam Hemsworth was also allowed the shine.) This was an extremely good choice story-wise. Even if you don’t care about the outcome of the couple, you do care about Katniss.
By reflecting both characters’ views of the Quarter Quell, we got to see a couple in action; we got to see what happens when one of the pair is suddenly ripped from the other. We got to see what happens when Katniss’ foundation is rocked.
This really goes to show how important writing is to the end product of a movie. Yes, production is important but writing is more important. Set the cast up for success. Give them opportunities to fulfill their role in specific and nuanced moments through the entire movie. Start with a damn good script.