A little over a year ago, The Hunger Games, a movie flippantly described as “the next Twilight”, did something very un-Twilight … it won critical praise and box office success. The movie, based on the first of the Hunger Games book series, scored great reviews for it’s cast – a mix of young stars and established actors – as well as for its dark themes and political message.

Now comes the sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which delves deeper into those themes. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), victors of the last Hunger Games, are sent to compete once more by President Snow who wants the world to watch as Katniss, a symbol of hope in a dystopian future, is destroyed.

“Huge, and emotional,” is how Lawrence describes the sequel. “We see so much more of the world – everything is more elevated. The stakes are much higher. It’s a lot more heightened and more emotional.”

“I really feel like this is a thriller,” agrees Elizabeth Banks, who reprises her role as Effie Trinket, escort of Katniss. “The whole second half I was on the edge of my seat, anxious the entire time, even though I know how the story ends! It was very tense. I love that.”

Though the film is intense to watch, the cast says the mood on set was exactly the opposite. Woody Harrelson, who again plays Katniss’ mentor Haymitch, says every day on set was a joy. “I love it. This is the most fun film I’ve ever worked on – it’s like going to work in a playground. I look forward to going to work. And it really starts from the Queen Bee, Jennifer, down. She sets this tone of anything goes. It’s fun and wild. Her sense of humor just keeps everybody laughing, the cast and the crew, everybody.”

“Two people really set the tone,” agrees new cast member Jeffrey Wright, who plays Beetee, a fellow Hunger Games contestant. “Firstly Francis, who is very unassuming, collaborative, and gives a lot of freedom. And then Jennifer who just takes advantage of that freedom to be as insane as she possibly can! Josh Hutcherson too. The two of them make Laurel and Hardy look boring and humorless. But then once the cameras roll, they focus on the task, which is really impressive. I’m still not convinced that the two of them aren’t actually 75 year olds, because they are far more sophisticated than folks of that age should be.”

“It’s Woody who gets us into trouble,” Lawrence laughs. “Josh and I are crafty at being bad; like we’ll be bad but then when they start rolling we’ll get it together. And when someone else is goofing off camera I can hold a face, I will not crack. Woody on the other hand is the worst, he will just lose it.”

Since the first Hunger Games hit the silver screen last year, Lawrence received her second Oscar nomination, and won, for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. Though Lawrence insists her life hasn’t changed, Francis explains how her Oscar experience found its way into the sequel. “The first time she was nominated was for Winter’s Bone, and it was like the first Hunger Games –you’re 17 years old going to all these parties and you’re a deer caught in the headlights. The second time she went back, for Silver Linings Playbook, it’s similar to Katniss going back into the games; she’s a veteran, has done it all before, and sees it differently. The first time was one thing, but this is an entirely different game.”

BY ALICIA MALONE

The Hunger Games: Catching Fireopens in cinemas on Thursday November 21.

Tell Us What You Think