After earning over 65 million in book sales and $3 billion in box office, The Hunger Games
franchise continues to draw interest from fans. Chalk it up to Katniss Everdeen's immense heroism, the gripping love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta, the stellar weapons and costumes and/or its pervasive theme of economic oppression, which many in San Francisco today can relate to. It's hard to distinguish between the fantasy of Panem's greedy governing body and San Francisco's when there is talk of turning a cultural institution like the Palace of Fine Arts into a hotel or restaurant, so the city can make even more money. So it's fitting that this endangered artistic landmark host The Hunger Games: The Exhibition from Feb. 13-July 31.
This immersive exhibition, featuring recreations of actual movie sets, hundreds of authentic costumes and props from the film and hands-on interactive exhibits, brings the world of Panem—and potentially San Francisco's not too distant future—to life. SF Weekly
spoke to Hunger Games
film stars Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen) and Elden Henson (Pollux) about their favorite parts of the exhibit, what it's like to step back into the world of Panem and why they think the franchise continues to catch fire.
As actors, I imagine that you're always chasing the next project rather than resting on your previous ones. What's it like to return to The Hunger Games after some time away?
Willow Shields: I still don't think I've decided that the franchise is over because it still isn't. We're doing this now, so it really is living on past the film's release date. I think that everyone figured that premiere night of Mockingjay, Part 2
, we would be crying, and we kind of were inside because it was our last premiere together and it's really exciting to be able to show the film to fans. But we still get to do stuff like this, so I don't think it's really hit me yet that I'm done filming.
Eldon Henson: I still can't believe that I was in the movies to begin with. These things are a phenomenon, so I feel lucky to have been in it. When you shoot for nine months and you get to know people and become friends, even though the shooting aspect is over I still see some of these people and care about them.
Seeing the props again must bring back memories. Is there one prop that you wish you could have taken home with you?
WS: For me, it's very cool to see the props. The one specific one I enjoy seeing is the Mockingjay pin. It holds a lot of significance for my character, because Katniss Everdeen gives it to Prim in the beginning of the first film, and then Prim gives it back to Katniss, because she feels she needs it more than her at that moment. I think it's a big symbol of hope for my character as well as Katniss and everybody else, and it is something, in a sense, that I wish I had taken home. But now I realize it was better not to because now it's in this amazing exhibit and everybody can see it.
EH: I was excited to see the stuff from the first two movies, because I wasn't in those movies, so it was great to experience it like a fan. After seeing those movies, to be able to see that stuff up close was really cool.
Elden, what was your experience coming into the franchise in the middle of it?
EH: It was one of those weird things in life. I found out I got the job, and a couple days later we were in Atlanta, starting to shoot. So I didn't really have a lot of time to think about it. But I was really excited to work with the caliber of actors that were in this movie. Also, I was a big fan of Francis Lawrence, so to be able to work with him was pretty exciting.
What were the most challenging parts of shooting?
WS: For me, it was really challenging acting-wise, as a young actor. At 10 years old, I was doing extremely emotional scenes, such as the reaping scene, and a lot of scenes where you had to be crying and screaming. That's a very intense thing at a young age. I learned how to do it, but it was very challenging. Luckily, throughout the series, though, I had the opportunity to grow with my character. She has a huge arc in the series, which I love, but it was very challenging as well.
EH: The Hunger Games
was one of the best times I had making a movie. There really weren't too many difficulties, except maybe shooting all the stuff in the tunnels. Being wet all day can get annoying after a while, but it's hard to say that it was challenging because it was just so much fun.
How have your lives changed since The Hunger Games?
WS: My life has changed pretty drastically, I would say. I started when I was 10, and now I'm 15, so the biggest thing is that it's just taken up a huge chunk of my life, which has been incredible because I grew up on set. I grew up with Jennifer Lawrence as sort of a mentor to me and family member, and the whole cast was a great support system growing up. So it's definitely changed my life a lot, and having the fans recognizing you places is still a strange feeling to me.
EH: My son was born the day after I wrapped, so I'm a father now, and that's sort of a big thing. I think just the amount of love that the fans have for these movies is pretty special, so it's been an amazing thing to be a part of. To come in on the tail end of the franchise and be accepted by everyone was just really nice. The cool thing about this, too, is that you get to do things like this, so the movies feel like they're still living on.
This exhibit reminds us of all the amazing costumes and sets in the movies. Which were your favorites during shooting?
EH: My favorite set was Tigris's shop. I just thought it was beautiful. It was such an amazing set. [Production designer] Phil Messina is incredible at what he does, so just about every set was amazing.
WS: For me, it was the reaping scene in the first film: seeing Effie Trinket's costume made of all the butterflies was just super impressive to me at 10. She had those spiky shoes on, and I just thought it was the coolest thing because it clearly took a lot of effort to make a costume like that.
Were either of you fans of the books before signing on to the project?
WS: I had read all the books before I started filming, so I was actually in the middle of reading the first book when I got my audition. I was already becoming a big fan of the books, as everybody else was. Obviously, I jumped at the idea of an audition when I got the email.
EH: I hadn't read the books, but my niece and nephew were really big fans. So my niece was the first person I called when I found out I was doing the movie, and she, of course, flipped out. So after I got the job, I quickly started reading the books, so I could get myself caught up.
Why do you think The Hunger Games franchise has caught fire the way that it has?
WS: Nice one. I like how you did that. [Laughs
] I think that there is a lot of relatability, and it's hard to imagine because it's such a different world, but teenagers read it and I think they can relate to characters on a certain level. There's love, there's heartbreak, there's sacrifice, there are all these aspects that people have to experience in everyday life, so it gives teenagers an outlet to realize that others are feeling the same feelings they are.
EH: I think that these movies have themes that everybody can relate to, and there's stuff going on in the movies that's mirroring what's happening in our society today. Plus, I think they're fun and it's fantasy.
For people coming out, what are the must-see parts in your opinion?
EH: The cool thing about it is there are a lot of these interactive things where you can cut together your own prop up and then take a picture and be in it. I thought that was pretty cool.
WS: I love the fact that you could see the costumes in person. Again, one of the things I was astounded by was Elizabeth Banks in her costumes. So I love seeing Effie's costumes in person. I think that that's really cool because you get to see up close how much detail went into them and you learn more and more about other things, too. I went through and learned things I didn't know. So it's really cool because it's a learning experience as well.
What would you like the fans to take away from The Hunger Games: The Exhibition?
EH: I would hope they would feel as if they've experienced the movies in a new way and feel like maybe they're a part of it.
WS: I agree. I'm still 15, so I had fun in there. Like I said, I was a fan of the books, so to be able to go in there and literally feel like you're a part of it, immerse yourself and learn more than you knew, is really exciting. So I think the fans will love that full-on experience, like they're in the movie, which is pretty awesome.
The Hunger Games: The Exhibition, Feb. 13-July 31, at Palace of Fine Arts Exhibition Hall, ($22-49), 3601 Lyon St, 621-9153 or thehungergamesexhibition.com