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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

Who's Who: New to the Games
Plutarch Heavensbee: 75th Hunger Games Gamemaker

The 75th Hunger Games feature an all-new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, whose work is treacherously creative in all kinds of ways. Taking this key role is one of cinema's most decorated talents: Academy Award winner and four-time nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The filmmakers were thrilled to have Hoffman take on one of the Capitol's slyest citizens. "Plutarch is such an important character and Phillip is one of the very best actors working right now, so we started talking to him and fortunately, he just loved the books, and he loved this story," recalls Francis Lawrence.

For Hoffman, the breadth of Collins' imagination was a big lure. "I started reading the books and was just sucked into them. I was blown away by what Suzanne had done. So the idea of being part of bringing this whole story to the screen in a worthy fashion interested me," he explains.

Hoffman also was intrigued to find a way to make the enigmatic Plutarch flesh and blood. "It's challenging to take a character like this from the page into cinematic storytelling," he remarks. "I had to kind of look into Plutarch a bit more, outside of what the book showed me. He has all the qualities that he had in the book, but I think he has even more now, so that was exciting."

Jennifer Lawrence especially loved having the chance to work with Hoffman. "It's a pinch me moment as an actor if you get to do a scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman," she comments. "I think he's arguably one of the greatest actors of our time. He's such a smart, nice man and he embodies Plutarch in the most incredible way."

Finnick Odair: 4th District Tribute

As the Quarter Quell Games begin, Katniss will soon forge an alliance with one of the most intriguing of tributes: the brilliantly skilled but brashly overconfident, trident-wielding Finnick Odair, who won the 65th Hunger Games with ease when he was just 14 years old. To play one of Panem's most popular victors, the filmmakers cast Sam Claflin, the rising British actor seen recently in Snow White and The Huntsman. Claflin might have seemed a surprising choice for the role, but Francis Lawrence was convinced he had the three most important qualities required: easy charm, striking athleticism and beneath all that, some gritty depth. "We saw tons of people for Finnick but I always kept going back to Sam," recalls the director. "He's a handsome, sexy, funny, athletic guy but he also can tap into real emotional power - that's what sold me most."

Jennifer Lawrence was among those instantly won over by Claflin's take on Finnick. "Sam has this sweet, wonderful charm to him. When you put Finnick's sarcastic words in Sam's mouth they still come out dripping with charm and that's a really hard thing to pull off, yet Sam does," she says. "I couldn't see anybody else playing Finnick because he was so amazing."

Claflin felt an instant affinity for Finnick. "Finnick is a very complicated person," he observes. "He is not someone able to easily share his feelings and emotions because he feels that eyes are always on him. But he also is ready to fight for what he believes is right for the future of the world that he lives in. Ultimately, he becomes allies with Katniss, and he goes on a great journey."

Still, Katniss doesn't always respond to Finnick in the way he generally expects. "He tries to charm the pants off of her basically and that doesn't work out as planned," Claflin laughs. "Every other girl falls over him, but Katniss doesn't. I think there's an element of that which intrigues him."

Weighing on Claflin throughout his performance were the expectations of millions of eager fans who had already fallen in love with the character - which only motivated him to train harder and push further physically and emotionally. "There was definitely pressure on my shoulders," the actor admits. "But I can safely say that I've never worked so hard to achieve an end result."

Beetee, Wiress, Johanna and Mags: Tributes from Districts 3, 4 and 7

The tributes who align themselves with Katniss in the Quarter Quell games are an eclectic group from all different ages and backgrounds. Taking the role of Beetee, the victor who won almost entirely on brains rather than brawn is Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Wright. Wright had just the right mix of intelligence and verve to take on the electronic wizard. "Beetee required a very unique individual - somebody's who's smart and methodical, and also dangerous," Kilik says. "Jeffrey has that versatility and talent."

Wright admits he hadn't previously been caught up in The Hunger Games phenomenon when his phone rang with an offer for the role - but that quickly changed. "As soon as I discovered how rich this material was, how complicated and relevant it was, I got really excited," he recalls.

He was especially intrigued by the idea of all these former warriors coming back together into the perilous arena. "What's interesting about the way that Suzanne Collins has drawn these characters and the way we're attempting to portray them is that they're all, to some extent, damaged warriors. It starts to become a real examination of the price that warriors pay for what they do," Wright observes. As for Beetee, he says: "What's driving him is his sense of mistrust against the very idea of the Games and against the idea of a society of exclusion. He must use his best ideas and technological know-how to try to escape."

Beetee is closely tied to the female tribute from District 3, Wiress, played by Amanda Plummer, a Tony Award winner also known for such classic films as Pulp Fiction and The Fisher King. "Wiress and Beetee make for a curious and eccentric pair and working with Amanda was fantastic," says Wright. "She's such an open actor, so generous and so fragile and their relationship becomes a very personal one."

Wiress might have a shy streak but beneath her quiet exterior lies a rather observant mind. Plummer dove into that and says that she especially loved the rapport with Beetee. "They have a really special relationship where Wiress has the feeling that he's got her back and she's got his back," she says.

"Have you ever come across a soul-mate? Working with Jeffrey was kind of like that. He's a very giving, gracious actor."

Katniss and Peeta also must try to figure out the allegiance of the highly unpredictable, emotionally manipulative axe-thrower Johanna Mason from District 7. To take on the dauntlessly uninhibited role, the filmmakers chose Jena Malone (Sucker Punch, Into the Wild), who is rapidly becoming a major star of both film and theatre. Malone won them over with an audition that riveted everyone. "Her audition was so intense, so raw and so dangerous," Nina Jacobson recalls. "There was nobody else we could even really think about casting once we'd seen her. She felt tough in a way that came from being damaged, not tough because she was just trying to intimidate."

Malone says she felt an instant fascination with Johanna. "I think Johanna's biggest strength, and the one that I was most interested in exploring, is her unpredictability," she says. "She's not consistently angry, she's not consistently nice. I just feel like there's this thing where you never really know what you're going to get from her."

Also aligning with Katniss and Peeta is one of the most unusual tributes of all: Mags, the 80 year-old former victor known for her compassion. Taking the role is veteran actress Lynn Cohen (Eagle Eye, Munich, Sex and the City), who says that her granddaughter and a friend both suggested she audition for it. She soon found herself tapping into Mags' uniquely feminine form of strength. "Mags is a female to the very end, and strong and funny and crafty," Cohen muses. "How can you resist that? How can you resist playing such a strong woman in a film about strong women?"

Rounding out the new group of Tributes are Alan Ritchson (Blue Mountain State) as Gloss, the ultra-fit tribute from District 1; newcomer Stephanie Leigh Schlund as Gloss' beautiful, self-possessed sister Cashmere; Bruno Gunn (Sons of Anarchy) as Brutus, the bloodthirsty "Career" tribute from District 2; Meta Golding (CSI) as Enobaria, the District 2 tribute whose teeth have been filed into golden fangs; E. Roger Mitchell (Flight) as Chaff, the wounded tribute from District 11, Bobby Jordan (The Watch) as the likeable woodsman Blight from District 7 and Maria Howell (Revolution) as District 11's Seeder.

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