It could have been challenging for director Francis Lawrence to be that other Lawrence, the dude, on the “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” set. But J.Law made it easy for this music video director, who’s worked with everybody from J. Lo to Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake to Britney Spears, and also has “I Am Legend,” “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Constantine” under his belt. Question: Is there a character you identify with the most? Francis Lawrence: Katniss. I do. She’s the center of the story, and I just buy her, I just believe her. I understand what she wants, and I understand what she’s thinking, and I understand what she’s going through. I believe in her choices. Q: Can you be more specific? FL: Sure. Her father died in a mining accident, and she started to provide for her family. So her objective in life is to provide for her family, and I think, mostly, for her sister. And she took on that role. And then her sister was taking on a different role, who suddenly is gonna be chosen to go in these games. And I get the sacrificing yourself for her sister, for that innocence.
And I relate to all the other choices that she makes. It’s about survival. It’s very simple. I don’t think it would have worked if she was really dwelling on love. Because I don’t buy that people do that in those situations where it’s life and death at your doorstep every second of every day. It just happens right: you’re bonding with somebody, maybe, in a moment in a cave, right, or you’re injured. But it’s because you guys are going through stuff together. You’re not thinking about, ‘Is he gonna be my boyfriend?’
Q: In the book, Katniss and Peeta share a bed for comfort. FL: Because when they sleep, they have nightmares and night terrors. They both have gone through the same thing together and that bonds people, when you go through traumatic experiences. And so, to answer your question, I just believe Katniss as a human, I really do. It’s not that I disbelieve other people but, because this story is so centered on her, I believe Katniss.
Q: But in this installment, it definitely opens up. “The Hunger Games” was so in Katniss’ head and seen through her yes. FL: Well the story opens up a little bit. For the most part, we’re telling it through Katniss’ point of view. We break a little bit, a few times. But we made a rule that it really always had to be about Katniss in some way, or because of something that Katniss has done. And that’s the way we connected it. So we grew and blew it open just a little bit, in terms of the Plutarch and Snow scenes.
Q: Those are the scenes that weren’t in the novel between the new Head Game Maker, Plutarch Heavensbee, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. FL: We had to backwards engineer those scenes. When Katniss gets back from The Districts, or from her victory tour, she’s back in The District, and she knows she’s failed. She sees Snow, and he shook his head at her at the party. She’s knows she’s endangered families. Gale is in danger. She’s going to come home. She’s going to want to run. And suddenly, these peacekeepers are showing up, right?
We know these things happened in the book. So we now have to figure out what was Snow thinking. What is the moment when he and Plutarch got together? What was the process when they decide to send peacekeepers to the District to crack down? And so we had [to] come up with just what their step-by-step plan is, to get rid of Katniss Everdeen.
[Related: Review “The Hunger Games: ‘Catching Fire’]
Q: Looking ahead, you’re leaving for Berlin to scout locations for “Mockingjay.” FL: We already made a couple of trips out to Paris and Berlin to scout. This is the tech scout. We’re going with the crew, because it’s our last opportunity to go out all together to really do all the technical and logistical planning for what we’re gonna do in each of the locations, and walk the crew through, what we’re planning on doing everywhere. So we’re gonna go do that over the next week, in Paris and Berlin. And we end up going there later next year in the spring.
Q: What’s the roll out over the next two movies? FL: It’s basically this time next year, and this time the year after that.
Q: And you’ve signed on to direct both “Mockingjay” movies, right? FL: It was a decision that was made early on while we were prepping “Catching Fire.” I’d only signed on for “Catching Fire.” And I was approached to do “Mockingjay” as well. And that was really exciting because the people are great, and it was really creative and collaborative, and a nice group of people. The only thing I was really nervous about was this movie because, if this one for whatever reason didn’t turn out so well, and the actors didn’t like it, or if people didn’t show up, or it got horrible reviews or something, it would be really awkward going back to the shoot. We go back to shooting, in about two weeks.
Q: While the books were originally on the YA shelf, “The Hunger Games” series has a wider appeal. FL: The stories just keep getting more and more interesting. The stories keep growing up, as does the fan base.
Q: Who is the audience for “Catching Fire?” FL: I think the audience is everybody. I wouldn’t take small kids. It’s pretty intense. But I think that it’s really for everyone. The genius of the material is that Suzanne Collins wrote a series of books about the consequences of war for teenagers. But she didn’t treat teenagers like children, which is one of the reasons that teenagers really ate it up. Because of that approach, I think it’s crossed over into the adult world. There are big ideas, and I think that they’re smart, and I think that they’re very moving. And so, I don’t think that it’s just for teenagers.